Why I Decided to Go Ahead and Like John Carter

I was quite prepared to skip John Carter for a number of reasons:

1) I heard it tanked at the box office and that’s usually a good indicator of a movie’s potential awfulness.

2) It was the first non-animated movie that director Andrew Stanton (of Finding Nemo and Wall-e fame), had ever done AND he got full creative control, a move that, as we’ve seen from such gems as this, does not usually work out in the movie’s favor.

3) The trailers were confusing and told me almost nothing about the storyline.

4) It was based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ book A Princess of Mars, which is a cornerstone of the sci-fi genre, and living up to great books is usually difficult for a movie, no matter how good itis.

5) Due to  #4, I assumed it had something to do with Mars, which also didn’t bode well for the film.

A friend finally convinced me to at least give the movie a chance, so one 99c DVD rental later I was prepared for an eye-wateringly-awful showing.

After watching the movie, I wasn’t entirely sure what I thought.

It seemed interesting enough, having plenty of action to keep the barbarian in me sedated, and I had a sneaking suspicion that I liked it, but I wasn’t sure why.

It was as if it strived above all else to be… a faithful adaptation. Yes, it was made to make money, I’m not deluding myself in that area, but it seemed like the love of the story and of the original book came through on every level.

It could be just me, but I felt like there was more heart in the first five minutes of John Carter than in the entirety of another movie I saw recently, Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows.

While I thoroughly enjoyed Game of Shadows, I was mostly enthused about the fantastic use of bullet time and the quirky characters. If you took the ‘Sherlock Holmes’ title out, you’re left with just  another zany Robert Downey Jr. & friends adventure and the entire time I was watching the movie, I was painstakingly aware of how little the original Sir Arthur Connan Doyle Sherlock Holmes had in common with this work.

I think the difference between these two movies is the difference between ripping off a work and paying homage to it.

Ripping off is Game of Shadows, taking the names and a few plot points and cramming them into a familiar formula. Paying homage is carefully going through the source material, painstakingly taking out the essence of the story and characters and rearranging it in such a way that still tells the original story, just in a different medium.

I found John Carter to be a homage in almost every way.

The movie is full to overwhelming at times with respect for the great Barsoom series of Edgar Rice Burroughs that shaped many a sci-fi trope. Every scene, every line, every costume, right down the the confusing trailers and film posters, was filled with loyalty to the source. Andrew Stanton told the story the way he thought it should have been told with the greatest reverence for the source material. If we could ask Edgar Rice Burroughs and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle which movie (of John Carter or Game of Shadows) was made with the most love, I’m sure it wouldn’t be much of a contest.

Though I’m sure Disney feels differently, I’m glad John Carter was made. It’s not by any means a cinema masterpiece, but it does hold a place in my heart that  very few movies can claim: a movie that was made, not for one person’s ego, and not primarily for making a ton of cash, but to tell a great story in the way it deserved.

So thank you, Andrew Stanton. I applaud both your courage and your movie.

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Posted on June 30, 2012, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Why I Decided to Go Ahead and Like John Carter.

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