A sweet and poignant farewell to John Carter, after a sixth viewing

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I reviewed John Carter after seeing it for the first time a little more than 6 weeks ago.  I saw it for the sixth time two nights ago — and the sixth was, surprisingly, the best viewing of all. I feel compelled to explain why, and to offer some closing thoughts on my theatrical journey with John Carter.

First, a true confession: I did not see it six times simply because I so loved it that I just had to see it six times. Had it just been for pleasure, I might have stopped at 3 viewings. But circumstances took me to it six times, and I’m glad for that, now that it’s complete, because the sixth was the best and I’m richer in spirit because of it.

The first viewing was an advance screening with Andrew Stanton answering a Q and A — something the film-maker and film student in me could not resist.  The second was a special screening for Edgar Rice Burroughs fans on the lot at Disney, something the ERB fan in me could not resist.  Viewings 3,4, and 5 were with family members who wouldn’t have seen it had I not dragged them to it.  And finally, the sixth viewing was part of a “Last Trip to Barsoom” that JCF participated in alongside the Facebook John Carter Fan group.

Why was the sixth viewing the best?

I’ve pondered that.  The actual cycle for me was — the first viewing I was impressed by the film in many ways, but didn’t quite get fully engaged with it the way I expected to. I faulted myself for this — my intimate knowledge of the books, my somewhat emotional reaction to seeing this story–which has been in the cinema of my mind for most of my life and which I have dreamed of seeing on screen–finally actually up there on the screen.  It’s hard to describe the the emotion that washed over me — those of us who fell in love with these books as teenagers carry them with us in our heart in a peculiar and very personal way, and seeing it come to fruition was startlingly powerful.

The second viewing reassured me — many of the concerns I had felt not he first viewing were, it turned out, things that were there — but I had just missed them.  The John Carter – Dejah Thoris relationship, for example, which seemed hurried and “missing beats” on a first viewing, felt much more complete a second time around due to sublties in their interaction that had slipped past me on the first viewing.  Plot points that had been a little confusing were clear.

Between the second and third viewing I re-read A Princess of Mars and, quite frankly, that caused the third viewing to be my least favorite.  With all of Burroughs choices fresh in my mind, I found myself questioning more acutely than I had previously the choices that the John Carter creative team had made.    The fourth and fifth viewings were fairly bumpy as well — too many thoughts about too many choices that could have gone another way — too much analysis.

So on the sixth viewing I made a pledge.  On this viewing, knowing that it would be my last, I told myself to leave all my critical analysis at the door; forget about all the things that I would have done differently; forget about the details of ERB’s treatment of the material — and just let Andrew Stanton take me on the journey that he wanted to take me on.


It was positively “Strangelovian” (as in — How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the  Therns).

On this viewing everything worked — and for the first time I really surrendered myself to the storytelling magic that Stanton has achieved with this film.  There were people in the audience who had seen it 10, even 15 times, and perhaps that contributed to the spell.

This time — I teared up at least half a dozen times throughout the movie.

This time — the romance worked … every beat, every progression…perfection.

This time — John Carter and his choices at each step of the journey made sense….

This time — I had a full-on, 100%  “ERB experience” and it was profoundly satisfying.

What am it to make of this?

I’m not quite sure.  There is an alchemy in Stanton’s work that is elusive and intriguing.  He has constructed something here that appears to have flaws, but the flaws diminish on repeated viewings and a deeper beauty is revealed.   There is a poetic quality to the complex structures that he has brought together that only reveals itself when you get fully in synch with what he has given us.  If you resist its charms — you find yourself unengaged.  But if you submit — the submission is blissful and the reward surprisingly sublime.

I wrote “I have been to Barsoom” the first time …. but maybe not.  Maybe it was only this last trip that really took me there.  At last, finally, I got that exhilarating high I have been seeking.

On another day I will write about my theories about how John Carter could have been even better — about choices that may not have been the best. But I will do so with a profound respect for what Andrew Stanton created for us. Right now I just want to say thank you to Andrew Stanton.  This all happened because you reached out to Dick Ross and told him you wanted to do this.  And you delivered.   And yes — thank you to Disney.  Even though you blew the marketing of this film in a way that is beyond tragic — you also brought it to the screen when no one else did, and for that I’m truly grateful.

