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Thursday, February 07, 2013

Fishing in the Discount Bin - John Carter

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly look at one of the many movies in my home video library.  I already remarked that, thanks to how the schedule is working, I seem to be doing movies that came out a year ago.  And, it was almost a year ago that the new record-setter for biggest bomb of all time came out, John Carter.  This entry is originally dated June 24, 2012.

If there's one thing the past decade of the Star Wars prequels and the Lord of the Rings trilogy has shown us, that is the unfilmable has now become filmable.  Classic literary franchises are being pillaged to try to make them the next big film franchise.  Which brings us to John Carter.  Based upon a classic series of novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs (yes, the Tarzan guy), it's long been considered one of the most influential sci-fi series of all time, and efforts to film it over the past 90 years or so have all been for naught.  Until Disney got its hands on it.

For about the past 10 years, I've been reading online about serious efforts to bring it to the big screen.  Robert Rodriguiz was going to do it for a while, but he got into a fight with the director's guild about Sin City and quit the guild...walking away from the project was collateral damage.  Jon Favreau was going to do it for a while, but it fell apart so Favreau made Iron Man instead.  Eventually, the project wound up at Disney, and it turned out there was one rabid John Carter fan in the form of Andrew Stanton, the Pixar animator who directed Finding Nemo and WALL-E.  Riding high on the success of WALL-E, the project was given to Stanton and it was to be his live action film debut.

And the finished project wound up breaking the world record for the biggest bomb of all time.

I don't think it deserves that title of being a bomb, though.  I thought it was pretty good.  Granted, it's a tad cliched, but with something that's influenced 90 years of science-fiction, it probably originated the cliches to begin with.  Many have speculated why it was such a bomb...most say it was because of a seriously botched marketing campaign.  Some say it's that John Carter is no longer the name-brand in sci-fi that it once was.  Whatever happened, the popular consensus was people looked at the trailers and the TV commercials and gave a collective shrug of indifference.

So...John Carter.  Veteran of the US Civil War.  He's prospecting for gold in Arizona, when he wanders into a cave and is magically transported to the planet Mars, or as the natives call it, Barsoom.  Thanks to the lighter gravity on Barsoom, John Carter finds himself gifted with super-strength, and the ability to leap great distances.  The first race he encounters are the Tharks...10 feet tall, green, with tusks and 4 arms.  In his travels, Carter eventually becomes embroiled in the centuries old war between the Red Martians...they look just like humans, only with red skin.  The peaceful city of Helium is at war with the city of Zodanga, and before long, Carter finds himself falling in love with Dejah Thoris, the princess of Helium, and soon he joins the cause and unites the Tharks and the citizens of Helium to fight off Zodanga.  And in it all, there's another Martian race called the Tharns that are manipulating things to their own advantage.

I tell ya, ya got to have a program to keep all these warring factions straight.

But you've seen the plot before...soldier without a war, his soul is at unrest, gets transported away to an alien culture, and in their culture, he finally finds peace, but then he has to take up arms to defend his newfound home. 

And you can tell that they were really hoping to start a franchise with this.  I was constantly scratching my head at the Tharns and what they have to do with anything.  You can just know that, on the set, Stanton was saying, "We'll explain all that in the sequels!" 

The film does look amazing, though.  Very clever sci-fi flying ships.  Zodonga is actually on legs and roams the planet.  So many amazing creatures, and Dejah Thoris's outfits are in the best scantily-clad sci-fi traditions.  In a way, this reminds me of the the countless Star Wars knock-offs we got in the mid- to late-1980s.

But when all is said and done, I found it pretty good, so I suggest giving it a rental and trying it out.  I guess, if I want to see the story continue, I'll have to head down to my local library and check out the books.

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