I missed John Carter when it was in the cinemas earlier this year, so I had to wait for the DVD release to see it. Having said that there was no way I could miss the widely reported news that the movie was apparently a flop. Yet most of the reviews I had read were favourable, plus the movie appeared to do very well outside North America.
In any event I was curious to see the movie. The trailers had presented some amazing looking visuals and while I was vaguely aware of the Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom series I was largely unfamiliar with the story.
The story is presented with a framing device that turns out to be quite important to the plot. Young ‘Ned’ Burroughs gets a message to visit his uncle John Carter who has been using his fortune on various archaeological digs across the world. On arriving at Carter’s home he discovers that his uncle is apparently dead and Burroughs is handed a notebook telling Carter’s amazing story.
Carter, played by Taylor Kitsch, describes in his journal how he was mysteriously transported to the world of Barsoom, or, as we would call it, Mars. There his different bone density (apparently) allows him to perform feats the natives cannot. He gets captured by the Tharks, giant green-skinned, four-armed creatures and then has the misfortune to stumble into the middle of a civil war.
Dominic West plays warlord Sab Than who is being manipulated by mysterious grey-robed men, whose leader is played by Hollywood’s favourite baddie Mark Strong. He gets Sab Than to gives an ultimatum to the last free city, Helium. He will spare the city if he can wed the princess Dejah Thoris, played by Lynn Collins. By the way, she’s an American actress but plays the Barsoomian princess with a very good English accent.
So inevitably Carter is drawn into the war and has to deal with Sab Than, rival Tharks, Mark Strong and find a way home. While, inevitably, falling in love with the princess.
The movie is essentially an enjoyable slice of pulp entertainment. The production design is impressive, the visuals are stunning. I particularly liked the big solar powered airships. I liked how the ‘human’ Barsoomians have redish-tinted skin and elaborate tattoos. The Tharks are CGI-creations and are nicely done. There’s an amusing running gag about how the Tharks get Carter’s name wrong.
I was struck that the story is not dissimilar the Stargate movie; A man from Earth gets mysteriously transported to a desert planet, has to take sides in a local war and falls in love with the princess.
I always think the true sign that a movie has done its job well is when it makes me want to discover the source material for myself. This movie certainly makes me want to track down a copy of A Princess of Mars, which I understand has been fairly faithfully adapted.
Overall it’s well worth a look.