Deneb does John Carter

“Who will pledge their metal to mine?”

The Scoop: 2012 PG-13, directed by Andrew Stanton and starring Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton, Mark Strong, Dominic West, and Thomas Hayden Church.

Tagline: Lost in Our World. Found in Another.

Summary Capsule: Mars! Lots of stuff on Mars! Mars Mars Mars!

Deneb’s Rating: 2.5 multi-legged things out of three.

Deneb’s Review: There have been certain times in my life when I have come to the fleeting conclusion that there are a lot of ill-informed people out there.

Take, for instance, a little over a year ago, when I first heard the news that a John Carter of Mars movie was coming out soon. Now, as a sci-fi fan, I was intrigued by this news, as Mr. Carter is quite the well-known figure amongst members of the aliens-and-rocketships set. I hadn’t read any of his adventures myself, but I decided now was as good a time as any – and I did not regret my decision, let me tell you. This stuff was great!

So, with anticipation in my heart and the necessary funds in hand, I set out to view John Carter for myself. I was, I must admit, a trifle worried that there might be a crowd – after all, with such an old and famous character there must be plenty of other people eager to see this, right?

Right?

Evidently not.

I probably don’t have to tell you that the movie tanked in theaters. Just about every corner of the Internet has already mentioned this fact. It actually did pretty well overseas, but here in the States? Bomb. Great big public bomb.

Why? Well, according to most people, it’s because A: the marketing campaign was stupid, and B: the title being just “John Carter” turned people off, because it just didn’t sound very impressive. Also (and this may be apocryphal, I’m not sure), there’s apparently a character on a TV show (please don’t ask me which one) with the same name, and some folks thought it was supposed to be about him.

I… what… THAT’S STUPID!

I mean, look – I know that the John Carter books are kind of old, and haven’t stayed in the public eye the way, say, Lord of the Rings has. But even if you’ve never heard of them, just what is there about spectacular fights on an alien planet that sounds bad? I know that was in the marketing, stupid or not, which at least should have been enough to clue people in that it was not about the freakin’ guy from TV. Good grief.

Oh well. What’s done is done, the race is run, and I went to the movies and had some fun. And now, gentle pilgrims, the review has begun! (And the rhyming has ended!)

The story begins in 1881, with the summoning of a young Edgar Rice Burroughs (Daryl Sabara) to the estate of his uncle, one John Carter (Taylor Kitsch). (Yes, that Edgar Rice Burroughs. Yes, the author of the books. And yes, this element was taken directly from them.) Unfortunately, he arrives just in time to be told that Carter has died – he kicked the bucket not too long ago, and left everything to his nephew.

Burroughs, as it turns out, had not seen his uncle since early childhood, and although he remembers him fondly, he really knows very little about him. And there’s plenty to find out, too, for it seems Mr. Carter was quite the odd duck while he was alive. He traveled all around the world on archaeological expeditions, and his mansion is strewn with random findings from his travels, the walls covered with clippings and diagrams. For that matter, his death was pretty odd, too – he died with essentially no warning, but with his will specifying that he was to be interred, unembalmed and without a funeral, in a specially-made mausoleum that can only be opened from the inside.

Bit of a mystery, eh wot? Still, there’s at least one way to pierce the gloom of John Carter’s life – his journal, which he also left to his nephew, and which takes us into the rest of the movie.

Flash back to thirteen years ago in Arizona, not long after the Civil War, where a somewhat younger and poorer Carter is prospecting for gold. He’s not without opposition in this, as it seems he was quite the badass during his time in the Virginia cavalry, and the government is looking for men like him to reenlist – there’s Injuns to fight, don’cha know. Carter, however, is having none of it – one war was more than enough for him, and all he wants is to be left alone so that he can make his pile. He’s getting pretty close, too, as, according to local legend, there’s an “evil spider cave” somewhere about that is apparently full of the yellow stuff, and I don’t mean mustard. He’s found hints of its whereabouts, and with a little more time and effort, he’s sure he can locate the place.

Fate steps in at this point, as a little altercation with the locals sends him fleeing up into the mountains, and holing up in a cave – as it turns out, the cave. The good news is that the rumors were right; there’s enough gold in there to make him rich for life. The bad news is that he’s not alone – just when he’s getting a good goggle at his future moolah, a guy in weird clothes pops out of nowhere and attacks him. He succeeds in overcoming the stranger, but not before a process is set in motion that winds up sending him back where his attacker came from, a place far, far away.

