Since I just re-posted my initial reaction on first seeing John Carter on Feb 28, maybe it’s a useful “bookend” to also post notes that I made during my most recent viewing, this past Friday night. It’s goes without saying that watching it this many times is a testament to the fact that I think very, very highly of the film, and have said so in fairly comprehensive fashion in my initial review of it, and elsewhere. These notes are mostly trivia, and the “complaints” are what I would term “quibbles” for the most part — but thought I would share them on a lazy Sunday morning as it is intriguing to me how this film in particular continues to reveal its mysteries on repeated viewings.
Things that I had on my mind as I was viewing it this time:
- Recent comments here from some of our contrarians challenging the notion that “it gets better” with repeated viewings. I thought I’d keep an eye out for things that benefit from repeated viewings, or things that I thought people might have missed on a first viewing.
- MCR’s oft repeated “Mopey John Carter” ….. is he really as mopey as MCR contends?
- Moments when what feels to me like an unfinished scene gets jerked onto a tangent. (This is something I’ve been meaning to do notes on — I feel there are a number of these where something gets lost because before the audience can absorb it, the story rushes off on another beat. This also goes to the issue of people getting more out of it on repeated viewings — on the theory that those “rushed beats” are better captured on repeat viewings.)
- Tracking the beats in the JC/Dejah relationship, most of which are silent.
- Anything that I noticed for the first time.
So … here is what I typed onto my laptop as I was watching it, only slightly cleaned up
“Lost in a sandstorm”……that just grates on me every time I hear it. Not loving the opening air battle sequence any more this time than I have previously.
On the shot introducing Helium — noticed for the first time the beautiful green gardens around the perimeter of the city. (Reminds me that one of my disappointments is that other than this one shot, we never get a full-on shot of Helium and I really miss that. There needs to be one spectacular shot of Helium that shows us more detail than this one and makes us feel what it is that Dejah is so passionate about — and allows us to contrast that with Zodanga, which we get to see a lot of in the movie. Oh well.)
Mope-meter: Carter’s not mopey in New York–cuts a dashing figure in his first moments on screen.
Mope-meter: Carter’s pretty mopey here. I don’t think this is what MCR is complaining about though.
In the cave …. wince at the reaction of the Thern when he sees John Carter. Not the greatest casting, that.
Mope-meter: Smiles when sees Tars weapons, welcomes the challenge. That’s a good John Carter moment.
First time I noticed how green the radium bullet explosions are
It’s really obvious to anyone who’s read the books that the Tharks are killing off their weak hatchlings, but I’ve talked to a number of viewers who don’t get this from the scene until they see it a second or third time. If I were the film-maker I’d feel it’s there, plain as day, but somehow it gets missed.
Chasing the hatchlings…..the implication of this (that they never know their parents) is there if you can stop to think about it, but I think most people watching it the first time don’t have time or inclination to do that. There is so much going on …. I would have tried to work it into the dialogue early in Carter’s exposure to the Tharks so that the impact of learning Sola is Tars’ daughter would be stronger later on. As it is, there is just that line later on “Tharks have no parents but the horde” that is kind of lost and comes too late.
This is one of the ones where I think something gets lost. John Carter dives in to save Woola (a noble act) and this is something that should cause the Tharks to look at him with some consternation since it’s not their way to be compassionate. It would help us understand the Tharks , and we would see the nobility of Carter’s act — but instead it jumps right into Carter killing a Thark with one blow.
The killing of the guy with one blow is another moment we need to absorb, as it is Carter learning about his strength (which we get to some degree from his jumping ability, but this is another aspect to it and it’s kind of lost) . It’s lost because as soon as Tars says ‘you killed him with one blow’, instead of giving us a moment to contemplate the implications of that, it goes immediately to: “Wait a minute, I understand you!” and we’re onto the language thing.
So there are a couple of things that kind of fly by the viewer the first time around — Carter’s “chivalry” toward Woola, and his special strength giving him near superpowers–hijacked by the language issue. Impact is greater in subsequent viewings.
Mope-meter: Carter is quite compassionate toward Sola, especially when he reaches out to her.
Mope-meter: Carter watches air battle with interest, no sullenness
When he sees her and says: “She’s a human” …. he acts immediately — decisively.
