STARRING: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins,
Samantha Morton, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Dominic West, James Purefoy, Daryl
Sabara, Polly Walker, Bryan Cranston, Thomas Hayden Church, Willem Dafoe
2012, 132 Minutes, Directed by:
on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ epic series about a Civil War veteran transported to
Mars and caught up in war and romance there, John Carter mostly delivers
. . .
The visuals are stunning, with
the CGI well-integrated into the live action (although the 3D, added in
post-production, is unnecessary). The dramatic battles are exciting and the
supporting cast is strong.
Why, then, did Disney stupidly
do everything they could to ensure that it would fail?
Start with the title. It’s
based on the first book in the series, A Princess of Mars. However the
teen and twenty-something target audience hearing about a Disney princess movie
would have assumed it was a sequel to The Little Mermaid, so they decided
to call it John Carter of Mars.
The only problem with that is that their market research folks told them that
Mars didn’t test well. And, after Disney’s bomb
Mars Needs Moms last year, is that surprising? So they called it John
Carter, a name utterly meaningless to their audience. (Wasn’t he president
Then, like the schemers in
The Producers who want to ensure their show is a flop, they set out to
antagonize the critics, who might have been able to help them promote their
Much of the media was shut out
of interview opportunities and then at preview screenings everyone – including
working press – had cell phones and laptops confiscated and were wanded. This
TSA-like sideshow was announced with the Orwellian title of Level One security
making one wonder what higher levels would have entailed.
"An exciting adventure tale . . . when it finally gets under way."
Of course it was an exercise in
futility. First, because there’s no real interest in 2D cell phone photos of
blurry 3D images. Second, unless Disney has its own army, there will be no such
security at the more than 3 500 theaters where the film is scheduled to open.
And why? This is an exciting
adventure tale when it finally gets under way. The movie opens with too much
prologue jumping from Mars to 1880s America to the Civil War back to Mars. By
the time we’re back on Mars, with a baffled John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) trying
to figure out how to move under the lighter gravity, we have to differentiate
four different groups that are working at cross-purposes.
There is Dejah Thoris (Lynn
Collins), a scientist and a princess whose father (Ciarán Hinds) is about to sue
for peace by forcing her to marry conqueror Sab Than (Dominic West). Than is
being backed by mysterious figures, headed up by Matai Shang (Mark Strong), who
have given him the destructive power of the ninth ray. Meanwhile Carter has been
captured by the Tharks, a green four-armed people who raise their young from
eggs. Their leader Tars Tarkas (voiced by Willem Dafoe) takes a liking to
Carter, especially when he sees him leap great distances.
The early part of the film
brings unfortunate comparisons to the 1984 adaptation of
Dune in that there’s a lot of information to assimilate so that you can
follow what’s going on. By the time you realize that Dejah Thoris is smart, a
babe, and good with a sword, the movie is good to go.
Kitsch is a serviceable hero
although he doesn’t leave any lasting impression. The most memorable characters
are the Tharks, voiced by Dafoe, Thomas Haden Church, and Samantha Morton, who
show us how far removed we are from Jar Jar Binks. The visual design is a major
plus, with images that seem to have popped out of illustrations by the legendary
So if you want to see John
Carter on the big screen, see it quickly. Audiences have not been prepared
for the film and Disney is supposedly already prepared to write off the $250
million film as a loss. Worse yet for the studio, in two weeks the movie version
of The Hunger Games arrives,
and the same target audience drawing a blank on Princess of Mars is
already snapping up tickets for the other film.