Where is this place, you ask? Why, it’s Mars, of course – or, as the natives call it, Barsoom. This is not exactly Mars as we know it, mind you – no, this is a living, breathing (if not exactly healthy) world. It’s seen better days, though, as the planet’s oceans went bye-bye eons ago, leaving Barsoom a dry and desolate planet.

It still has inhabitants, though, and they fall into two main camps – the Red and the Green. The Red Martians are basically human, and live in a loosely-knit group of city-states scattered here and there across the landscape. We need concern ourselves with only two of them at the moment, though – Zodanga and Helium (yes, yes, I know; Helium, ha ha, squeaky voices. Shut up, please).

The two cities have been feuding with each other since time immemorial, largely because Helium has always been the only place powerful enough to truly prove a challenge against Zodanga’s… unique advantages. You see, it’s a mobile city, on great big mechanical legs like a caterpillar, and can travel wherever it wants to, bringing the fight directly to its enemies. They never proved too much of a threat to their rival, though – at least, not until lately.

It seems that the ruler (or ‘Jeddak’) of Zodanga is one Sab Than (Dominic West), and he’s recently been approached by a mysterious group of people known as the Therns. They are led by a man called Matai Shang (Mark Strong), and for reasons of his own he wants Sab Than to win this war. Hence, he’s supplied him with a piece of technology that’s advanced even by Barsoomian standards, an energy weapon of immense power that’s got enough juice in it to blast Helium’s armies to bits – and guess what, that’s exactly what it’s been doing.

But does John Carter care about any of this? Heck no – he’s got problems of his own. As it happens, he materialized a fair distance away from any of the Red Martians, but in just the right place to encounter the Greens, and they’re no picnic, let me tell you. To start with, they’re not basically human – they’re bright green, stand anywhere from nine to eleven feet tall, and are furnished with two sets of arms and impressively betusked mouths. More importantly, they are practically the textbook definition of ‘savages’, warlike tribesmen who practice a dauntingly Spartan (as in ‘cull the weak’) way of life and have little in the way of human (or inhuman) kindness.

Were Carter a regular Barsoomian, he’d no doubt last about five minutes amongst these lime-skinned behemoths – but as it happens, he’s got a distinct advantage here. As his Earth-born body is adapted for a far higher level of gravity than is present on Mars, he’s much stronger and more agile, and can leap like a supercharged grasshopper. Basically, he’s a one-man fighting machine, and since the Greens worship strength, this impresses them greatly.

He quickly falls under the patronage of Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe), Jeddak of the Tharks (the main tribe of Greens) and a fairly decent fellow for a desert warlord. He has a glittering career all mapped out for this high-hopping stranger, leading the Tharks to victory against their enemies as his right-hand(s) man.

Before Carter has a chance to process all this, the other part of the Barsoomian equation finally comes into play when Red collides with Green. More specifically, an altercation between Zodangan and Heliumite forces near the Thark encampment leads to them capturing a young woman by the name of Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins). She’s not just any young woman, either – she is, in fact, the daughter of the Jeddak of Helium, which, even on Mars, makes her an honest-to-Taweret princess.

Needless to say, it’s pretty much inevitable that she and our Mr. Carter are going to take an interest in each other – Carter because hey, sexy alien princess, Dejah because whoa, sky-high bouncing man! Like Tars Tarkas, she thinks he could be a valuable asset in a war, one that Helium desperately needs, what with Zodanga kicking their butts and all.

Yeah – those are nice plans. Too bad Carter himself isn’t in the mood to cooperate. He had his fill of fighting back on Earth, and matters haven’t changed now that he’s switched planets. Barsoom in general can go hang as far as he cares; he just wants to get back to his cave of gold. And hey, given the framing device to all of this, chances are pretty good that he’ll succeed.