First time I noticed blood of Zodangans is blue…..
Mope-meter: Fighting smile before he engages Sab Than — good John Carter moment
I AM DOTAR SOJAT
First beat with Dejah as tharks running off and they look at each other. Intention is clearly to show there is something stirring between them even from this moment. Might be missed on a first viewing.
WAR IS A SHAMEFUL THING
Second beat in JC-Dejah relationship. Don’t like the editing here – wish there was a shot of JC looking at her first, before he speaks.
Another “hijacked moment” happens when Dejah says “you made a difference today, Virginia”. I wish she just said “you made a difference today” and gave him a chance to react to that. This is an important first step on his journey to engagement, but it’s lost because she says “Virginia” and he goes off on the “my name is not Virginia” tangent. On repeated viewings, you get the moment anyway, but not not he first viewing.
There is a whole lot to be covered in this scene (including the solar system — “I’m on Mars” scene which is a continuation)…..quite a lot of exposition but it works because of the subtext/relationship stuff.
Mope-meter: Not very mopey in this scene. (Interesting side note — in the storyboards, there was more dialogue in this scene where he speaks about the last battle he fought in on earth, 25,000 men were left dead on the field. Sorry that was lost as it helps explain his reluctance to engage.)
Mope-meter: In the temple he’s not grumpy at all — in fact this is JC at his most charming.
When Dejah mockingly says: “Earth”(he smiles)
When Dejah says: “Assuming that you can” he smiles again
When he says: Deal…he smiles again
When he says: Go on, shake it, a sign of trust …. smiles again….
This scene is another one that isn’t quite allowed to end. They are moving forward in their relationship but rather than let us really get that, it veers off with “Now all I have to do is get this medallion off of Tars Tarkas” and then Sarkoja arrives and we’re on to that.
Mope-meter: Not mopey at all.
This is what is intended as a big beat in the relationship, yet I’m not sure first timers are completely getting it. They’re like kids,and when Dejah sees JC checking her out, reflected in her sword, and he gets caught — very strong flirty moment. I
STILL PLAYING THE MADMAN?
Mope-meter: Not mopey at all.
Lots of flirty smiling and sizzle in the relationship.
ON THE THOATS
Why is he asleep on the thoat? I never get that choice.
Struck by the fact that in this scene it’s apparent Dejah is REALLY red, even without the Tattoos…..
I’m always a bit uncomfortable with this scene — it’s just not the way Virginia gentleman JC would act. And the when she falls, it’s such a lame little fall, and yet he does a 180, jumps down, becomes solicitous. I think it’s just an editing thing — would have been easy enough to show her falling in a CU, not in long shot, so we would believe it’s a more violent fall.
“This [medallion] is real, and so is my cave of gold”
Really wish there had been another ending to this scene. I don’t think we needed to have JC jump to his cave of gold in this moment, could have just let it end without that, more on their relationship and his realization about what she’s facing…..
SAB THAN ONE MAN FLYER
Really don’t like the one man flyers looking like snowmobiles…..
TRYING TO STOP SOLA AT MOUTH OF RIVER ISS
Mope-meter: Not mopey, quite compassionate toward Sola.
Shows a lot of humanity and engagement.
Sola’s expressiveness in this scene is really stunning—totally convincing. Some of the best motion capture CGI ever.
INSIDE THE GATES OF ISS
Really strikes me this time (and the last few times) that she totally knows how to make the medallion work right then, as they are looking at the hieroglyphs, when she says “it’s a series of sounds”. From that moment on she knows exactly how to make the medallion work, and that means that when she says “I’m trying to help you get back to Jasoom” a moment later it’s a flat-out lie. I’m not sure how I feel about this. On early viewings you don’t know this — you can’t be sure on a first viewing. But subsequently you do know, and it robs a bit from the kiss that follows because it’s clear that she’s really manipulating him, and it’s unclear how much of what she says is truly felt (“I know you John Carter….I know you’re the kind of man…etc”) and how much is her manipulation to get him to help Helium.
Mope-meter: Not mopey. When he says “Yes ma’am” , smiles…….
“And the ships that sail on the sea, you have seen them?) smiles…..
I wish there was one cluseup of one warhoon running on all fours
Her hand is so red on the cu of htier hands together — another indication of how “red” she is, regardless of tattoos.
