Bill Warren: John Carter

[Bill gave me permission to post his reaction to the John Carter movie, part of an exchange with Bjo Trimble. It’s helpful to bear in mind Bjo’s first sentence about Bill liking the movie. The promotional campaign, not so much…]

Bjo: Good to hear that you liked John Carter. I hate the trailers, don’t like the look of the hero, and don’t care for the derivative monsters and things. But that’s all from the trailers. Maybe I’ll go see it.

Bill Warren: The entire promotion campaign for this movie was moronic.  The first big mistake was in not promoting it at the last two Comic-Cons; they chose to promote it only at an all-Disney proprietary convention.  Next, they dropped “…of Mars” from the title because focus groups told them no woman would see a movie with the word “Mars” in the title; they were going by the utter disaster of their own Mars Needs Moms.  They decided to do nothing whatsoever to connect it to the Tarzan lore, and initially didn’t even feature the name “Edgar Rice Burroughs” in their ads and trailers.  Those trailers emphasized the wrong stuff; they had little sense of adventure, of thrills, of the wonders of visiting another world, and nothing whatsoever of the occasional humor; even the one shot of Woola the calot isn’t amusing, but he’s funny in the film.  They said nothing about the fact that the Mars books were tremendously influential on Star Wars and especially Avatar; weird that they did not try to hook their movie to what is nothing less than the most successful movie of all time.  James Cameron himself has cited the Barsoom books as one of his main inspirations; so has Lucas.  The current promotional campaign is different (because it’s being run by completely different people than those who handled the first go-round)–and connects the movie to Star Wars, Avatar, Ray Bradbury, etc., even mentioning Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke as being among those who loved the book.  But it’s probably a day late and two hundred million dollars short. 

The movie has some problems — but they’re mostly in pacing, not in how the book(s) has/have been adapted (the Therns, prominent here, first showed up in the 2nd Barsoom novel).  It’s immense, a gigantic epic — there’s a scene of a few thousand Tharks shouting John Carter’s Barsoomian name.  And a wedding scene in Helium that is bigger than any other wedding scene, ever; it’s bigger than Cleopatra’s entrance to Rome in Cleopatra (the one with Liz).  Dejah Thoris doesn’t really need all that much rescuing, and is a brilliant scientist on her own–as well as tough as a buzz saw.  The relationship between Carter and Tars Tarkas, and between Tars Tarkas and Sola, are exactly as in the book.  There’s a bit more humor than in Burroughs, who didn’t use it often (though I love the “Chessmen of Mars Chapter” ‘Ghek Plays Pranks’), and quite a bit more to Carter’s character.  The special effects are, of course, perfect; this much money had to have that result.  We can even believe Carter leaping around like a flea (though it takes him a bit to learn to do that).  The movie is very well cast, especially Lynn Collins (Dejah Thoris), Mark Strong (the main Thern) and James Purefoy (in briefly as Kantos Kan, but terrific, very amusing, very Errol Flynnish.  He was Mark Antony in the HBO series “Rome.”)

3 thoughts on “Bill Warren: John Carter

  1. Maybe you have to love the books the movie is based on… I read about a dozen reviews at Rotten Tomatoes and got a less favourable impression than Bill has of the film. The rating given was a lackluster 51%. If you go by the top critics, the rating drops to a measly 35%. On the other hand, the audience rating was 72%, which likely tells us something about the difference between the public and the critics.

    I also watched the trailor, thinking that John Carter looked like warmed-over Phantom Menace with a touch of Conan the Barbarian. The unfortunately named Kitsch seemed to have no scene presence whatever, just a lot of muscles and leather straps. His leaping was about as convincing as Christopher Reeve’s flying.

    One critic made a rather interesting observation. He acknowledged that the Barsoom books are the original inspiration and source for many of the tropes seen in Star Wars, Avatar, Indiana Jones and even non-fantasy movies such as Gladiator. But, he says, we say the derivatives first, so that the original seem derivative to us… derivative of the derivative, in fact.

    I didn’t think highly of the books myself, and Rotten Tomatoes persuades me to be patient and wait for more opinions before buying the used DVD.

  2. The business that imitators preceded the original to the screen was also true of “The Puppet Masters.”

  3. Saw it today and loved it. Very sparsely attended – though I did go to the semi-Imax 3D showing (the 3D is excellent – not in your face, it adds real depth to most of the movie (though it tends to blur out during fast action – a problem with the DLP, I think)). Most people seemed to be attending the 2D showings. The woman I went with, who is in her thirties and definitely not a fan, loved it too.

    Glad I saw it that way, though we went to the old fart el cheapo matinee performance.

    Don’t listen to the reviewers – lots of fun, brings back that sense of wonder. I almost didn’t go thanks to the rotten trailers, but I am glad I did!

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