There are a few things that will have to be worked out first, though. Things like the future of Helium, and his own slowly-evolving feelings about its – and Dejah’s – welfare. And then there’s those pesky Therns lurking in the background, who just happen to look an awful lot like that guy who attacked him back in the cave…

Not long after I saw the movie for the first time, I stumbled across a review of it that called A Princess of Mars (the first Barsoom novel, upon which the movie is largely based) the “Rosetta Stone of popular culture”. (I’m paraphrasing, but that’s basically it.) That may be a slight exaggeration, but there’s no denying that it was one of those pieces of fiction on which genres turn. Without it and its sequels, science fiction as we know it would be quite a different playing field.

How? Well, to start off, it was Edgar Rice Burroughs’ first book, so, just for starters, we wouldn’t have any Tarzan. That’s small stuff, though, given how many other important creations it influenced. Without John Carter we probably wouldn’t have Conan the Barbarian, we definitely wouldn’t have Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers – heck, we wouldn’t have Superman! And even if you’re not a superhero fan and poo-poo all that old stuff, I’ll wager you’ve seen Star Wars once or twice, yes? Yep, wouldn’t have that. Come to think of it, name just about any sci-fi book, TV show or movie created since then that features aliens or alien planets – Star Trek, Stranger in a Strange Land, Battlestar Galactica, The Martian Chronicles, Aliens, Dune, Total Recall (the first one), zillions of others. Wouldn’t have those. The man has a long reach, shall we say.

Now, of course I’m not saying that the Barsoom novels were the sole factor behind the birth of modern sci-fi. There are many others, and, for that matter, many books and stories before Princess of Mars that dealt with similar topics and themes. But even though it may share the credit, one may categorically state that modern nerd-dom would be a miiiiighty different place without John Carter of Mars.

I bring all of this up for two reasons – one, because I’m a conversational chappy and it’s interesting, and two, because there are some people who have accused this movie of being derivative. Specifically, they have accused it of ripping off Star Wars and being too reminiscent of Avatar. In fact, it’s quite the reverse. You may well see echoes of many famous sci-fi franchises in John Carter, but it’s not because it’s drawing influence from them, it’s because they drew influence from the original books (a thing that, regarding Avatar, James Cameron has openly admitted), and the film is being faithful to its origins.

So yeah, speaking of those origins. You may have noticed that my plot summary for this movie was a little, well… complex. That’s not an accident. As Burroughs wrote it, the world of Barsoom was quite a complex place, with its own ancient culture, language, and civilization, new aspects of which were examined in every installment – and few more so than in Princess of Mars. It’s a classic book, and a good read, but a lot of it can come off as an excited babble of exposition, names, places, history, religion, all hurtling out at you at light speed. Thankfully, there’s a heaping helping of action and atmosphere there to balance it out, but yeah – ‘complex’ just about covers it.

As such, one of John Carter’s flaws is that if you’re not up on your Barsoomian basics, it can get just a wee bit confusing. There’s a lot happening at once here, with numerous different sides to keep track of and lots of terminology flying about. It’s not surprising that your average layperson tends to get a minor case of ‘wait – wait – what? Slow down!’ on their first viewing.

However, while this is a flaw, it is also, paradoxically, a benefit, since it’s that very complexity that makes John Carter work. It would be perfectly enjoyable without it, but in delving into the details of this strange new Mars, it makes it more involving. Sure, you’ll probably struggle to catch up a bit the first time you see it, but that’s just the first time – this is a film that rewards multiple viewings. You will not get tired of it easily; in fact, if you like it the first time, you will most likely want to see it again so you can catch up on the stuff you missed – and even if you manage to keep track of everything, it is a world you will want to visit again. And all of this is assuming that you’re a novice to the universe; if you do happen to be a John Carter fan, you’ll be in hog heaven, because you will get the terminology, you will be able to keep track of everyone, and overall, you, my friend, are in for a treat.

Because this is very true to the books it is based on. It’s not letter-perfect, but that, too, is a good thing, because the books are not without flaws – like a good adaptation should, it gets the overall spirit right, but feels free to add its own elements to cover up its source material’s patchy bits. The details, however – all the meticulous world-building that make ERB’s Mars such a fascinating place to visit – are here pretty much in their entirety. If you have read the first three books (which are often considered a sort of unofficial trilogy, anyway), you will get this world, and know that there is more of it that you haven’t seen, and which is just waiting to be uncovered.

