Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A warlord and a princess of Mars

I loved, loved, loved John Carter of Mars!

I think everything worked perfectly. I know, I'm supposed to make one apology or another. Everyone does.

"If you let go of your hope that this will compare to Tarkovsky's Solaris, you may enjoy this as a fun, pulpy ride."

"As a creative endeavor executed by humans, flaws can be discerned in this work."

"This movie did not force the laws of the universe to change, making me massively more attractive to the opposite sex, causing masses of them to demand my genitals while the movie still played."

Even the always well-intentioned "A group of rabid monkeys who hated the movie could have done a better job marketing this"-type still keep the focus on the negative, and I want to jump out of that mold. Whoever at Disney hates Andrew Stanton or Edgar Rice Burroughs has certainly managed to define the discussion terms, and I think we should stop playing.

This movie fucking rocked! It should be a defining movie of a generation, and even more, a franchise that defines a generation.

It shows that Stanton and co-writer Michael Chabon came to become Burroughs fans in the '70s. Not only is it easy to see the influence of the Frank Frazetta covers and the Marvel Comics series, but also in Superman: The Movie and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

In that sense, in terms of the script, it's like they found the last link in my imaginary adaptations of A Princess of Mars that never were.

The earliest I have a fantasy about is the Bob Clampett version that never got off the ground.

A Ray Harryhausen version that, as far as I know, exists only in my mind.

I love all three of those, the '30s, the '50s and the '70s. I love imagining them, and there's a good chance if any or all of them existed, I'd love the reality of them, and yet, I suspect I love this one more than I'd love any of these, even the '70s version that sprung up in my imagination as a reaction to this very movie.

Not only that, the movie's Dejah Thoris is a scientist, a warrior and a princess! She's probably the most awesome character in the history of... y'know... ever!

Now, look, Disney had a family friendly action-adventure with the most awesome character in the history of... y'know.... ever! A female character. The most brilliant scientist on Mars. A badass swordsman. A motherfuckin' princess!

I'm sorry, I'm trying to stay positive here, but supposedly the word "Mars" was removed from the marketing because it doesn't appeal to girls. I picture meetings in which executives curse the fact they aren't making a Carson of Venus movie.

And yet, strangely enough there are no real posters putting this character in the forefront. I'm sure that's supposedly because she doesn't appeal to boys. Certainly none of the covers I posted in A Princess of Mars appealed to boys looking for reading material.

I've also got to say that, as a Planet of the Apes fan who lists the much praised but - to my eye - crappy looking CGI as one of the reasons I've skipped Rise of the Planet of the Apes (I also can't get Enlightened Racism in Rise of the Planet of the Apes by Goodkind out of my mind), I was completely sold on Tars Tarkas, as co-played by Willem Dafoe. It evokes Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia without seeming to overtly copy anything from that directly.

I even bought right into Taylor Kitsch as John Carter. Yes, even in the western-styled opening in which he's a beaten down Confederate soldier on a quest for gold. I know, that seems to be the sticking point even for positive reviews I've read. Perhaps it was just the excitement of seeing it, but I actually quite liked him even then. If he has a flaw it's that he doesn't stand out as The Hero against Dominic West and Mark Strong.

Luckily, the movie manages to do well putting him alongside Lynn Collins's Dejah, as well as Dafoe (and a team of artists)'s Tars and Samantha Morton (and a team of artists)'s Sola.

So much of the credit needs to go to Stanton, Chabon and the third credited writer Mark Andrews for finding the charm in a 100-year-old pulp tale, that has fueled many generations of imaginations since, and gotten to the core of that makes it tick, while still updating it for a modern world.

I think this movie will hold up long after the Michael Bay directed Transformers movies or whatever other bigger movies.

I saw it on a weekday matinee with a sparse crowd. A man who I would guess was mentally disabled in some form or another. He talked some during the trailers, but not too much. Just enough to make me mildly nervous that he would be disruptive, and then I'd feel mildly uncomfortable about whether it would be appropriate to say anything.

He did make occasional but rare comments. The kind that even those of us who would never "talk in a theater" might whisper to the person next to us. Brief thoughts, that were only louder because he wasn't able to hold back his volume. At the end, he turned to his companion and said, "That was good. That was really good." I felt about the same as I did at the end of a first night, packed crowd seeing Aliens when everyone spontaneously cheered their experience.

C'mon, Disney, take a chance. Let's get on The Gods of Mars! Bring the band back together.

John Carter of Mars will stand the test of time. I know it will in my house. I'd plan a second visit to the theater, a rare thing in this day-and-age (and one I seem not alone in considering this as an exception for), if I had the time available. As it is, I can't wait for it to come out on Blu-Ray, so I can watch it like a 5-year-old, over and over in a loop.

"Remember when John Carter and Tars Tarkas fought the white apes? That was awesome!"

"Remember how he killed the second one? That was even more awesome! We should totally watch it again, huh?"


Roderick Heath said...

"Carson of Venus"

My hat's off to you for that one, sir.

Peter Nellhaus said...

OK. More interested than before. I saw Clampett and the Museum of Modern Art about forty years ago, and never forgot that brief image of Carter riding on that Martian creature.

Neil Sarver said...

Rod, thank you.

Peter, that's amazing! That footage is surprisingly evocative.

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