John Carter Review (not): But I have been to Barsoom and I have some thoughts to share

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I attended the Hero Complex John Carter Screening in Burbank tonight and I will write a proper and complete John Carter review after I’ve had a chance to digest what I saw.   For now, I want to limit my notes to the question: “How did it differ from what you war expecting?”  Isn’t that the question that’s always in our mind when we see a movie we’ve been tracking closely?

Taylor Kitsch surprised me …. he was MUCH better than I expected

If you’ve been watching the trailers you’ve got to be wondering — can this guy do it?  The answer is a surprising and resounding yes.  Some of it is because of the writing — his character is written well.  But you have to give him a lot of credit. It’s like they took his worst moments in the film and used them in the trailer  Also, they id weird things like, when he says: “Get on!” very sharply in the trailer he seems to be saying it to Dejah Thoris and it bumps. But in the movie, he’s saying it to someone else and it’s completely appropriate.

Lynn Collins astonished me – she was so much better than I expected

Again, it’s like they have showcased her worst moments.  She was beautiful and engaging and strong and charismatic —  she was the “incomparable Dejah Thoris” after all….She rocked in unexpected ways.

The score by Michael Giachhinno was MUCH better than I thought it would be.

I had not been blown away listening to the cues without visuals — but they were so perfectly suited to the visuals that I became a complete convert.  The audience felt the same way — he got the biggest applause during the credits.  It’s a wonderful score.

Now for the big one (for ERB fans anyway)

The changes were much more significant than I expected and they have a profound effect on the experience.

If you are a hardcore Burroughs fan who doesn’t want to see changes, you may be in for a rough ride.  You will feel like you went to Barsoom for sure — but you did so in the company of a different storyteller, not “good ol’ ERB”.  This is the part that I have to still process.  Barsoom was there — John was John, Dejah was Dejah, Sola, Tars, Woola — all character were good, and Helium was Helium, the airships were awesome, and Zodanga was a little steampunk funky but …it was there.  But the flow and structure of the story was more nuanced and complex than I expected – but then I should have expected this so the “surprise” may be more on me than on Andrew Stanton.   To tell the truth, Avatar in some ways felt more like ERB than John Carter did and I think it was precisely that similarity to ERB’s dear sweet pulp genius self  in terms of character and story structure that caused a certain critical disdain for Cameron to emerge — whereas this, while not feeling precisely like ERB, will–I predict–be regarded as a far more serious accomplishment in terms of story and character. Andrew Stanton did himself proud and put his own mark on the material while staying true (enough) to the original.  It’s a fine line to walk.   I have to process it some more…..but my main point here is to just register “what was different than you expected” and …it was different.  But it was Barsoom.

I would describe it sort of like this. Imagine there was this amazing Italian Restaurant in your home town that you grew up with , that you loved, that you have only the best and sweetest memories for — but it closed down. Now it’s open again, same name, same decor, and a promise to bring you the best in Italian cuisine. You go there thinking “best in Italian cuisine” means the same stuff you loved as a kid, maybe with some embellishments, but the same –then when you get there,  the cuisine is great, but it’s innovative and fresh and new and that’s a great thing but where’s my lasagna?   The pasta is the great pasta; the bread is the great bread, and the environment is the same environment — but they’ve got a crazy good chef who isn’t happy with just repeating the old favorites.  He’s putting his own imprint on them and that imprint is good, amazingly so.  But on some level you were craving that lasagna from 35 years ago so you have to regroup and rethink.  And you know, your first thought is — I think I’ll go back on Sunday and try this again. It’s different, but it’s good.

I’ve said more than I meant to.  I will be giving this high marks but do I have issues?  Well, maybe not issues, but quibbles, certainly. Remember I’m a film-maker and an ERB fan and I have made this movie in my head so there’s no way I’m going to just rave without reservation.  But I do think Andrew did a better job than I could have, and that’s about the highest praise I can give, given my insufferable ego and love for this material.  Good on ya, Andrew.

More to come … but that’s the preliminary report.


  • HUGE sigh of relief!! one because John Carter is not talking to Dejah in that scene. And two because if you say Taylor does a great job, then by golly he does a great job!

    Also, I am slightly disappointed that the story is not exactly the same as how ERB wrote it BUT that Stanton didn’t put on the easy boot just makes me so excited to see the movie even though its not going to be exactly how I imagined it, even though I KNEW it wasn’t going to be like how I wanted it. Haha.

    So hats of to Stanton, great relief, and cant wait to see the movie!

  • Given the overwhelmingly positive advance reviews so far, it seems the question will be more, just how fresh will it be?

  • my impression from reading the book was teh the characters acted how they should . . . had the scenarios and history applied to them.

    it was John Carter, but he had a different history . . . but he was who I would expect John Carter to be if he had that history!

    in my opinion though it worked especially well with Tars Tarkas

    but I have only read the book

    sounds to me like it isnt Burroughs

    but it is a tribute to burroughs, which is in my opinion is the best possible outcome!

    I didnt want andrew stanton to write burroughs writing barsoom, I wanted andrew stanton to write barsoom as andrew stanton and that sounds like this is what happened!

  • Yes. It’s very “fresh”. This does not feel recycled. I think that’s sort of the issue …. as an ERB fan, Cameron and Avatar felt like slipping on a super comfortable old shoe. This felt fresher and more nuanced and unique.

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