Friday, March 9, 2012

John Carter of Mars

By Issus, I was not expecting to like this movie.

Here's the deal.  I have been a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs "John Carter of Mars" series since I was a kid.  So when they announced a few years back that they were going to be doing a live action movie of one of my favorite childhood book series...I was...Dubious.  Then I heard that Disney was doing it, and that Pixar was going to be doing the effects...And...I was still dubious, but I thought "Well, it IS the best possible hands to be handling this..."  So I resolved that when it came out, I would see it.

And tonight, not three hours ago, I did.

And I am speechless.

I have four categories when judging an adaptation of anything.  I call it the SpecSpidey formula.  Classic, Contemporary, Iconic, and Cohesive.  This is the formula that Greg Weisman and Victor Cook used to create "The Spectacular Spider-man".  This was their rules for adapting it, and it's a big part of what made SpecSpidey work.

Most adaptations only get the "Contemporary".  But John Carter...It NAILED them.  All four categories.

I'll try to limit my spoilers as much as possible, because well, I want you to go see this yourself. It is very hard to maintain a balance that is true to the books, and yet has contemporary sensibilities, and is entertaining as well.  But by God, they did it.

I went into the theater and expected very much to be disappointed. Seriously.  I wasn't expecting more than a fun little popcorn fest with my family (All of whom went with me, my dad, an even BIGGER John Carter fan than I am, also loved this film.  His big complaint...He felt the swords weren't like the ones from the book.  If the biggest John Carter fan I know only has a problem with the swords...Then you know that this was a damn good adaptation of the books.)

I'm not saying I didn't have nitpicky problems.  My biggest issue with the movie was that they gave John Carter a tragic backstory involving a dead wife and child.  I felt that was unnecessary, but in the grand scheme of this fantastic movie, it is a VERY minor footnote.

I had heard ahead of time, that the Pixar Animators actually went to the Burroughs estate, and poured over Burroughs notes on Barsoom and the Martian series...and BY GOD does it show.  Not once did I ever think that any of the CGI animals were ANYTHING but the creatures described in the books.

When I saw Woola, I said "Yep, that's a Calot.  That's always been a Calot, and that will never be anything but a Calot."

When I saw the Great White Apes, I said "Yep those are the Great White Apes of Mars."

And when I saw the Green Martians,

Yes, BY GOD those were Green Martians.

Oh, and can I just take a moment to praise Willem Defoe for his Tars Tarkas?

In my head, for YEARS, Tars Tarkas was voiced by the incomparable Keith David, a man I have met on more than one occasion and is most notable in recent years for Doctor Facilier of "The Princess and the Frog".

But Willem...He just took that role, and OWNED it.

One day, I'll get to voicing my complaints about famous actors being picked over professional Voice Actors...But not in this movie.

Willem Defoe was perfectly cast.  Perfectly.  

I know I'm gushing here...I was expecting this review to be a lot more negative...But I can't help it, I am just thrilled that I got to see something that really wasn't expecting.  A good John Carter of Mars movie.

I guess I should nitpick at a few of the little things that did irk me, for a more entertaining review...But...Really, between John's backstory being tweaked a bit, and...the fact that they made his learning the language of Barsoom into a mystical experience...I can't fault this movie for any of the changes that they made.  (In the books, John learned the Barsoomian tongue like a normal person learns a language.  ie. Over time.)

I think that the man they cast as John himself was a bit weak, but ultimately, he was more than adequate.

Their Dejah Thoris, simply was Dejah Thoris.  She tackled the role by the horns and made it hers, and I never doubted for a moment she was Dejah.

Now the movie was definitely an adaptation of the first book in the series "A Princess of Mars", though a LOT of elements from latter books were thrown in.  Including the Therns or "White Martians" from the Second and Third books.  And I think the movie was better for it.  You'll understand when you see it.

I truly hope that they make a sequel, because it's rare when a movie leaves me craving more, as this one did.  I went and saw it in IMAX 3D.  And normally, I don't care for 3D. (in fact, I hate it!)   I saw "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" in 3D, and didn't care for it.  But it really did work for John Carter, and while I don't insist, I actually do think that it was worth it this time.

And because I went to see it in IMAX 3D on Opening Night, I got this nifty poster that now hangs on my wall (PROUDLY--No small thing, since the other posters on my wall are for "Gargoyles" and "The Chronicles of Narnia", and if you know me--You know what a big deal that is.)

See, nifty poster

So, in a very good mood, the Disney Wizard signs off.  

Dejah Thoris

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