I wish there was a CU of him just before he says “hold”….show him making the decision.
Dejah’s most beautiful moment is when she stands looking at Sab than. — the shot on the screen as he says “there’s never been trust between Zodanga and Helium”…. wow, stunner.
IN DEJAH’S CHAMBERS
“You can’t seriously be considering this?” — that line really clunks for me, feels way too modern day.
(At this point I got caught up in it and quit taking notes.)
Bob, I did not intend to question your clear devotion to the ending of the novel – and was talking specifically about the movie. Which (IMHO) should have ended exactly like the novel.
If anything, an ending that yearns this way might have propelled more people to return for second viewings. A great ending is a great ending, especially if you’re trying to make something classic or lasting, regardless of what calculated market research says. I despise this notion that filmmakers must cater always to the lowest, neediest level of a broad demographic, and I believe that audiences are better and smarter than Hollywood gives them/us credit for.
Add to that MCR’s point about THOR – a risky, high-concept film about a lesser known iconic hero (with an even more ridiculous backstory than Carter), who travels between worlds via magic/science to fall in love. That film was less than a few years ago, was made for the broadest audience, ended up remarkably successful, and ends more like APoM than Disney-JC does.
Now, I do think you have something there about the ending resembling the original Star Wars. I’d agree that may be the way the filmmakers thought of their ending. That would line right up with what appears to have been a concerted (though perhaps unconscious) effort to make DJC as much like the Star Wars films as possible by adding material not in the novel.
A few examples of many:
_Opening space/aerial battle establishing the villain and political situation prior to introducing the protagonist multiple scenes later. ( IV )
_Villainous vehicles on gigantic mechanical legs. ( V – VI – II – III )
_Chaining the super-powered hero to an orange arena rock before fighting beasts. ( II )
_Force Levitation and other Telekinetic Manipulation Powers (All Six)
_Blue energy sword able to cut through metal or even stone. (All Six)
We’ve wandered off course, though. Thanks for answering my question about the gold veins, I’ll keep an eye out for that next time. That technically still makes it Thern gold he’s talking about, though, no? Even if they haven’t turned it into spider-bars or earrings yet. I find humor in the idea that his fortune is amassed from gold he mined/stole out of their own cave.
Bob Page wrote:
“We, or at least I was, talking about the very expensive, tent pole movie, that was aimed at a broad family type audience, I don’t think that keeping John and Dejah unresolved would have gone over all that well. ”
I don’t know Bob. Based on what I’ve read no one seems to have had a problem with the similar ending to Thor where Thor and Jane Foster apart, separated by his act to save others (in fact its very similar to A Princess of Mars in some respects.) I think people possibly would have accepted it if they had been given the chance.
“MCR : I’m not sure if you misunderstood me or I’m misunderstanding you but I still believe this ending is an apple for apple copy of Star Wars. ”
No I understand I just don’t agree with it. It’s not like Darth Vader showed up after the victory and suddenly cast Luke back to Tattooine as did Matai Shang here. It was just too much of a sequel setup and that to me-especially now that there is no sequel-was annoying. If there had to be that cliffhanger I would rather had it be Carter’s attempts to return to Dejah, not evil Therns on Earth.
Bob, my comment had nothing to do with the iconic status of either character, it had more to do with the fact that you can argue that Matai Shang is really no villain at all. Manipulative, yes, but has he committed truly evil acts during the movie? He said the Therns feed off planets, but never demonstrates it, and he has been caught by Carter with a blatant lie a moment after (because Carter perfectly knows that theTherns are not immortals).
Dotar perfectly showed that the acts of John Carter had nothing to do with what he says, the “real” John Carter is beneath this shell. It could be the same for Matai Shang. He seems more interested in Carter’s abilities than in destroying him.
I’m sure how I expressed myself was somewhat clumsy but I’m talking about the MOVIE here. I’m with you guys about ERB and his prose, and in no way, shape or form was I suggesting that this new version was a better version than the book. After Henreid and MCR comments I even pulled out my copy of APOM and read the short last chapter to make sure I had gotten my facts straight.