A sequel is, I realize, a remote possibility — but not an impossible dream.  Andrew Stanton’s version of ERB’s John Carter is already generating a loyal and extremely motivated group of followers who include people who knew the material beforehand — and (even more beautifully) people who only discovered it now.  I hesitate to use the word “cult”, but “cult classic” for sure can describe where John Carter is headed.   Will that be enough to get a sequel in my lifetime?  If I live a Barsoomian span of a thousand years – then for sure it will happen. An earthly span — not so sure.

But of this I am certain.

This is a film that will grow in stature as time passes.

This is a film that burnishes and re-ignites the legacy of the grandmaster, Edgar Rice Burroughs.

This is a film will win adherents and fans for decades to come.

I will close by including two videos that sing the song of John Carter that’s resonating within me as I close this chapter.

The first — our fan trailer “Heritage” which  embodies how I so wish this film had been presented by Disney.

And secondly — I had all but forgotten, but on the day that I created the John Carter Files, I made a video celebrating 100 Years of John Carter. At the end of this journey, it’s nice to come back to it, and contemplate the gift that ERB gave us — and the gift that all the artists who were inspired by him gave us as well.


  • Thank you for the lovely post and this forum. Your videos are brilliant and I WISH there had been someone like you in charge of promotion.
    Illness keeps me mostly housebound, but circumstances aligned and I got to see John Carter in a theater. Simply spectacular. We need a sequel.

  • I find it screamingly roll-on-the-floor hysterical that anyone would criticize a movie based on ERBs works for clichés. And it only sweetens the mirth by complaining about plot changes. Thank you for that.

  • On this viewing, knowing that it would be my last, I told myself to leave all my critical analysis at the door; forget about all the things that I would have done differently; forget about the details of ERB’s treatment of the material — and just let Andrew Stanton take me on the journey that he wanted to take me on. . . . . Magic.


    I first read PoM a very long time ago, back when I was just a kid starting to get into reading serious literature, my Mom sorta started me on SciFi/Fantasy. And I hadn’t gone back to the original story before seeing JC for the first time. I wanted to enjoy the movie as its own work of art and storytelling without reviewing the source material.

    When I went in to see FOTR for the first time, gee now 10+ years ago, I went in knowing the film would not be the same as Tolkien’s books, nor would Jackson contort himself into the author’s persona.

    AFAIC, Jackson nailed the world of Tolkien, not literally and verbatim, but in its spirit and message, all was there. I still cringe at some of the things PJ did to the whole story, but it’s still a magnificent piece of work, and I’ve seen it dozens of times.

    Staunton did the same thing, he took us to Barsoom and those of us who enjoyed Burrough’s world in the books were there on Mars, er Barsoom, with John Carter, and feeling what he felt as he took his first steps there.

    That is art. There is no need to rebuild a Parthenon or repaint the Mona Lisa, but we’ve built a whole lot of architecture suggested by it and painted pieces by the thousands.

    Magic is where you find it, always unexpected and without preconditions, and no analysis please, at least for a while.

    And dammit, I wanna go back at least a couple three more times.

    I could write more,. I see a lot of similarity between LOTR and JC, e.g. Carter and Thoris vis a vis Aragorn and Arwen.

    But for right now, let’s get those sequels!



  • This was/is probably the favorite movie of my entire life.

    Once before I had to pick my jaw up off the theatre floor, at my first viewing of Star Wars when the cruiser moved onto the screen at the beginning. With John Carter it was when they rode into the Thark encampment for the first time.

    I managed to see it five times. I never tried to analyze it, I was simply caught up in it like that younger self was with Star Wars. I think it is much better than Star Wars in every way, however. The feeling was the same. To start with. John Carter is aging better.

    I read the books starting, oh, at twelve I guess. My favorites were the ones with red Martian protagonists…esp. Chessmen and Fighting Man. I read the first five novels in the series again a couple of years ago and was not that impressed with them anymore. The movie, however, captured the feeling and thrill that long ago twelve year old experienced…and then some. I enjoyed every showing, more each time, and I would go see it again if it were still showing.

    The reaction to the movie, the venom directed at it and the fact that people could not be bothered to give it a chance, hurts. How could something I loved so much be so reviled and ignored by most people? It is saddening that people these days are so jaded and cynical (and ignorant) that such a movie would fail.

    Something is very wrong with our present culture, but I too thank Stanton and co. for the movie of a lifetime (at least for me). It was pure, bottled magic. I pity all those who do not recognize that but I cannot bring myself to sympathize or empathize with them.

