John Carter in 3D (2012)
March 28, 2012
“When I saw you, I believed it was a sign… that something new can come into this world.”
Synopsis: “A Confederate cavalry officer turned frontiersman cowboy, John Carter is mysteriously teleported to the planet Mars. Armed with incredible strength due to Mars’ low gravity, Carter must choose between fighting another war and returning home to Earth.”
John Carter is a classic sci-fi romp. I’ve never read the seminal science fiction series by Edgar Rice Burroughs, but from what I can tell the movie was a ‘faithful attempt at re-imagining’ his first book, A Princess of Mars (published in 1917). The 2012 film has been criticized for being “derivative” of other sci-fi/epic works, which seems highly unfair considering that its source material predates Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, George Lucas’ Star Wars, Frank Herbert’s Dune, Isaac Asimov’s robots, Robert E. Howard’s fantastical Conan the Barbarian, and pretty much everyone else I could think of (except for Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, of course). Burroughs wrote his ‘Barsoom’ series back when people still thought there were alien civilizations on Mars. So calling John Carter ‘derivative’ of the stuff n’ junk we see today on the SyFy Channel is nonsense.
Old School Science Fiction: “Why Not?”
Most ‘modern’ science fiction spends a lot of time explaining “why”: Star Trek explains why they traveled through time, Inception explains why their dream machine works, Avatar tries to explain why everything is so blue. But John Carter takes a much more old-school approach, asking “why not?” Can Mars have ships that fly on light instead of sailing on water? – Why not? – How about a nomadic race of green Martian people? – Why not? – Giant, blind, six legged white ape’s in a gladiator pit? – Sure! Why not!
Its this fantastical approach to storytelling that made me love John Carter. It reminded me of being a kid and watching Star Wars: A New Hope for the very first time. I was introduced to an alien world where the possibilities are endless. The good guys are good, the bad guys are bad, the aliens are goofy, and the whole story carries an undeniable charm.
John Carter: A Timeless Hero
John Carter is an iconic hero. He comes from a time when men wanted to be MEN instead of painting their fingernails black and crying about being too fat to fit into their girlfriends skinny jeans. When John Carter arrives on Mars, he realizes that Earth’s superior gravity has given him incredible strength on this alien world. Instead of whining about how overpowered he is compared to everyone else (as the modern hero would do) John Carter just beats the crap out of everybody. There’s some pretty sweet scenes with Carter leaping incredible distances, fighting off tons of enemies, and laying dudes out in one punch (for more on the iconic awesomeness of John Carter, I refer you to this website. – careful, NSFW language).
In addition to being the toughest warrior on the planet, John Carter acts with honor and integrity. I won’t go into detail here, I’ll just let you watch the movie for yourself.
Conclusion: Some forgiveness required.
John Carter has received fairly mixed reviews (currently 51% at Rotten Tomatoes) and this is not without reason. The characters feel stamped out of an archetype cookie-cutter, the dialog borders on the contrived, its predictable, and ultimately, its become a well-trodden genre. Between 1917 and 2012, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ ideas have inspired hundreds of books and movies, and by now we’ve “seen it all before.” – So once again, it comes down to you. Will you appreciate this seminal work and all it went on to influence and inspire? Or will you be the next ignorant fanboy who says “this ripped off Phantom Menace!” (don’t worry, John Carter has no Jar-Jar Binks.)
I truly, honestly, had a great time watching John Carter. It reminded me of being five years old and sitting in my basement, watching Star Wars for the very first time: amazed at the lightsabers that could cut through anything, laughing at the way Yoda talked, staring with wide-eyed horror at the Rancor… And something about this nostalgic wonder made me forgive John Carter’s weaknesses. Its not like Star Trek and (dare I say it) Star Wars didn’t have their own weaknesses in their debut’s to the big screen. If I were still ten years old, John Carter would probably be one of my favorite movies. It has ‘classic adventure’ written all over it.
Now, I don’t want to oversell John Carter. This won’t be the next Star Wars or Harry Potter film series, but despite its problems, its a nostalgic return to the sweeping epics of a more innocent age.