And if you haven’t – no biggie. Forget, for a moment, the complexities of Barsoom, and let us focus in on the basic surface details. This movie looks awesome. Mars is just as dry and dusty and intimidating as it ought to be, and its architecture, technology, flora and fauna are both beautiful and convincing. (I particularly liked the design of the Fliers – I’m not sure if they’re exactly true to what’s described in the books, but then I always had a little trouble envisioning those anyway.) Helium and Zodanga are impressively exotic and well-realized, and are not carbon copies of each other – while there are similarities in their designs (besides, of course, the fact that one walks around), there are enough marked differences for them to be believable as individual cities sharing the same world and background.

That’s just the Red Martians, though. More important in some ways are the Greens – if you take away anything from the first book, you will take away the image of these guys; they’re one of the iconic elements of the series. Getting them right was all-important, and to the filmmakers’ credit, they did just that. I’m not generally a big fan of CGI, but when it works it works, and this works impressively well. Sure, they were a little more goggle-eyed and whatnot in the books, but the differences are both relatively minor and thoroughly understandable – these characters had to be played by actors, after all, and you do actors no credit by making their facial expressions unrecognizable in the final product. The designs work, the motion-capture is excellent, and overall you just buy the notion that yes, there are 11-foot-tall four-armed green barbarians thundering across the desert sands ready for battle. And that? That is darned cool. That, cats and kitties, is pure niftiness.

OK, now that I’ve brought up character designs, I suppose I should bring up the characters – the first one, of course, being John Carter himself. I’ve read some complaints that Taylor Kitsch was a bit bland, and yeah, I guess I can see that, but you know what? So is the original character.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, John Carter is a classic adventure hero, but he was always the least interesting part of the books. He belongs to that style of protagonists best described as ‘boringly perfect’ – he never backs down from a fight, he always wins them, and he rarely shows the slightest moment of fear or indecision (and when he does, the book generally back-pedals a bit to cover it up, assuring us that he’s ‘just being cautious’ or whatever). His adventures are very exciting, but not exactly what you’d call character-driven, which is likely the reason why later entries in the series tend to focus on somewhat more complex protagonists.

Now, was Taylor Kitsch the perfect choice for the role? Well, no, probably not, but he’s certainly not bad in it. If nothing else, he looks the part – the man is in darn good shape, and during the (awesome) fight sequences where he charges into battle against who-knows-how-many enemies at once, it’s at least semi-believable that yes, this is a guy who could do that. (This is good, because the aforementioned actions are classic Carter, and rarely does a book that he appears in go by without at least one example of them. The dude loves to fight.)

Really, though, there’s not much to screw up. John Carter is a brave, honorable man who refuses to back down from a fight, and Kitsch portrays that very well. The character does have a darker side than in the books, but personally, I liked that – maybe not the darkness itself, but the fact that he has more to him than simply being noble ‘cause he’s the hero. He’s badass either way, but book-Carter was basically just this guy who loved his beautiful princess and had a tendency to go ‘oh boy – violence!’

Movie-Carter does not go ‘oh boy – violence!’ He’s not a pacifist or anything; he’ll willingly charge into a fight if required, but he’s not into war in the same way he is in the books. He starts out as quite a hard, bitter man, and it’s primarily because of war – war has kicked his ass and ruined his life, and he’d like to keep out of it, thank you very much. Over the course of the movie he comes out of his shell, and manages to recapture the more adventurous, generous personality he had (we assume) before the war. Basically, the movie is about him beginning to fill the role of the larger-than-life character from the books, until by the end that’s pretty much who he is.

Next there’s Dejah Thoris, the beautiful princess in question that I mentioned above. As played by Lynne Collins, Dejah is actually one of the relatively few instances where a character has, in my opinion, been decidedly improved by the adaptation.

This is not, I hasten to add, an attack on the character from the books. By the standards of the times, Burroughs actually wrote some very strong female characters, and Dejah Thoris is no exception – however, she’s still a ‘hero’s girlfriend’ type, and so inevitably winds up getting rescued a lot. Her character is strong, but it’s more a strength of personality than an I’m-going-to-go-out-and-actually-do-stuff sort of thing.

Collins’ Dejah, on the other hand, does go out and do stuff. She’s an accomplished swordswoman in her own right, and, more importantly, she’s Helium’s top scientist. This allows the movie to keep John Carter as the big hero while giving his love interest a reason to stay in the background that doesn’t diminish her  – she’s the brains of the outfit; she’s not expected to kick as much ass as the superpowered earthling with a military background. She can still kick a bit as needed, but her primary function in the story is to figure things out, and for that she needs a nimble brain, not a strong sword-arm.