  • Sure, Dotar — fine with me. It is curious, and ironic, how this movie shape shifts like a Thern.

  • Paladin,
    What a beautiful comment — thank you for sharing. I would love to post it as a guest blog if that’s okay. I think this issue of how the film resonates differently on different viewings — and depending on your state of mind — is something that we should explore with others, because it’s an unusual quality for a film to have.

  • After my first viewing of JC, I left the theater feeling thrilled that this ERB story had finally made it onto the big screen, but also feeling like I had missed too much of the film. Although frustrated because I hadn’t caught everything, I was additionally excited since it indicated that the movie had multiple layers of depth to explore.

    At my second sitting, I tried to pay close attention and catch all the details that I had missed the first time. This worked really great, except it was a lousy idea. It was like I had listened to a symphony and captured every single note, but by doing so had totally missed the melody.

    My third time in the theater was truly enchanting. I sat back, relaxed, and floated on a magical journey to Barsoom. I came away fervently infected with a love for this film. I often had to wipe away tears. People have compared it to other cult classics like 2001 and Bladerunner, and while those phenomenal masterworks are intellectually satisfying, they don’t even come close to touching your heart in anywhere near the same way as JC. They don’t make you cry.

    Stanton’s version is not, in fact, precisely the ERB tale which had enraptured me decades ago as a pre-pubescent kid pumped full of hormones, but neither did I precisely recall those books, anyway. I remembered those Mars books in the same way that we never forget our first really crushing romantic love – something we never quite get over. That sense of innocence and wonder, the excitement and adventure, the grand old ideals of honor and chivalry, the noble quest, the fight for a just cause, and above all else (for both the young and old alike) the exalting freedom to escape the heavy bonds of the mundane daily grind. This, I imagine, drew Stanton to this project, and this is what he delivered to me.

    And this is also about the time I started visiting theJohnCarterfiles, where it drove me crazy to read people dissecting the movie into a slew of debatable cinematic failures presented as fatal flaws which I considered to be trivial. I hate to even broach the subject now since the critics seem to anxiously await any chance to start laying on with a myriad of pet peeves. Someday I would enjoy reading a well-reasoned discussion of plot line motivations and choices, but strategically it seemed mistaken to haggle while the movie was still in theaters. Anyhow, a lot of my early posts were defensive or combative. What others saw as missing, I found to be presented with artful subtlety. What others deplored as underdeveloped, I found as a positive quality because it was not dumbed down and spelled out in formulaic Hollywood fashion.

    But I really don’t want to open that can of worms. It’s just to explain that this led to my fourth viewing which was miserable, since I went with a head fresh full of over-analytical debate minutia crap. Happily, luckily, I went back a fifth and final time, and was able to return, as did our hero, to Barsoom.

    There is something mysteriously captivating about this film. That’s why earlier I said that I was infected. There is something about it that simultaneously draws you back and stays with you – what Dotar variously calls poetry, or elusive alchemy. I still don’t know exactly how Stanton did it, but I do know what he did. He made me feel like that kid again, the one who fell in love for the first time. I was able to let go, and believe again. By translating a small portion of ERB’s genius, Stanton helps us to flee the harsh burdens of our home world. He leads us on a stupendous journey through an exotic desert world dieing of drought, and then he gives us a cool drink. It’s a most precious gift. It tastes as sweet, as delicate, and refreshing as a little sip of innocence.

  • Just letting MCR and Kimberly know that I removed three comments — one by each of the three of us — because I just don’t want this particular post to become a place where we go back and forth attacking and defending Stanton and the movie. There are other threads for that. We all had our say and saw what the others said……and we all had our comments removed so we’re about as “even” as it gets. Thanks for your understanding. Let’s let this “sweet and poignant farewell” remain that way and save the arguments for other posts and other threads.

  • MCR wrote

    I figured the things I hated I would still hate and the things I did think Stanton got right wouldn’t be right the second time. I still feel this film blew it as an ERB adaptation-right down to the cliched additions and pointless changes-but as a movie it was good but nothing that made me want to watch it again in a theater.

    You and I have never been quite on the same page on this … but over my first five viewings as I drilled down more and more into the choices Stanton had made and thought about the alternate choices I would have made if it had been me …… I found myself gaining a better understanding of how you feel. In fact, on my 5th viewing I was quite cranky because I had just written a detailed analysis of the issues (haven’t published that yet)…..

