Friday, March 9, 2012

John Carter

The City of Helium fully realized with amazing detail in Andrew Stanton's John Carter

***1/2 out of ****

John Carter is epic in spectacle that went straight to the vein of my appreciation for sci-fi fantasy lore. This movie's aesthetics alone gave me enough satisfaction to call it worth seeing. As a Star Wars fan, it's on a list of movies that came out since the dreaded prequels that made me think "That's how the new Star Wars movies should have looked!" The beautiful combination of the ancient and futuristic meshes so successfully here. The cast of characters are full of theatrical flare reminiscent of the best B-movies of yesteryear. And the story is just convoluted enough for me to tolerate.

I love that this is a fantasy version of Mars that could be imagined at a time before we knew very much about the planets of our solar system.  This movie is entertaining because it's ridiculous. My favorite stuff in the movie Thor last year, were the scenes in Asgard. It was the kind of movie environment that Dino De Laurentiis was always trying to achieve with flicks like Barbarella and Flash Gordon. This movie resurrects the same kind of environment but tops it by leaps and bounds. The idea of a movie based on Edgar Rice Burroughs's John Carter series, is something that has been toyed with for eighty years now. There could have been a terrible temptation to find a modern twist to the adaptation for Disney to pander to it's modern audience. I think this material was waiting too long for that kind of crap to happen to it. On it's opening weekend, The Lorax was king at the box office, which siphons out all the whimsical language of Dr. Seuss and leaves young audiences with a Lorax from Jersey. Thankfully they didn't do anything of the sort to Carter.

I can almost say that this movie is delightful for it's flaws because those flaws are reminiscent of the storytelling mistakes that went extinct by the mid-eighties. This movie opens up like the original TRON in 1982. We start off with an action scene in another world for the sake of exposition, which is kind of like delivering the goods too early and bombarding the audience with too much alienating information. It was a mistake to open the movie this way, but at the same time that kind of messy storytelling made it feel like a fantasy movie from my childhood.

The movie is campy, yes. The suspension of disbelief is constantly demanded but somehow that didn't seem very hard. You see, this movie put me at ease like I was a kid again. When that happens, it means that I am seeing something that is familiar but in a long-lost kind of way. It's a good old fashioned fantasy that contains all the stuff I wished I could see in a movie during childhood.

There's a really good cast. Taylor Kitsch as Carter may be limited to looking like a shirtless pulp hero with a sardonic smirk on his face, but that's all you need for a macho hero. There's Mark "I'm a bad guy" Strong as a menacing deity. Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton, and Thomas Hayden Church provide voices and motion to animated tall green warriors. CiarĂ¡n "I'm awesome" Hinds is in there too. Bryan Cranston is a Cavalry leader. Then there is Lynn Collins as the Princess... I love Lynn Collins. She's been playing small roles too long for having such a range of acting ability and a knockout screen presence.

First Brad Bird broke into live-action with the incredibly entertaining Mission: Impossible -Ghost Protocol. Now another Pixar alum, Andrew Stanton makes his debut into the medium but a little differently. Like Avatar, This is one of those movies that feels like a hybrid between animated and live-action. One is never relying too much on the other. There are plenty of computer generated images of creatures, ships and locations. There are also plenty of bold actors, practical grand sets, and real exotic locations to match.  

Michael Giaccino's score to the movie tops everything off with that escapist adventure tone that makes me hungrier for candy and popcorn.

When considering this movie's long and troubled history of attempted incarnations, I do feel sorry for all those passionate artists who tried to make John Carter but didn't get to achieve their unique vision of what it would be. Half a century ago it was almost a cartoon movie from Warner Bros. Almost a decade ago, it was to be a cost-effective stylized digital movie from Robert Rodriguez or Kerry Conran. Someone said that the most fitting movie for this material would be a hard core adult version from Paul Verhoven with plenty of bloodshed and nudity. Maybe Verhoven would be up for doing a sequel to this movie and break new ground by making the first R-rated movie to be released under the Disney name. 

I think it's great that Disney got the rights to this movie and made something descent. I've observed that Disney has a troubled history when concerning their movies of quality. Outside of Pixar they tend to look like they don't know what they're doing. When something good comes out, it usually looks like a mistake on their part. They aren't even merchandising this movie. The Rocketeer was a flop and I'm still confused as to whether TRON: Legacy was a success or not, but like this movie, it's like some crazy person a the Greedy Mouse Company thought it would be great to invest an ungodly amount of money on a project that probably didn't have a big audience. In those cases, they lost a bunch of money delivering a sight and sound spectacular show that my friends and I can enjoy. Thanks Mickey!
Fun stuff.  

Here's a good review from The AV Club.

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