There is, of course, more to her character than that. Dejah is intelligent, prickly, skeptical, fiercely devoted to her home city, and highly resentful of the fact that as its princess, her role is reduced to little more than a bargaining chip between the two sides. She wants to help, dammit, and she sees Carter (at least at first) as a bit of a jerk for not wanting to help.  One thing that the film does right is that it lets enough time pass in-movie that her changing attitude towards him is at least somewhat plausible; she doesn’t go directly from ‘I don’t care for you much’ to ‘I love you’ within an hour or two. This is good, because their relationship is one of the great and abiding love stories of classic sci-fi, right alongside Tarzan and Jane – it can’t seem tossed-off, and luckily, it doesn’t. By the end, we understand what she sees in him, and what he sees in her, and while it may not be a perfect handling of a romantic arc (it seldom is in Hollywood), it’s about as good as one could expect. (Also, she’s easy on the eyes and has badass tattoos, so that doesn’t hurt either.)

OK, we’ve covered the white guy and the Red girl, so I guess it’s time for the Greens, starting with Tars Tarkas. The role of Tars is really rather complex, if you think about it – he’s a decent guy who has managed to attain a position of high rank amongst a group of people who don’t believe in decency; hence he has to come off as likable while at the same time believably capable of being callous and authoritarian. Thankfully, they put an actor of Willem Dafoe’s caliber in the role, and he does a pretty good job of it, even managing to inject an element of humor into things at times. Tars is really one of the nicest guys in the movie, and yet you never lose sight of the fact that if you cross him, he can and will make you regret it – that’s a delicate balance, and Dafoe pulls it off nicely.

In other four-armed roles, we have Sola (Samantha Morton), Sarkoja (Polly Walker), and Tal Hajus (Thomas Hayden-Church). Sola winds up being Carter’s closest ally after Tars; he’s put into her care immediately following his entrance into Thark society, and she winds up going from being his guard to ultimately becoming a sort of sidekick and companion. Her position is interesting in that she’s sort of a misfit amongst her own kind – being one of the few decent Tharks besides Tars (there’s a reason for this, but I won’t spoil it) and yet lacking the protection of his high position, she’s constantly getting the short end of the stick from her peers. This has made her a bit of a worrywart, but she’s no pushover, and proves her worth as the film goes on.

Sarkoja is a bully who pushes Sola around; she doesn’t ultimately wind up having much of a role in the film, but she’s one of the few Tharks who receive names, so I figured she was worth mentioning. Tal Hajus is a bit more significant, as he’s a rival of Tars who sees his patronage of the strange, pallid newcomer as a sign of weakness for him to exploit. While he also doesn’t have a huge effect on the overall plot, he’s a notably villainous character nonetheless, and Hayden-Church does a good job as a rough, growling brute.

Which brings us, of course, to the real villains. The Therns play a bit of a different role here than they did in the books; they were behind-the-scenes manipulators there, too, but they did it in a much less overt way. Changing them to shapeshifting societal chessmasters was a good choice for a cinematic depiction, as it gives them a creepy, they-could-be-anyone sort of feel that works very well. Mark Strong is quite effective as Matai Shang, at least in part because he stays very quiet and reserved for much of his screen time. He’s the type who never shows you all his cards and always has one hidden up his sleeve – as such, he always seems in charge of whatever situation may arise, and most of the time, that’s exactly what he is. This gives him an air of casual menace that makes him a memorable bad guy.

Sab Than, regretfully, is not quite as effective. There’s nothing wrong with him as a villain; it’s just that his position in the movie is to be manipulated, which inevitably makes him a bit less interesting than the manipulator. Dominic West portrays him as a bit of a thug who chafes a bit under the Thern’s guidance; he has little patience for subtle plans, he just wants to blow stuff up. As the ruler of Zodanga, this was a good choice; we don’t get to know much about the Zodangans except that they’re enemies of Helium, so by making him the ‘face’ of the city, it’s implied that this sort of brutal militarism is not uncommon there. This at least gives us a bit more of a reason to dislike them than ‘clearly they’re evil because everyone keeps saying so’.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up Woola. Woola is not exactly a character, but he’s certainly a presence. He’s a calot, the Martian equivalent of a canine, who looks something like a combination of a bulldog, a frog, a grub, and a hairless version of Fizzgig from Dark Crystal. Carter winds up acquiring him as a sort of pet, and the critter has considerable stage presence – turns out it’s pretty funny to see a monstrous alien creature barking and whining for attention like your average household pooch. Combine this with the fact that he can move like Speedy Gonzales, and you have an instant source of ‘EEEE I WANT ONE!’ (Seriously, if someone hasn’t made a Woola plushy by now, I’ll be very surprised.)

