If Cecil B. DeMille were alive today and given the chance to direct a special effects-laden fantasy adventure on Mars, he might have made something similar to Andrew Stanton’s visually stunning epic “John Carter.”
Carter may be new to the cinema but is actually based off a century-old series of books by Edgar Rice Burroughs (“Tarzan”), particularly “A Princess of Mars,” without which we wouldn’t have classic science fiction books by Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke or films like “Star Wars” and “Avatar.” John Carter was first and he’s just now making a welcome, if a little belated, arrival.
Taylor Kitsch is John Carter, a disillusioned Civil War soldier who mysteriously is transported to Mars. While there, he is immediately thrust into another civil war between three Martian tribes, and saves the beautiful and precocious Princess Dejah (Lynn Collins) from capture. They agree to help each other: she to help him get back to Earth and he to return her to her kingdom and prevent her marriage to her enemy Sab Than (Dominic West).
John Carter is a testament to the genre. It’s a fantastical family adventure that combines the sheer scope of films like “Ben-Hur” and “The Ten Commandments,” with their vast palatial sets and processionals with hordes of extras, infused with the extravagant space battle scenes from the “Star Wars” films. The effects are first-rate. The green Martians, with their multiple arms and elongated heads, are the best looking aliens since “Avatar.”
Still, the film is far from perfect. Those who have not read the source material may find it difficult to keep track of the Martian characters and their alien-sounding names. Additionally, too much plot has been crammed into one film, muddying the waters. The film draws elements from several books in the series. If allowed to breathe, the story would be more palatable to those uninitiated. However, the film does flesh out many scenes that are merely paragraphs in the books.
Andrew Stanton and Pulitzer Prize winning co-writer Michael Chabon, however, did us all a favor by focusing on character as much as spectacle. Both John and Dejah are strong, enjoyable characters. The film also has an interesting device: the story is told by a young Edgar Rice Burroughs, adding an element of pseudo-truth to the whole shebang.
Michael Giacchino’s score is one of the films most pleasant surprises, gracing the action with sweeping melodies and exciting set pieces, which would feel right at home in a Ray Harryhausen picture.
One of the best parts about going to the movies is being able to escape for a few hours and for two hours you will forget Earth and embark on an adventure on that distant red planet. “John Carter” is a must-see epic journey that the whole family will enjoy.