    The point of this article was that I let go of that prior to this viewing and didn’t second guess Stanton every step of the way, but instead made myself be open to what he has done and let it work its magic on me — and there was just more magic there than I had ever felt before, and so the reward for doing this was great.

    My friend, I wish you could do the same – not because I want to convince you of anything – but because I would like to share with you the glow that letting go of all the second guessing produced.

    I’m not finished second guessing. I’m looking forward to a detailed deconstruction of Stanton’s choices and the alternatives that I would have preferred. But not now — not in this moment. I wish you could give it a chance … think of it as a guilty pleasure. Leave your critical mind at the door and open yourself to it — just as an experiment. It’s worth it.

  • It’s been ages since I read a John Carter paperback, so I basically only kind of remembered the main characters. When a comic book version came out over a decade ago, I bought them for the art and collecting. I always liked the Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo/Julie Bell illustrations. And the movie looked good from what I saw, but I didn’t know about all the negative buzz. I remember wishing there was more info on it and found some stuff on YouTube, but not enough.

    I looked forward to seeing it, but the day it opened I heard it wasn’t good – it was overly predictable, too much stuff going on, etc., so I went in thinking it might not be good. Instead, I was enchanted! It took me back to the fun I had seeing “Star Wars” the first time, a new world to explore, with much better characters and acting than “Star Wars” could ever muster and done much better as well.

    I usually try to not be analytical when watching a movie for the first time. I want to catch the ride if there’s one to be caught and boy was I caught by “John Carter!” I didn’t find the problems others did, had no problem with the Therns or the Ninth Ray – in fact I think those elements added to it, picked up on and loved the romance immediately, thought the acting was good (very good by Lynn Collins), the chemistry was there, the art direction was good, great music and cinematography and the best and most realistic CG animation ever with the Tharks.

    I’ve easily seen it over a dozen times… sometimes twice a week since it opened and I saw it again Friday evening at the only theater still showing it in the area.. had to make a 45 minute drive to get there, but it was worth it. It’s the most enjoyable 2 hours I’ve spent in years and it pleases every time!

  • Well I’m glad you enjoyed it enough to see it six times. I only saw it once, both for financial reasons-the theaters only seemed to get the 3D version and the running times for the 2D version were at 10 at night or 2:45 in the afternoon-and the fact that I figured the things I hated I would still hate and the things I did think Stanton got right wouldn’t be right the second time. I still feel this film blew it as an ERB adaptation-right down to the cliched additions and pointless changes-but as a movie it was good but nothing that made me want to watch it again in a theater. Maybe I’ll give it a second chance when it comes to Blu-Ray. As for the sequel well I might be up for it-if Andrew Stanton was not involved. It’s sad that Irvin Kershner and Leigh Brackett are no longer alive. Oh well we can dream can’t we?

  • My last viewing we definitely the best. The subtle nuances of this film are unbelievable. To share these experiences with the thousands of JC fans all over the the world who do “get” it, has been unforgettable for me. Stanton created a film that will be more appreciated as time goes on. His vision, paired with the excellent cast of actors, brought these characters to life in such a magnificent way. To be moved by a film each time you view it…..to want to see it again and again…..sigh…..BARSOOM….

  • I only saw it once, because I simply couldn’t afford more. That was my first time in a theater in three years, and I don’t plan to see any other movie theatrically in the near future. But the movie grew on me in an astounding way.

    Yes, it has flaws, but any filmmaker who is able to turn such over-used clichés as the lost-his-family-reluctant-hero and the warrior-princess into something fresh and new is just a genius.

    That’s my state of mind right now, it may vary again, who knows. I’ve gone for so many steps to reach this point…

  • Thanks for your comment — which brought a rush of emotion too. I loved these books as a child and I think they had a more profound effect on my values and sense of self-worth than I ever understood. This taking stock now, as it leaves the theaters, feels quite profound, but not fully understood. I will have a lot more to say but for now ….this is enough.

  • Alas, I only got to see it twice at the cinema but I know where you’re coming from. The first time was my initiation – I’d heard of the books but had never picked one up – and so I went along for the ride, and found it an intelligent, superior sci-fi action adventure and had fun spotting ideas and concepts that have been ripped off by other film-makers. The second viewing, because I was freed from the tension of wanting to know what was going to happen, was a more emotional experience and like you, I found myself wiping tears from my face at several points in the story. I hope it gets a re-release in cinemas but if not, a blu ray will have to suffice. I hope it gets a sequel too. John Carter is already one of my favourite films of all time.

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