Is this to say that John Carter has no flaws? No, of course not. I only got into the books recently, but I’ve encountered a few reviews from long-time fans complaining about how the hero was changed from the noble, selfless character they remember – and yeah, I guess I can see how you might take issue with that. (Also, while I wasn’t looking for a thick drawl or anything, I would have liked a little more indication from Kitsch that he was playing a Southerner. I’m not sure what a Virginian accent sounds like, but I’m pretty sure this Carter doesn’t have it.) Similarly, the movie does take its time before really getting started, a thing which apparently frustrates some people – I didn’t mind it, but then I tend not to when it comes to stuff like that. As mentioned earlier, the film really is awfully complex, so that might turn you off if you’re just looking for a simple adventure story – this is more of a complicated adventure story with a simple heart. The motivation behind the villain’s plans was never made as clear as it might have been – things are inferred, but never precisely articulated – and I do agree that it would have been nice if Mars had looked just a little less yellow. I mean, I get that they shot in Utah and everything, but some color correction to make the desert sands seem a bit more unearthly would have improved things for me. And there’s one particular running gag that I, for one, got tired of rather quickly.

But you know what? These are relatively minor details. Overall, I dig this film quite a bit. It’s got action, it’s got humor, it’s got aliens, it’s got good-old-fashioned thrills, it remains true to the books it’s based on yet has its own distinctive flavor. It’s certainly one of the better movies I’ve seen this year, and I look forward to seeing it again in the future. Furthermore, this would be a great movie to watch with kids, especially those who are just starting to get into science-fiction. John Carter is great stuff for more mature sci-fi fans as well, but for a beginner, this would be a truly awesome introduction to the genre – it’s got all the spectacular adventure elements that would hook in a younger audience (adventure, violence without gruesomeness, cool visuals and aliens and superpowers) while being a good showcase of how truly immersive a fictional world can be. A bit confusing? Perhaps, but every movie is a bit confusing when you’re younger; I don’t think kids would mind that much. Highly recommended as a babysitting or hanging-out-with-younger-siblings movie.

So that aside, do I recommend this movie to everyone? Well, no. I think it’s great, but I’ve encountered enough grumpy reviews of it to realize that I don’t necessarily represent the majority opinion. On the other hand, I don’t represent the minority, either, as I’ve ran into plenty of people who genuinely like/love the film, some of whom are calling it one of the best they’ve ever seen. I will say that whatever your stance on it, it’s worth seeing at least once. If you want to see where some of your favorite movies and books came from, well, read the books. But see John Carter anyway. It’s good – and if it builds up enough of a fanbase, we might get a sequel! Yay!

(Oh, and, guy on TV? Assuming you do exist? Nothing personal.)

“Why yes, Mr. Carter, I rather suspect you did take a wrong turn at Albuquerque. A question, though – where IS Albuquerque?”

Intermission!

  • As a public service to avoid confusion, here is a short guide to relevant Barsoomian terms used in the film.
  •          Barsoom: Mars.
  •          Jasoom: Earth.
  •          Tharks: The Green tribe of Tars Tarkas.
  •          Therns: The shapeshifters, led by Matai Shang.
  •          Helium: The good city. Their dominant color is blue.
  •          Zodanga: The bad city. Their dominant color is red.
  •          Calot: Martian dog, what Woola is. Also used as a derogatory term.
  •          Warhoons: A rival tribe of the Tharks.
  •          Kaor: Hello.
  • Jon Favreau, who was originally in the running to direct the movie, makes a cameo as a Thark ‘bookie.’
  • Prior to the addition of CGI, the actors playing the Tharks gave their performances on stilts, so as to approximate the height of their characters and make things a bit easier on the animators.

