Thursday, March 15, 2012

Out of This World!

Earth man John Carter liberates Barsoom and shows Disney has the right stuff.


Arth Vader (AV): As you may or may not be aware, I have been a fan of vintage science fiction for some time, Pontificator. It has been a secret passion of mine to see early sci-fi content brought to the big screen with a modern flare. Enter: John Carter. Disney's huge Sci-Fi gamble, pitting ex-confederate officer abdicated and forced to survive on a cruel, unforgiving Martian landscape. Reprising a remarkably well re-imagined rendition of Edgar Rice Burrough's A Princess of Mars. Though I would have much preferred the title stay true to it's original inception, Princess of Mars, this movie was a delight and I must say, being a skeptic that watches Hollywood butcher good original content, it was a delight to see something like this handled so well.
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Looks like I’m still learning new things about you Vader. The movie does a good job of sticking to the original story, as best as we can expect from Hollywood these days. Comparing the original work of “A Princess of Mars” by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the most deviation comes at the end where the movie improves from the original and steps a bit into “The Gods of Mars.” There are other details the movie changes such as the social positions of certain characters and certain events, but not to the detriment of the film.


AV: Exceptional cast here, Ponty!  A swell of veteran acting talent made this movie a joy to watch. Lynn Collins made my heart skip as Dejah Thoris and seasoned performances form the likes of Willem Dafoe, Thomas Hayden Church and Bryan Cranston lent great screen creds to an already impressive Disney release. Even the villainous Sab Than portrayed by Dominic West (300, The Wire) had a solid showing. The direction of Oscar-winner Andrew Stanton, a fellow Massachusetts native, brought Burrough's vision of a gravity-replete Mars to life.
TP: Go Mass! The direction of this movie was very focused and very well implemented. The casting was interestingly chosen, I thought, which led to great character acting. Mark Strong and Dominic West are very much at home with playing the shady villain type and bring all of that experience to their respective roles. It’s unusual to have two leading villains, but it works with these two. Taylor Kitsch brings John Carter to life as a tortured soul that has been thrust into an impossible situation that offers him another chance at happiness. Great performances by everyone involved, which is no surprise with actors like Willem Dafoe, Lynn Collins, and James Purefoy.


AV: Well handled here, Pontificator! While it takes a moment or two to figure out why Johnny can fly (light gravity, dense muscle and bone matter for earthlings, etc.), the light ships, the alien armies, the fantastic creatures, the dramatic fight scenes, the climatic end battles all were handled expertly as veteran ex-Pixar stand-out Stanton brought his A-game. That said, there is a particular moment I am compelled to call out.
TP: Awesome. John Carter makes more and better use of 3D than any other movie to hit theaters after Avatar. The CGI animation was excellent and seamlessly integrated itself with the awesome scenery and fantastic imagery. There wasn’t anything new here for special was just that all the stuff we’re used to seeing was simply done with a supreme level of technical skill. The adjustment scene of John’s introduction to Mars was funny and believably done...provided you suspend your higher intellect and accept Mars as it’s portrayed. You mentioned a particular moment Vader?
AV: Oh, yes. The masterfully handled morph sequence between John Carter and Matai Shang (played by John Strong) is one of the best in the history of such sequences. The deceptive nature of Shang's character is handled with such precision, using a mix of scene cutting techniques and moving camera actions, the scene is eerie in it's fluidity. Bravo. Well done, Disney.


AV: Be afraid, Pontificator. Be very afraid. This movie is sure to fly under the radar for most people. The name change (from John Carter of Mars to John Carter) was a bad call. John Carter of Mars would have given people a more exacting idea of the movie's meaning. This is a major misfire because when people want to plunk down their hard-earned cash for a movie they need to understand what they are paying for. Especially when the original title gave the audience exactly the info they needed. When audiences don't know what you're talking about, they tend not to respond. In today's competitive marketplace, a movie needs all the help it can get.
TP: Agreed on the title change, Vader. I look to see if a movie “has it all” in this section... and this one certainly did. I laughed out loud at times, specifically every time the Martian dog did his thing. I felt bad for John when it was evident that he suffered a great personal tragedy and he was in pain. I marveled at the action as it took me away in a flash of awe. The questions isn’t what’s right with this movie... but what’s wrong with it. As near as I can tell, the only problem I had with it was the inconsistent way his superior abilities were portrayed. I figure if you have enhanced strength and physical ability from the environment... then you have it all the time, with every movement and feat... but that’s just me.


AV: The John Carter intellectual property is a series of imaginative adventures on Barsoom. Like Flash Gordon (Alex Raymond) or Tarzan (also from Edgar Rice Burroughs), or even the Shadow (Walter B. Gibson), their is a lot of potential here. As ever, the prospect of new additions or installments lies squarely in the realm of box-office performance which won't be helped by disastrously poor marketing decisions like calling the movie John Carter. This  is a powerfully imaginative franchise in waiting. I hope we get more than the one film…
TP: There are three books in the original Barsoom series as well as countless comic spin-offs and other there is plenty of material to draw from to continue further adventures on Mars. Even if Hollywood decided to abandon all previous material (which isn’t unheard of), there is still a rich a diverse world that has been created with colorful and dynamic characters with which to craft anything a creative mind can imagine. That...and the fact that there hasn’t been any resolution to one of the antagonist in this film (uh-oh).

Arth Vader Rates John Carter: An excellent re-adaptation from superb source material and an A+ to Andrew Stanton and Disney for mounting serious courage (and financial clout) to bring a lesser known (but well-established) Sci-fi property to the modern big screen. Fun, mesmerizing and failing only in the branding, John Carter is great and with 8.5 busted blocks, I'm slipping on my 3D specs and heading for Barsoom. Pontificator, how say you?
THE PONTIFICATOR Rates John Carter: A great film, certainly worthy of the title “blockbuster” and a lot of fun to watch. The fact that it isn’t just a jumble of action sequences, but has comedy, drama... and even a Sherlock Holmesque feeling when the movie comes full circle makes it easy for this movie to bust eight and a half Martian blocks.

John Carter: 8.5/10 Busted Blocks

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