Widely regarded as Disney’s biggest and worst flop in recent memory, yet I actually found it very entertaining despite its CG heaviness.
Based off the classic and highly influential novel “A Princess of Mars” by Edgar Rice Burroughs (writer of the original Tarzan) this story tells of John Carter, a Civil War veteran who is transported out from battling Apache Native Americans to the surface of Mars. Once there he finds another civil war raging, involving two factions of human-like beings, a tribal race of quadruple-armed aliens, and mysterious demigods who influence these people’s futures.
He finds he is naturally gifted with near super human strength due to Mars’ lesser gravity and his stronger muscles, allowing him to leap tremendous distances. Carter befriends the 12-foot tall tribal Thark aliens and must quickly defend a princess and her honour to save the inhabitants from a tyrant.
This film is loaded with extraordinary, exotic and otherworldly visuals, and is certainly a unique specimen in science fiction, and one can argue that the story would not have been possible to interpret before the advent of computer generated graphics. Part of me winces at the “Star Wars Prequels” level of CG being used… but then… this isn’t Star Wars, there’s no history to unsettle. That, and John Carter is genuinely a fun film to watch, and is surprisingly violent! Pretty sure I caught a few arms and heads being sliced clean off!
I grew to like the Tharks through their strange relationship upon finding Carter; there’s a montage of how they initially treat him (like one of their infants) which is pretty hilarious. The film’s sense of humour is incredibly important and saves it from becoming a slog of meaningless jargon. The CG animation of the Tharks themselves is well done, good enough to feel some emotional connection with them.
We even have a strong female character, Princess Dejah is not only introduced to us as an inventor, but can also hold her own in a fight when she has to. Of course there’s no shortage of Carter leaping through the air to save her either.
It is a rapid film; it barely stops for breath as it batters through all the lore and social structures that revolve around Mars, the action sequences are plenty, and we have to explain who Carter is, where he came from and where his loyalties lie: back on Earth, or on Mars? All of this leaves little room for villains, who are nondescript antagonists used to push the plot forward.
It is instantly recommended to anyone who is a fan of action sci-fi, while I would like to suggest it to all others. The film was poorly advertised and was let down by poor PR; the film bombed despite it being as entertaining as other Disney live-action adventures. It is sad to think there will likely be no continuation.
Additional Marshmallows: Effectively this film has one of the longest times in development, roughly 79 years, going through multiple titles and iterations, directors and casting choices.
Will Disney use this much CG effects with the new Star Wars trilogy? Most likely. But hopefully like John Carter they can give a fuller script and story to the proceedings.