Groovy Quotes:

John Carter: Whatever it is you suppose I owe you, our country, or any other beloved cause, I have already paid. I have paid in full… sir. So let me tell you what I will do. I will break me out of this cell, I will claim my gold and get filthy rich – rich enough to buy your flat, righteous blue behind, just so I can kick it all… day… lo- (guess what happens?)

Sab Than: I could not live with that on my conscience. I do have one, Princess.
Dejah Thoris: Really. I thought you had it removed, along with your –
Tardos Mors: Dejah!

Matai Shang: Increased strength and agility. A simple matter of gravitation and anatomy; one we should have foreseen.
John Carter: “We”?
Matai Shang: No apparent increase in intelligence.

Tars Tarkas: Leave a Thark his head and one hand and he may yet conquer.

Dejah Thoris: So when I was little and we would look up at the stars, and you would tell me of the heroes whose glory was written in the sky, how there was a star up there for me – is this what you imagined would be written on it?

Matai Shang: Being a fool is a great luxury, Sab Than.

Sab Than: What’s the point of having this thing if I don’t get to use it?

Dejah Thoris: I didn’t run away! I escaped!
John Carter: From what? His breath?

John Carter: Tars! Give me your hand, Tars! You have four different hands; give me one!

Tars Tarkas: You are ugly, but you are beautiful – and you fight like a Thark!

John Carter: Ohk Ohem Octe Wuiz Barsoom.

Dejah Thoris: A warrior may change his metal, but not his heart.

John Carter: Immortal ain’t bulletproof.

Tharks: Dotar Sojat! Dotar Sojat! Dotar Sojat! Dotar Sojat!

Matai Shang: My name is Matai Shang, and I do not exist. Indeed, I work very hard at it.

John Carter: Who will pledge their metal to mine?

Kantos Kan: Ah, Zodanga! Where the men are as limited as the menu, and the women are as hard as the beds.

John Carter: Tharks did not cause this, but by Issus, Tharks will end it!

Dejah Thoris: You’ll let me know when it gets dangerous?

John Carter: Good God. I’m on Mars.

If you liked this movie, try these:

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8 Comments

  1. I actually agree with your entire review, and have seen it 3 times since it came out on DVD. It reminded me of those old school adventure movies and serials from the 30s and 40s, with modern special effects, a combination that worked for me.

    While watching Battleship, my entire group kept going, “Virgeeenia.” because we are irritating like that.

  2. Totally agree! Like you, I read the first three books a few months before the movie came out, so that I wouldn’t be going in blind. And I completely enjoyed it — my only major complaint, other than that infuriating running gag (It would have taken SECONDS to correct Tars. Why didn’t he?),is the 15 or so minutes of “John Carter hanging around on Earth” at the beginning of the movie. Beginning with E.R. Burroughs? Loved the idea. But why not begin the journal with Carter approaching the cave? It’s how Burroughs wrote it, and it worked just fine for him. Maybe one scene prior to establish Carter’s history as a soldier for the confederacy and his (newly-added) tragic backstory, but that’s all they’d really need. I felt that some of the early Barsoom sequences felt rushed, especially the early scenes with the Tharks, and cutting a lot of the extraneous Earth adventures would have freed up more time to get to know Tars, Soja and Woola.

    Besides, I don’t think I’ve EVER seen that many Gilligan Cuts in a row.

    • Well, he did TRY and correct it; he just gave up once the language barrier proved too great. I will agree that it would have been nice had he corrected them after he could actually speak their language – I was waiting for that moment, and was somewhat annoyed that it never came. Still, it’s a minor enough gripe.
      I suspect that the filmmakers may have added that extra stuff in order not to seem anti-Native American – after all, in the original, it’s JUST the Apaches that he’s running away from, and it’s the one part of the book that seems somewhat uncomfortably dated to me; it’s one step away from going ‘those savages!’ Also, it could be to establish that he has no lingering love for the Confederacy, given that that side of the Civil War is… somewhat controversial these days, yes? I agree that the movie didn’t really NEED all that, but honestly, I’ve seen worst intros.
      And assuming that you’re talking about what I think you are, I actually thought the Gilligan Cuts in question were quite funny.

  3. Pingback: Al looks back at the films of 2012 « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

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