Let me pull out all the adjectives, it is beautiful, wistful, evocative, poetic, poignant, unrequited, moving, suspenseful, mature, bittersweet, heartbreaking yet hopefull. But it is only satisfying artistically or aesthetically, it doesn’t really reward and satisfy the hero in the story. We, or at least I was, talking about the very expensive, tent pole movie, that was aimed at a broad family type audience, I don’t think that keeping John and Dejah unresolved would have gone over all that well. After paying $25 bucks for tickets and investing two hours in a theater, it would have bummed most people out. Not the same experience as concluding a novel that you have been reading off and on again for a couple of days.
Pascalahad : wasn’t trying to imply Matai Shang was as iconic as Darth Vader. The hulking, wheezing, bio mechanical beats the pastey, bald shape shifter hands down. But they both fill the same position in their respective movies.
They are the chief henchmen of the ultimate evil.
MCR : I’m not sure if you misunderstood me or I’m misunderstanding you but I still believe this ending is an apple for apple copy of Star Wars.
Heroes complete immediate mission, rescue pricess and blow up the death star.
DJC Heroes rescue princess and defeat the Zodangans saving Helium.
SW Although their plan was thwarted, the Empire is still present, still a threat
DJC Although their plan was thwarted, the Therns are still present, still a threat
SW Heroes get big celebration reward ceremony, they are all happy.
DJC Heroes get a big wedding ceremony, they are all happy.
SW The fate of the chief henchman villian is unresolved.
DJC The fate of the chief henchman villian is unresolved.
My point in making that analogy, which worked for Star Wars, was that it was satisfying story reward wise. The audience goes home happy, but there are those unresolved things around the edges to make them want to see more.
Lucas and Stanton have to somewhat give the movie going audience what they want if they are going to have a successful crowd pleaser of a movie.
The ending of DJC brings a smile to my face every time I’ve seen it, which is quite a few times. The ending of The Grey was stunning, dramatic, the perfect ending to that movie.. I’m glad I saw it, but I have no desire to watch that movie ever again.
I agree. For those who felt that yearning to be transported to Barsoom — this was the passage more than any other that evokes it. I mean, I thought the ending of the movie was great and all that, but how can you improve on this:
Whoa, whoa, whoa.
While I applaud that Stanton actually did the ten-years-trapped-on-Earth thing, he kills the beauty and power of that ending by serving up ‘audience satisfaction’ wrapped up in a neat little bow. Showing him get back there to Dejah saps perhaps the greatest reservoir of power the book offers.
You can finish that novel, step outside into the night and find that red dot in the sky, and you are in exactly the same position as John Carter. Looking up, wondering whether that world died or yet lives, yearning to get there, trapped on Earth, longing for lost love across the solar system. It may be the most beautifully poignant note in the entire series, of all the Burroughs I’ve yet read, and among the finest endings I’ve ever read from any literature. Listen to Carl Sagan speak of this powerful draw, how it helped inspire him towards the romance of that red world for real. You could go there, reader! If only you could unlock the mystery that projected Uncle Jack there! Reach for the sky and the Roman God of your vocation! This act of merging the reader with the character in the end undoubtedly contributed to the success of the novels in an age where Mars very well may have been Barsoom (for all we knew of the scientific reality).
The hint in the final sentence is deeply satisfying, wonderfully suggestive yet unresolved.
That ending could not be more perfect, and it’s not surprising Hollywood didn’t get it.
If Stanton had understood or trusted those final pages, so many of my other criticisms would vanish into insignificance.
Then again, I’ll do the contrarian here, Matai Shang is no Darth Vader. How exactly is he evil? When you think about it, he’s the one who does all the work: he doesn’t order Dejah Thoris killed even if she’s one inch to discovering how to use their ninth ray to her advantage, he doesn’t kill John Carter when he has him under control, he even reveals to him all his plans and his shape-shifting abilities when he has absolutely no reason to do so (had he not done that only Sab Than would have known of the Therns!), he brings John Carter back to earth when all he had to do was teleport there and destroy his helpless body. And he probably won’t have killed Dejah Thoris either during that fateful night for whatever reason, even if he has access to her at any time in the royal palace.
