Kaor, Brothers and Sisters of the Psychotronic Video World! I’ve just now returned from seeing JOHN CARTER. While I know I’d said, in my last article on the subject, that I’d be there opening night, circumstances that I won’t bore you with prevented me from doing so. Suffice to say, I have seen it, and it is Good.
Is it 100% faithful to the source text? FUCK NO! It blends elements of the original novel A PRINCESS OF MARS with the immediate sequel GODS OF MARS, but also introduces a fair amount of new material. While some purists might ragespasm at this (are there ERB-purists left? I hope so. Burroughs’ work is so massively underappreciated these days), my hygiene is pretty good and I’ve known the touch of a woman, so I can open my eyes enough to recognize that while there are differences and there is new material, it adds to the film. Because it all interlocks beautifully with the spirit of Burroughs’ writing. This isn’t Shakespeare or five-act plays or any such bullshit. Hell, I won’t pretend Burroughs’ writing is good literature. But it strikes a chord in the human spirit; pure escapism, it allows us to come home from our miserable, soul-crushing jobs and put on John Carter or Tarzan or David Innes like a suit, becoming the hero and throwing off the shackles of reality for a while to fight Zodangans or the cult of Opar or hypnotic pterodactyls from the Earth’s Core.
The trick is that Edgar Rice Burroughs hit on the perfect hero. Tarzan and John Carter (it’s not quite as clear with David Innes) have the physiques of Olympian heroes. Muscular without being a circus freak, and with a handsome face to boot. But at the same time, they’re bumbling, good-natured schmoes like the rest of us. Despite being New Adonises (Adoni?), John Carter and his brethren stumble over their own tongues around beautiful women and invariably manage to accidentally insult the woman they have feelings for. John Carter’s is my favorite (sadly not shown in the film) in that it results in Dejah Thoris telling him he’s unfit to polish the teeth of her grandmother’s Barsoomian cat-analogue. These heroes are superhuman, but at the same time all-too-human.
But anyways, back to the film itself. Visually stunning, though I felt like the landscapes of Barsoom could have been tinted a little more red to differentiate them from the Arizona hills of the film’s beginning, which I think is something that worked against the film — other than the nine-foot-tall four-armed Green Men and eight-legged horse-analogues and airships, there’s nothing particularly otherworldly or interplanetary here. The landscape just looks like Utah.
Any quibbles I have with the film itself I can say in all honesty don’t matter and didn’t harm my enjoyment of the film in the least. Would I have liked the Thoats to have yellow underbellies? Yes. Does it really matter? No. Would I have liked Woola to have a defined mane and longer tusks? Yes. Does it really matter? Not in the slightest.
I’d had some concerns about the casting of Taylor Kitsch as John Carter, but he really impressed me; it’s not the way I would have written John Carter, but given the need to bow to some degree of 21st-century audience sensibilities, I liked what he did with what he was given. I was blown away by the casting in general; whoever said, “Hey, let’s see if Willem Dafoe wants to voice Tars Tarkas” should get a goddamned Oscar. James Purefoy brought the same wild irreverence and cockiness to Heliumite soldier Kantos Kan as he did to Marc Antony in HBO’s ROME; and speaking of ROME, casting Gaius Julius Caesar himself (Ciarán Hinds) as Jeddak, or ruler, of the City of Helium was a stroke of genius; not only did Hinds distinguish himself in the role (which was about as far from Caesar as possible), but he and Purefoy together brought a wonderful sense of ancient-world aristocracy to the picture.
Mark Strong distinguished himself nicely as the villainous Matai Shang, delivering a performance rich with immortal ennui and sedate, matter-of-fact villainy in a role that could easily have devolved into Snidely Whiplash mustache-twirling.
Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris stole the show, however, carrying herself with grace and poise befitting the royal scion while just as easily slipping into Warrior-Princess mode; a fun scene has John Carter thrust her behind him as he moves to take on a gaggle of swordsmen; with a wry smirk and matching comment, she lays hands on a sword and proves herself every bit as competent a swordsman as he is, if not more so. Her performance really made me fall in love with the character all over again, and she makes a damn fine role-model for girls, being strong of both mind and body, willing to sacrifice for the greater good, and doing so with elegance and charm lacking from the “Riot Grrrl” stereotype so often passed off as a “strong woman.”
What I do take issue with is the piss-poor job the Disney Corporation did in advertising this film. Trailers were not cut in a way conducive to enticing audiences to the film, and the fact that the title was shorted from JOHN CARTER OF MARS to simply JOHN CARTER damned the film from the get-go; John Carter is not a huge recognizable property these days, so failing to put any sort of effort or energy into selling it to the unwashed masses means OF COURSE IT’S GOING TO FAIL AT THE BOX OFFICE! I hereby formally invite the Disney Corporation to pull its collective cock out of the eleven-year-old coked up Singaporean prostitute they’ve got it buried in and gleefully fuck itself right in its soulless corporate eye-sockets. This film could have done fantastic business if you’d put a quantum of effort into selling it.
And to all the unibrowed pud-pulling fucks calling themselves critics and reviewers who called JOHN CARTER derivative of STAR WARS and AVATAR, may you choke on your own ignorant bile. John Carter was leaping across Barsoom decades before George Lucas was a twinkle in the mailman’s eye. Do your fucking research before you start slapping your bloated flipper-like hands against the keyboard.
JOHN CARTER was the best film I’ve seen in twenty years. Not on the grounds of story, acting, special effects…but because it made me feel something genuine. Watching this movie took me back to the first time I picked up the books; caused me to re-experience the same sense of breathless wonder and greatness. And that’s more than I can say for every other overwrought pile of monkey shit Hollywood has foisted on us.