by Rowena Joy A. Sanchez. MANILA, Philippines — It might seem that the science-fiction film “John Carter” is derivative of classics such as “Star Wars” and “Avatar,” but a trip in history might just put things in a clearer perspective.
Disney’s “Carter” was based on the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose “Barsoom” tale was serialized in 1912, and published as a novel (“A Princess of Mars”) five years later. Burroughs’ pioneering work in the sci-fi genre—about an earthman inexplicably transported to Mars and thrust into an out-of-this-world war between nations in the said planet—has been regarded as a highly significant inspiration for artists that succeeded him, thus stamping his legacy in literature and cinema.
Re-imagined for the big screen a century after its first publication by director Andrew Stanton (his first live-action after helming the beloved animated Pixar films “Finding Nemo” and “Wall-E”), “John Carter” is action-packed, fast-paced, and at times funny and sweet, too—a seemingly unlikely combination of elements that makes for an entertaining viewing experience.
Although less than visually breathtaking as its film predecessors (which is quite unfortunate, considering that the film has a $250 million budget), what keeps the grip in “John Carter” is its spellbinding story and colorful characters, led by Carter himself (“Friday Night Lights” star Taylor Kitsch—yes, of the customs brouhaha).
A period film of sorts, the Earth scenes in “John Carter” takes place in the late 1800s, and presents Carter’s life pre-Mars as a Civil War veteran who seeks gold, as well as his unexpected return to Earth and his quest to come back to the Red Planet, which he has come to consider his real home (don’t fret, we’re not giving away too much here).
When he hits Mars, the planet is in chaos: the prince (Matthew West) of one of its nations, Zodanga, is obsessed with world domination (by influence of the shape-shifting Holy Thern Matai Shang, played by Mark Strong), while inhabitants in Helium and the Green Martian warriors Tharks oppose his advances to control the planet. Carter, with his inexplicable strength, especially his massive leaping skills while in Mars, emerges as the hero that the dying planet exactly needs.
Though generally a sci-fi action flick—which would normally attract male audiences—the romance angle in “John Carter” just might lure in female moviegoers as well. Kitsch’s chemistry with his onscreen partner, Lynn Collins, who plays Helium’s princess Dejah Thoris, goes way past the boiling point.