In the same time frame, Darth Vader strangles to death a prisoner, almost does it to some officers on his side, tortured a princess and killed his mentor when he was defenseless. I wonder if his presence in Star Wars exceeds 20 minutes…
That don’t bother me that much in John Carter because I always prefer heroes well developped instead of their opposition, but their goals are… hard to understand. Perhaps that was the point. A possible explanation is that, if the hierarchy of the books is preserved in some way, the Therns intend to use John Carter and Dejah to get rid of some superior opposition, namely the black pirates and Issus. Why not?
Bob Page wrote:
“If the ending of the book had been followed we would have been left withDejah and, possibly an unhatched, young Carter offspring on Mars, and John stranded back on Earth. A great cliffhanger, of which ERB was a master, but it would have been very unsatisfying if this ended up being a one off movie.”
Would it? I don’t think its anymore unsatisfying than the ending we got where Evil Emperor Matai the Merciless is still running around cooking up more evil schemes. Plus with the original Star Wars the major plot was completed-rescue the princess and destroy the Death Star. The same thing with A Princess of Mars but with a little hook for a sequel. I don’t think audiences would have minded, especially with the setup of the journal and Carter telling them not to have his body embalmed and the maseoluem. I think the audience would have figured it out and if there wasn’t a sequel there was resolution, not an unresolved cliffhanger like Stanton left us with.
Sorry MCR, but I have to disagree about the ending. I think it is terrific, that little twist of outwitting the Therns and getting his opportunity to go back to his beloved Dejah was very satisfying. If the ending of the book had been followed we would have been left withDejah and, possibly an unhatched, young Carter offspring on Mars, and John stranded back on Earth. A great cliffhanger, of which ERB was a master, but it would have been very unsatisfying if this ended up being a one off movie.
What we got is the classic Star Wars ending. Bring the heros to a satisfying ending, but what about that Matai Shang guy ? He never really got his comeuppance. I remember coming home from my first showing of Star Wars, I saw it before even the reviews were published, and arguing with my friends. Yes, there was a big happy ending BUT, and I mean big BUT, “Oh yeah, there just has to be a sequel. That guy just killed Obi Won Kenobi and we are just going to leave him alive floating in space? No F’ing way ! “
Re “Nothing will come from me fighting your war” and a lot of the PTSD aspects …. it’s really a shame they lost that one line of dialogue where he said that the last battle he fought in, 25,000 men were left dead on the field. It’s so important to not go with shorthand as it is now ….aud is supposed to “get it” that because he is a civil war vet, he’s traumatized. It needs to be made more real. Dialogue is the weakest way, but even that one line of dialogue would have helped. Make it real.
“Constant shots of him rubbing his rings”…Um…two? And the first one happens so early, before we’ve seen the delightful Mrs. Carter and child, goes unnoticed (a liability….he seems to think we “get it” when he cuts to the CU of rings in the jail that he’s a widower…peeps aren’t that smart.)
But I’ll give you 1.5 “mopeys” for those scenes….But you’re not giving me anything for all the smiles? Where’s the trade-off?
OK Dotar, you missed the mope-a-meter on
“Nothing will come from me fighting your war.”
John Carter’s dream of his dead wife and Stanton’s constant cutting to them when ever he needed someone to feel sorry for poor old Carter.
The constant shots of him rubbing his rings. OK we get it.
The comment Henried made about how war is a terrible thing. Yeah it’s terrible all right when you just stand around and don’t want to get involved while this brave woman is willing to sacrifice her life to save her people. I can’t tell if Carter is just moping or selfish here.
I also agree with Bob, maybe this would have worked better if Stanton hadn’t decided he needed his Sith-Therns in the film. If there is one thing to really berate Stanton about was his cluelessness about needing to make a trilogy instead of making a good first film. Because if he had done that things might have gone differently. At least there now wouldn’t be a bad unresolved ending to his film.
Bob Page wrote:
Yup, can confirm that. It was one of the things that I noticed only in later viewings — it’s a motherlode of gold laced into the rocks.
Michael, great reflective article. Definitely gets richer on repeat viewings. The real shift in public opinion will occur when this goes into rotation on the cable channels. People still have to pay for it now, even on disc, and those on the fence may not be inclined to part with their cash. Even though it will do no good money wise to bolster it’s financial reputation, this is when the general public, with free repeat viewings available to them, will finally “get it”. It’s bottom line may not grow because of this, but it’s reputation most certainly will.
