John Carter wild, but worth it

Reeling It In

Movies, especially blockbuster types, live on buzz. Buzz is basically word of mouth, but it's no longer good enough to wait until the movie comes out for buzz to build. No, buzz is a viciously marketed thing anymore, with viral advertising, precisely timed leaks, and studiously released teasers and trailers.


I actually watched, online, the other day, a teaser for a trailer. We're being shown commercials to prep us to breathlessly await other commercials now. The flip side to the whole thing is negative buzz. Negative buzz grows on the internet even faster than positive does, and it's incredibly difficult to ward it off.

Case in point: this week's "John Carter," a fun, exciting, fast-paced science fiction adventure that looks great and really delivers what it promises. And it's tanking. Why? Because the "I'm a comic book/sci-fi genius who still lives in my parent's basement with no job and lots of spare time on my hands to type 1,000 word treatises on the finer points of obscure Korean horror films" fan base has been whining for the past six months about the lame title compromise imposed by the marketing department at Disney. It was supposed to be "John Carter of Mars," but they were afraid girls wouldn't go see a movie with "Mars" in the title. Now no one is going.

I'll say this up front: if you like fantasy or action-adventure, go see this movie. You won't be disappointed.

Our story begins in 1882, and a young Edgar Rice Burroughs has been summoned to the home of his wealthy, eccentric uncle, John Carter. Carter has died mysteriously, and his entire estate has been left to Burroughs -- including a weathered journal containing an incredible tale. Flashback ten years, and John Carter is a washed up cavalry man -- previously of the Confederate Army, now a near-crazed treasure hunter. When he's bushwhacked by both Apache indians and a Union contingent of soldiers, Carter manages to hide out in a cave that turns out to be just what he's looking for. Gold. And something more. A sudden encounter with a bizarre man who appears out of nowhere leads Carter to dramatically, and quite accidentally, transport himself to what turns out to be the planet Mars, known locally as Barsoom. This is not the Mars we know today, but what perhaps was imagined at the turn of the 20th century. It is a land of towering mountains and deserts, but with air and an indigenous population. There are humans, two warring factions, in fact, and a more tribal, much more alien, group known as Tharks.  Hmmm...  I wonder if Burroughs (the writer, not the character) was making a reference to anything back here on Earth? Carter is thrust into the middle of a hornet's nest, his saving grace being his greater bone density and muscle mass (Earth's higher gravity) which gives him superhuman strength. John Carter has left a world of tragedy and entered one where he is a hero beyond anything ever seen before.

There will naturally be some complaints, upon watching or reading about this film, that it seems to borrow liberally from other science fiction and fantasy sources.  This is actually the opposite of the truth. I can't claim to have read the books, but those who have will quickly tell you that it's John Carter that's been borrowed from. The original book, "A Princess of Mars" was first released in whole form in 1917, and since then a whole world of pulp fiction has grown up using the tropes established in the series.

George Lucas relies heavily on the world Burroughs created, from the very character of Princess Leia, to specifically terminology such as Jedi, Sith, and Bantha. Flash Gordon, and even Superman owe their existence to John Carter. I mean, he's a guy from another planet who has super-strength and who can leap tall buildings in a single bound. It doesn't get much more blatant than that.

I very much enjoyed "John Carter." There were aspects I was worried about -- an overly complicated plot or fake looking computer generated aliens, but the film put all those fears to rest. Yes, the plot is complicated, but only in a pulpy kind of way. If you get lost, you know it's all going to come down to a big battle where the hero gets the girl. The special effects are very good, and the Tharks, four-armed and eight-foot tall though they are, are some of the best parts of the movie. The one part of the film I was disappointed with was the performance of Taylor Kitsch as Carter. It's too bad he isn't either a better actor or just more likeable, because the movie could have been really great rather than simply enjoyable and entertaining. But even with Kitsch's substandard performance, I had a lot of fun with "John Carter." Yes, some of it is a little silly, but once you settle in and go with it, it's a great ride.  Grade: B+

"John Carter" is rated PG-13 for fantasy violence and mild language.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.