I’ve become more selective over the years with what media I purchase. A combination of moving too frequently, wanting to reduce clutter, and accepting the digital age. There are few Blu-rays/DVDs or video games I purchase on disc. When there’s a movie I choose to own (Avengers, Wreck-It Ralph), that means it’s pretty damn good, at least by my standards. I own “John Carter” on Blu-ray. I thought it was a fantastic movie that no one else saw.
Edgar Rice Burroughs invented the science fiction genre with “A Princess of Mars” in 1917. Many common place sci-fi elements had their inception here, much like fantasy with Lord of the Rings. I highly recommend any fan of the genre to pick up the books. They’re public domain and easily obtainable for free. Disney took the intellectual property (IP) and made the first live action film version with Andrew Stanton (WALL-E, Finding Nemo) directing. Sadly, like many tent pole films as of late, the budget skyrocketed, and the return was detrimental.
Carter, a former Confederate Army captain, is pursued by Union Colonel Powell who is trying to acquire his assistance in fighting the Apache. The two are attacked by the Apache, and hide in a cave that happens to be filled with gold. The same cave Carter had been trying to locate. A Thern (magical type people) appears in the cave. As Carter subdues him, he accidentally actives the Thern’s medallion which transports him to Barsoom (Mars). The dying planet is embroiled in a civil war. With a different gravity, Carter is much stronger and able to leap great distances, much like someone else in pop culture history.
Many years after it’s release, I saw the original “Amityville Horror.” I was bored watching it as it contained every horror beat and cliche I’d seen hundreds of times before. Halfway through I realized that this was the template that many horror movies drew from, the prototype. I watched “John Carter” with the same mindset. It’s easy to dismiss the movie as derivative sci-fi when it’s unfair to due so. This is the original. I have no doubt much of the inspiration for Superman came from John Carter, for example.
Two of the movies biggest problems were it’s title and marketing. The movie was originally intended to be called “John Carter of Mars”, though Disney decided to drop the “of Mars” part a few months before release. That made the title sound so generic that I doubt many people had any clue what the movie was. I can understand not wanting to call it “A Princess of Mars” as every movie besides rom-coms are required to have male leads (sarcasm). Naming it after the title character from a 100 year old story (original serialized in 1912), does little to entice your potential audience. Which leads into the marketing. Disney did not do themselves any favors with the promotional material. I knew what I was getting into, but I am not the typical audience. I needed to force a few people to watch this with me (I threatened to smash). They thoroughly enjoyed it afterwards, but I think this was indicative of people not wanting to spend money on something completely unknown (my friends watched it for free at home, and were hesitant with that).
Budget was a major concern. First time live action director Stanton reshot many scenes that probably didn’t require it. This quickly skyrocketed the budget, escalating the required return for profit. His methods work in animation, as it’s mostly little changes on a computer. With live action, each take costs money. Rumors abound that an extra $100 million was spent in reshoots.
“John Carter” is an excellent movie. Taylor Kitsch gave an amazing performance as the titular character, which sadly didn’t bolster his stock. Lynn Collins was powerful and sexy as capable Dejah Thoris (i wish more female characters were like her). Mark Strong was born to play villains, proving that point once again as Matai Shang.
See the movie in theaters? Tarzan or John Carter? Comment below!