It took me a couple of viewings to catch the subtlery of the green colored radium explosions too, as well as becoming aware of all the races of Barsoom having blue blood. I would have prefered standard issue red, or even a darker type of blue.
My own big discovery, I mentioned once before, was the moving “cells” that make up the wings of the ships, how they raise and lower in rippling effect and their effect on the steering of the big ships. Really dug that.
My biggest take away from your list, which I am almost in complete agreement with, and MCR is going to love this, is that all those rushed beats and scenes not being given room to breathe, could have been expanded if screen time had not been given to the Therns and their belabored exposition. I don’t so much mind the changes to John Carter’s character, as you once pointed out, it adds an emotional layer to it but the character that is revealed by action is still pretty true to ERB’s John Carter. But, if I could get Andrew Stanton alone in a room, I would berate him for short changing the developement of the Tars/Sola/Carter and Carter/Dejah story arcs to jump the shark and introduce the Therns into this movie in such a heavy handed way.
Henreid : When Carter held the light up in the Thern Cave, it was clearly shown that there were veins of gold in the rocks. It was a full motherlode of a gold find, not just a couple of bars of gold laying around.
Off Topic : We had a lot of fun with the descriptions of how we would have liked to see the final air battle. Disney is so asleep at the wheel that they can’t see how this would have made a super terrific attraction in one of their parks. They really are idiots. Maybe some day we could have a discussion on our fantasy versions of a theme park ride that might have been. Maybe we can Douglas Trumbull interested ! LOL
Brad, I’ve thought about the too. Perhaps there is a certain passage of time when traveling between the 2 planets….?
Good observations, especially on the Woola-rescue/One-blow/I-can-hear-you scene. A lot happens in a rush and I can picture story meetings where this was praised for it’s economy – but none of it resonates properly as a result. The overall question I ask of the ‘repeat viewing’ question is this: is it intentionally constructed this way, or is the emphasis just not in the right place-forcing the diligent viewer to excavate?
Casablanca is an (overly flattering) example because knowledge of the Paris backstory invests the early meetings between Rick and Ilsa with almost exponential energy that gets better the more you know it. There is no downside to repeat viewings there, it only gets better. Avatar continues to get better on repeat viewings as well, but it’s not because the important story beats were all buried or ‘late reveals’ — it’s because the mise en scene contains so many layers of rich story information that it’s impossible to process all of the relevant detail on first or even third viewing. I’m not sure where DJC falls yet — some days I like it better than others, but it doesn’t seem to be improving steadily, moreso just dependent on my mood.
I applaud your humor at the Mopey-meter, but I would have to call the ‘war is a shameful thing’ moment much higher on that scale. Especially since it’s a line one can’t imagine ERBs Carter uttering. I can’t speak for MCR, but I feel this is one of the primary scenes in question. Maybe it’s not mopey so much as grumpy.
Sidebar – Is his ‘cave of gold’ literally just the Thern cave? Is his precious gold really supposed to be those bars emblazoned with the ‘spider’? Doesn’t this suggest he’s not so much a prospector, but rather a thief or claim-jumper who found someone else’s stash?
One thing really bothers me and I can’t claim this as my observation because I heard it the first from another. When ERB reads the journal at the start of the film John Carter said it all starts 13 years ago. Near the end of the film ERB again reads in the journal that John Carter searched for a medallion for 10 years. By doing simple math that means John Carter was on Mars for 3 years. John Carter’s time on Barsoom seemed more like 3 weeks rather than 3 years to me. Did I miss a plot element that would inform the viewer of a long passage of time? Is my recollection of the journal readings wrong?
Lots of great points. I agree that many of the moments are cut a bit short. My impression after my first viewing was that the film was a little rushed and needed more time to develop some of the elements to really get the full impact out of them – the revelation of Tars as Sola’s father in particular. I wonder if there was more breathing room in the 170-minute edit?
Very good thoughts! I’ve thought much the same about a lot of what you pointed out. And definitely makes a HUGE difference in repeat viewings. So many of these details do get lost and a little re-editing would make such a huge difference! I would LOVE a nice, 3-hour director’s cut someday. Maybe for Christmas this year…. BEG! I wonder how many small, yet vital moments ended up “on the cutting room floor”.