A movie discussion board I monitor is buzzing at the moment because a few hours ago someone posted: “I just saw a test screening of John Carter. Loved it!”.  The readers of the board initially reacted with typical message board hostility, doubting it was a legit post — but the poster took questions and provided what amounted to a full review, and pretty soon it was apparent that she had indeed seen a test screening of John Carter, and indeed, she had loved it. She said she came on the board and posted about it precisely because she loved the film (the point being she would have kept mum if she hadn’t liked it out of deference to the fact that at this stage it’s still a work in progress), but because she had thoroughly enjoyed it she wanted to share. Over several hours denizens of the board posted questions to her, and she posted back.   She had never heard of the film or the book prior to going to the screening, which was Friday.  Afterwards she downloaded a copy of Princess of Mars and read it over the weekend.

This whole situation posed something of a dilemma in that people who go to test screenings are requested to keep mum about it — but the logic behind that is the “work-in-progress’ argument and the desire to not let negatives get loose into the universe when they are based on a work-in-progress screening.  I’ve thought pretty carefully and a) it’s already been published on the message board, which is a prominent one, and b) it can’t do any harm because she loved the movie and had coherent, interesting comments about it, and c) others are going to replay it too.

Now for what she said. (And I won’t include any SPOILERS.)


(These are excerpts of what the viewer wrote, taken verbatim from various posts that were written in response to specific questions from the board.)

Background
I like to go to the movies for the sake of the art itself. I studied screenwriting for a few years and…have been a writing coach. I look for good stories with good characters. I look for lots of “show-don’t-tell” (this is a movie after all) I expect a movie to fit the basic criteria of good-storytelling and not rely on special effects, soundtracks and big name actors to see it though. If you have a good story, you have the potential to have a good film.

The ‘guys in charge” were focusing of the fact that the movie is marketed to kids between the ages of 10 – 15. Keep that in mind when you see it. My 14 year old son though it was great. He was throwing a fit at first when I dragged him to it but was really glad he went at the end. My husband was with me as well.

Overall
Movie was really excellent and well worth watching.The audience reacted positively to the entire thing. All around me were pleasantly surprised, as most, like me, hadn’t even heard of the film. Many people took a long time to fill out their surveys and felt a responsibility to accurately convey their opinions. I felt the audience was emotionally engaged. we were rooting for JC all the way. We wanted him to marry the princess. we wanted her to love him. I would definitely recommend it.

Characters and characterization
I really liked that characterizations. They were the best part. The non-humans were in the best actors in the show, as I will explain next. I felt that the writing was fine for an action movie. I’m not expecting oscar winning writing from this type of film. I felt it was a good adaptation of the book and the detail they added were fitting and were actually some of my favorite parts.

Acting
JC’c character was written well enough, but not excellently. We all know from beginning writing that character’s are supposed to change. The words he spoke suggested he changed, but the acting said he was bad-ass all the time, quite one-dimensional. He spent most of his time fighting, which I guess is true to the books.


Dejah Thoris
Dejah did pretty well, but they characterized her as the equal-to-man-in-battle type woman which has been trendy for quite some time now. They show her smart, sensitive side as well, but she was pretty much as “bad-ass” too. The woman that played her did a fine job IMO.

Woola the dog:
Awesome. Everyone loved Woola. He was my favorite character, actually. He had a cool “save-the-day” scene that was not in the book, which was one of my favorite parts. Everyone was talking about him. He’s hideously adorable.

Tars Tarkus
Great acting. Excellent portrayal of the character’s sensitivity and un-Tharklike kindness.

Sola
Very likable and a good job for a minor character

Number of Characters
Actually what I like was that there were a ton of characters, but somehow they were handled well. Too many characters can be a recipe for disaster in a movie, but this was well done

Therns
Indistinguishable from one another. My son said they had different jewels in their medallions, but it was hard for me to keep them straight. The guy who played the evilest one (Lord Blackwood from Sherlock Holmes the first )…I know I’m terrible at actor’s names… did his usual, “i am very evil and you know it” type gig. Very archetypal evil character who really doesn’t change or do anything really dynamic.

CGI Characters
“I didn’t think it felt “cartoony” at all…….Their mouth movements were very believable and their musculature was good. Their skin texture looked good too. I was impressed and was not distracted by any of the animation elements. I’m sure you know they are not exactly as described in the book, no antennae and their eyes are placed more like humans and less like traditional aliens. In fact, I felt all of the non-humans were well done.”
Pacing:
I felt the movie was a little long. But I was glad it wasn’t over yet because I really wanted to see what happened next. I felt the ending was rushed.

Effects
Some of the effects were unfinished, especially the landscape, so I can’t speak much for that. All of the creatures seemed real and not cartoony to me. The baby Tharks were really cute actually. The ships and cities were pretty good, but as I said a lot of it was unfinished as the guy who introduced the film told us.

Music
You know, that was one of the questions on the survey and honestly I couldn’t remember if I liked it or not. When I saw Sherlock Holmes the soundtrack really stood out and I recognized the signature Hans Zimmer sound. I assume the JC soundtrack was neither excellent or horrible because it didn’t strike me either way. Then again, I wasn’t listening for it. My 14 year old son says that the music fit the scenes and that it was ‘cool” (great details I know). My husband also says it was not memorable. Sorry I can’t give better details.

Romance
I felt the love-story was much better than the book. In the book they give one sentence about how they are married and suddenly have an egg. also they are not separated as often as in the book, so you get to see more interaction between the characters.

In the movie there is a lot of sexual tension between the two characters that makes you wish they would just kiss already, and they finally do of course.

Also they paralleled between JC;’s deceased earth wife and Dejah is well done presents an internal conflict which is interesting. I thought the romance was well done.

Arena Scene
If you mean the scene in the arena, I felt the apes were really cool (like half-ape, half-abominable snowman). A little over-sized, but I suppose that adds to the drama that JC can actually defeat creatures of such magnitude. Sometimes action scenes of that sort can go on far too long, but I felt this one was just the right length.

If you mean the whole atmosphere of the entire arena, what was there was good. The animation was unfinished, but it was reminiscent of the Roman Coliseum.

Battle Scenes

The whole film was full of battles, skirmishes, ambushes and the like. I’ll try not to spoil much. I mentioned earlier that at times I feel that battle scenes can drag in movies, but these seemed the right length. As far as the ‘epic’ battle at the end, there is a lot of things that happen prior to that increase the suspense of the whole deal, which I liked so you don’t get the cliche sword-clanging for 15 minutes.

As for the finale — no spoilers but this film, it is an entirely group effort and although John Carter is of course the focus, the other characters hold their own. The whole film is very character driven which I found very refreshing for an action movie. The battle was not “well-planned” (I’m not taking about the writing, I’m talking about how the characters orchestrated it) and that adds to the drama…… In short, I liked it. It’s disney and for kids, so you’re not going to see rolling, bloody heads or anything like that.

Who is this movie for?

At the screening, they turned people away who were not accompanied by at least one child in that age group. (10-15).  However, I believe the movie is for everyone. People are going to say it’s like Star Wars, because I’m sure Lucas read Burroughs’ book at some point and it’s content leaped into his subconscious and came forth on the pages when he wrote Star Wars. I’m sure people will say the same about Avatar for the same reasons. For me, it was refreshing that the setting was Mars, and not some crazy made up name that’s hard to keep straight. I really can’t say how I think it should be marketed. Anyone of any age would enjoy it. There is nothing offensive or out of order about it. Who saw Toy Story? Everyone. Who liked Toy Story? Everyone. I’m not saying it’s better than Toy Story, just that anyone would enjoy it.