Sunday, March 18, 2012

John Carter Review

John Carter has an extremely long history. The book series, written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, was published in 1912. The first time that a filmmaker approached Burroughs about making the a film adaptation of A Princess of Mars, the first book in the series was in 1931. Disney bought the rights to the film and handed the production over to director Andrew Stanton. Stanton had previously directed animated films like Finding Nemo and WALL*E, but hadn't directed a live-action film. Brad Bird had success with Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol, but that was a franchise and John Carter was not. Thinking that they had the next blockbuster franchise on their hands, Disney dumped $250 million into John Carter along with an additional $100 million for marketing and more for distribution. John Carter has flopped so far, with an opening weekend of around $30 million and a total gross of around $53 million in the United States. The film has done better overseas, grossing about $126 million, for a worldwide total of $179 million, but the question still is: what went wrong with John Carter? This review will not only give my opinions on the film, it will also give my opinions on what went wrong with what had the potential to be a lucrative franchise.

John Carter stars Taylor Kitsch as the titular character, a civil war veteran that finds a device in a cave full of gold that transports him to Mars. When Carter gets to Mars, he discovers that because of low gravity and his bone density, he can jump around like a kangaroo. Carter soon meets the Tharks, a Martian tribe that is led by Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe). Carter is first the Tharks prisoner but becomes their friend when Tarkas sees what Carter can do. Meanwhile, in the Martian civilization Helium, Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) is being forced to marry Sab Than (Dominic West), the evil ruler of the Zodangans, who was given a power by Matai Shang (Mark Strong), a sort of immortal being that grants Than the power so that Shang and Than can take over Barsoom (what Mars is called on Mars). This sounds complicated, right? It is. Carter and Thoris eventually cross paths and travel with Tarkas' daughter Sola (Samantha Morton) to the river Iss so that Carter can find his way back to Jasoom (Earth). This is when the film goes really deep into the mythology of Burroughs novels and becomes sort of boring. Eventually, Carter decides to help Thoris and save Barsoom from the evil grasp of Sab Than and Matai Shang.

John Carter is good entertainment for two hours, but isn't the amazing sci-fi spectacle that its $250 million dollar budget suggests. The film's action sequences range from the spectacular to the mediocre. The final battle scene and the heavily promoted scene with the white ape in the arena are both pretty cool, but some of the others are boring. The acting is mediocre. Kitsch gives a standard but solid leading performance, but the rest of the cast is pretty wooden. One thing I expect from a $250 million dollar sci-fi film is some pretty awesome special effects and the film delivers sometimes. With some of the scenes, the landscapes took on a realness that were definitely helped by Stanton's animation skills, but some were obviously green-screen.

There were also some good things about John Carter. The film had some enjoyable scenes and sets, but the best part of the film is Woola, Carter's pet dog thing. Woola steals every scene he is in and is a fun character. The film could have used a few more good action scenes because it started to drag in the middle with all the weird Barsoom mythology thrown in. John Carter also had the best ending I had seen since Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

Overall, John Carter is a solid, standard sci-fi adventure, but is not really epic material and not a groundbreaking film. Despite doing a good job with this film, Stanton doesn't have much of a future in big budget live-action film making. Stanton does a decent job, but Brad Bird did much better with the fantastic Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C+                                             (6/10)


The big question with John Carter is still: what went wrong? The answer is many things. There were five main problems with John Carter that prevented the movie from being a success. Problem #1: There were no big names in the movie. The film had a director that about 10% of America even knows about and a star that even less know. The reason why James Cameron's similar film Avatar made more money and became the most successful film of all time is because he's James Cameron and he made Titanic, the biggest film of all time before Avatar. If John Carter would have cast a big name star like Johnny Depp or Brad Pitt, the film would have had a bit more going for it. Problem #2: Nobody knows who John Carter is and unless you are 100% sure that the film will be a hit, don't dump $250 million into it. John Carter is not Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows- Part 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, or The Dark Knight Rises. If you look at the budget numbers for the first films in those series' they were respectively: $125 million, $150 million, and $150 million. There's a lesson: you shouldn't put more than $150 million in a non-sequel based off a book most people don't even know exists. Problem #3: The marketing campaign was terrible. The film was barely marketed. This is not The Avengers, which doesn't need to be marketed to be a success. Disney needed to market it and market it in a way that people thought was interesting. And they didn't. Problem #4: By trying to appeal to teenagers, Disney drove away the rest of their possible audience for the film. John Carter was marketed as every single Avatar and Star Wars wannabe that was ever made, even though those films were inspired by Burroughs source material. Problem #5: There were absolutely no toy tie-ins, t-shirts, happy meals, and promotional material. If you want to appeal to kids, you need them to be aware that this movie exists! Disney did the same thing with Prince of Persia and look how that turned out. Disney just screwed up the whole thing. It's an action movie by Disney not starring Johnny Depp and a cast of pirates, and that just didn't appeal to anyone. That's the bottom line.


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