So, last weekend I went to see JOHN CARTER. Not many people did. It’s getting mediocre reviews and nobody really seems to know what it’s about. HOWEVER. It was totally worth it. If you want a beautiful, exciting sci-fi adventure story with a dash of steampunkery and a dash of Victoriana, you should go see it too. (I realize that I just described my dream movie, so I may be a little biased, but seriously. You should go.)
The movie is not perfect. It gets a bit exposition-heavy, it takes a little while for all the different stories to wind together into the main narrative, the Big Bads are not as complex or interesting as one might hope. But the rest of the film is entertaining enough that I am willing to overlook some misses. The movie is just—fun. It is fun the way a pulpy book movie should be. It’s not dark and heavy and trying to be anything it’s not. It’s the story of a Hero with a capital H and a beautiful Science Princess Warrior and saving the world and an oversized six-legged dog who is cuter than he has any right to be. Overall it’s a great ride, an exciting journey that I’m excited to experience again and again.
So why is it doing so poorly in theaters? This article from the New York Times gives some very interesting background on the behind-the-scenes workings of the film’s production. After some false starts, it was finally produced by Disney and directed by long-time JC fan Andrew Stanton (you may have heard of two of his other films, Wall-E and Finding Nemo). What I find most fascinating is that Stanton had a heavy hand in how the movie was marketed, which is in my (humble) opinion the movie’s main misstep. I was only at JC because some friends of mine were like NO WE ARE GOING TRUST USSSSS. (Note to self: trust friends.) The previews made JC look like another Rock (sorry Dwayne Johnson) vehicle, or something akin to 300 or Clash of Titans or any other movie that is just half-dressed men swinging swords at each other. Which… isn’t completely accurate. Yes, there’s shirtless sword- and gun-fighting, but there’s a lot more, too. A few shots of Princess Dejah Thoris kicking ass with her sword or the steampunky machines that fly with solar power would have helped, or even just some shots of the cities to show how rich and gorgeous Mars/Barsoom is. You can tell watching the film that there is tons material supporting it (like, maybe, ten books), and that doesn’t come through in the previews. It’s just a desert.
Anyway, the marketing has been marketed and there’s not much to be done about that now. The upshot is, this movie is so much cooler than the previews make it look and you should totally give it a chance. Trust me. TRUST JOHN CARTER. Dejah Thoris trusts John Carter. You should too.