Adaptations of this nearly 100-yr-old novel have been attempted over the years but none by a studio with the heavy lifting capabilities of Disney. The original novel, written by Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs, is generally considered sci-fi but defies categorization and has influenced storytellers through the century from H.P. Lovecraft to Ray Bradbury to George Lucas and James Cameron.
Shortly after the US Civil War, John Carter has run afoul of both the Calvary and the Apaches but in the ensuing chaos, he suddenly finds himself in a strange land, discovers he is unbelievably fast and strong, and is soon surronded by green, 4-armed creatures. Yep, he’s on Mars.
What I Liked:
Despite the fact that this novel established a huge portion of the basic sci-fi tropes we are very familiar with today, I didn’t know what was going to happen. Yes, I knew the major points,who would live or die, who would end up with whom. But I didn’t know what journey would take us there.
The visuals and art direction were beautiful and felt modern and classic at the same time. Occasionally I felt I was watching a new movie from the Star Wars era (the good ones). Several times composer Michael Giacchino channels John Williams. Costumes, sets, CG, and even alien technology all felt fresh and new.
The cast is packed with great actors although a few are pushed to the background due to the dense storyline. (more James Purefoy, please)
What I Didn’t Like:
Let’s start with John Carter himself, Taylor Kitsch. He’s OK but not great. Fortunately, he doesn’t have too much to do but be muscular and beat people up. I think what bothered me was his voice which sounds like he’s doing his best Christian Bale/Batman impersonation. And, of all the common charaterizations in the story, the brooding, alienated hero just didn’t connect with me. Blah, blah, blah, tragedy, blah, blah, blah, grief. Seen it.
I was also a little frustrated with the 3D. It seemed to blur out some of the scenery (both real and CG) which left the movie feeling like it had missed an opportunity to be as epic as say, Lord of the Rings. There were also several times when I felt like the top of the screen was cut off and I should try to peek up under the top.
Bottom Line: Just shy of epic but still exciting, creative, and beautifully shot.