The UnPopular Opinion: John Carter
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
**** SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
Just over a year ago, Disney had two big budget movies coming out that was a big risk for the studio if fans did not turn out in droves to see them. One turned out to be a massive success (THE AVENGERS) and the other one of the biggest box office bombs of all time. JOHN CARTER did not click with critics or the movie-going public and I consider that a huge shame. JOHN CARTER is everything that a STAR WARS or INDIANA JONES fan could want in a movie and is a massive amount of fun to watch on repeated viewings. If you haven't given the movie a chance, you are missing out.
JOHN CARTER, like STAR WARS or THE LORD OF THE RINGS, consists of an intricate mythology that is barely scratched in a single two hour film. The ten novel series by Edgar Rice Burroughs is one of the greatest adventure series in all of literature and was a direct influence on George Lucas and James Cameron. To see JOHN CARTER may come across as derivative of STAR WARS when in fact the Lucas films paid homage to the Burroughs books countless times over. Maybe that was the problem or the awful marketing job that Disney did with it, but JOHN CARTER is one of the best times I have had with a movie in years.
Like the scene in ATTACK OF THE CLONES, only not a sucky piece of shit.
Sitting in the theater as the opening of JOHN CARTER illuminated the screen, I thought about the feeling you get when you immerse yourself in a movie. This can sometimes be hard to do with a world as foreign as the Martian landscape in this movie. You have several races of alien beings to keep track off and a full amount of suspension of disbelief is needed before you can fully enjoy JOHN CARTER. But, let the opening backstory wash over you as we learn of the battles being waged between the cities of Zodanga and Helium and you will find yourself returning to the wonder when you first heard the words Tatooine, Alderaan, and Coruscant. Watch the stunning technology the Martians have under their control and feel the awe of the vistas of the red planet as they unfold on the screen. Nowhere on the screen is there a moment where the CGI falters. In fact, I find it safe to say this is the best CGI on film outside of AVATAR. JOHN CARTER is a 100% immersive film that succeeds in sucking the viewer in. In no time, I felt like I had a grasp of the cultures and classes at war in the film.
And then comes JOHN CARTER himself. I was wary of Taylor Kitsch when he played Gambit in X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE, but I bought into his role here. He is at once Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. He balances that duty of being the chosen hero right alongside the swarthy brigand looking for fortune and glory. He is a movie hero of the highest caliber. You can see the influence this character had on the creation of the STAR WARS characters as well as Jake Sully in AVATAR and Indiana Jones himself. I would gladly rank him up there as the type of classic film hero for kids to idolize. He stands up for himself, those less fortunate than him, and the woman he loves.
Please cast Lynn Collins in STAR WARS: EPISODE VII. Please!
Which brings us to Lynn Collins as Princess Dejah Thoris. Another X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE alum, Collins is a striking and gorgeous cross between Princess Leia and Neytiri. She is smart, capable in battle, and did I mention unbelievably hot? I began having a huge crush on Collins after seeing this movie and could only imagine what my junior high school self would have thought of her had this movie been released during my formative years. Her banter with John Carter is a highlight of the movie and the chemistry between Collins and Kitsch is palpable. Collins represents one of the casting home runs in this movie alongside Ciaran Hinds, Dominic West, Mark Strong, Bryan Cranston, and Willem Dafoe.
Dafoe, who plays Tars Tarkas, leader of the Thark race, worked with director Andrew Stanton on FINDING NEMO. Stanton must have known that Dafoe's iconic voice would have worked perfectly for the fully CGI alien and he was right. The Tharks feel as real on the screen as the N'avi did in AVATAR or Gollum in THE LORD OF THE RINGS. After their first introduction, I stopped thinking of them as cartoons but rather real actors on the screen. That is a testament to the technology used in this movie and the director of Stanton. After years of working at Pixar, Stanton has become a master of knowing the best way to use computer realizations on the big screen. JOHN CARTER will be looked at as one of the most underappreciated uses of CGI of all time.
The most interesting CGI character since Kristen Stewart.
Drawing on his connections with Pixar, Andrew Stanton brought the tone and love for cinema with him from that group. Pixar films are made with an eye towards quality, original ideas, and love of the movies. JOHN CARTER has all of those and more. The score by Michael Giacchino is another masterpiece that, to me, cements him as the successor to John Williams. The music is sweeping and memorable and you will catch yourself humming it long after the movie is over.
There is something to be said regarding the cheeziness of JOHN CARTER. I have heard complaints that the dialogue is awful and over the top. There is nothing in JOHN CARTER that ever comes across as groaningly stunted as the lines delivered in any of the STAR WARS prequels, the peak of bad dialogue. But, this is not a movie designed to be a Best Picture winner at the Oscars. JOHN CARTER is meant to be "INDIANA JONES on Mars". It is supposed to harken back to the days of movie serials like Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon, the same kind of goofy fun times that we all found refreshing and exciting as long as it featured Jedis and Sith lords.
JOHN CARTER may not have been a box office winner, but it is a great movie. I would rather spend an afternoon rewatching this movie than most of the movies that make hundreds of millions of dollars. JOHN CARTER has more thrilling moments, genuinely emotional scenes, and quality filmmaking than most of them.
Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion Im always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!