A Dreamer Walking

John Carter- Review

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on March 11, 2012

Few have taught me more about story then writer/director Andrew Stanton. I have basically watched every commentary, DVD extra feature, and online interview on the guy. I have never hesitated to say that he is one of the best writers in the film business. So why did I not like one of his movies? I guess you can have someone you admire and not like all of their films. For me this is certainly the case with Martin Scorsese and David Fincher. However, with these guys I can always admire the technical execution of their films, and all of them make me think. Stanton’s John Carter was no technical wonder however, and the story brought nothing to the table we have not seen before. It incorporated CGI well, but the camera movement and editing was constantly overdone and the movie’s acting never seemed to be more than mediocre.

Andrew Stanton has preached about the importance of not using flashbacks. However, in John Carter he expects one of our greatest emotional beets to come from a flashback. John Carter is a washed up soldier who is trying to make a living right after the civil war. He is a man with a deep and troubled past. However, Taylor Kitsch does nothing in his portrayal of John Carter to makes us relate to or even feel his emotional demons. We only know about the troubled past through a few very short flashbacks of him coming home to find his wife killed. Stanton wants to use those flashbacks to create a reason for an epic fight where Carter takes on a whole army to help save Dejah Thoris, the princess of Mars, and in a sense take out revenge for the loss of his wife.

Stanton fails to hook us. The first act is the key act. As Stanton himself says, if the third act is not working it is because something is wrong in the first act. I truly feel like creators’ love for the book series got in the way of them making a great story. Because Stanton,  Mark Andrews‘ and Michael Chabon were already emotionally connected to the characters and the world they were creating on screen, they did not feel the need to take too much time setting either element up before getting into the plot. Instead of the opening scene being intimate, with John Carter interacting with his wife he is soon to lose, we open with a big ship scene on Mars with characters we really end up caring little for.

For a man who looks up to David Lean and the great Lawrence of Arabia, Stanton does little of the very thing that made David Lean’s epic so great. David Lean knew how to celebrate the quite moments in Lawrence of Arabia. In the movie Lean held shots for long periods of times and in the middle of his “epic” he took the time to explore the little things that made his characters so great. There are a few instances where Stanton takes the time to draw out some humor. We have a nice scene where Carter is trying to get used to the lower gravity on Mar. Carter’s interaction with the martian dog, Woola, is also a highlight in the film. But, far more of what we see in John Carter is cliche and tiresome. It acts like an epic without earning it first. We don’t get any little moments with the key characters in the story that make us relate to them in a deep way.

Every once in a while we see some of the humor seep through, the kind that made both Wall-E and Finding Nemo so entertaining. The most pleasing character to watch was Tars Tarkas, played by Willem Dafoe. The animation of his character was wonderful, and whenever he is allowed to interact with Carter he brings some energy into the film. Yet for the lead character of John Carter what we needed was an actor with the charisma of someone like Harrison Ford or Russel Crow. The reason why movies like Gladiator or Indiana Jones were so emotionally fulfilling was because the main actors seemed to completely believe in the fantastical elements of their stories. The story of John Carter has to do with a confederate veteran of the civil war getting out of one war only to get trapped in another. The other war just happens to be on mars where he can jump hundred of feet high, encounters huge monsters called white apes, and fights with four armed creatures called Tharks. However, the fantastical must always be accompanied with an emotional draw.

Stanton was too worried about using all of his 175 million dollar budget. He forgot about the little things that make great epics great. What we get is what we see in the adds, little character, quick flashes, and David and Goliath images. Mostly John Carter feels like a movie shooting for the stars and barley getting out of the stratosphere. For those science fiction geeks it is a good popcorn movie. My frustration is not with John Carter being a bad movie it is with knowing Andrew Stanton can do better.

(P.S. I was extremely frustrated with Disney’ conversion of John Carter to 3D.This kind of conversion is what gives 3D a bad name. None of the theaters by me were showing the movie the way Andrew Stanton actually shot the film, in traditional 2D. Disney should be ashamed of itself, they are only doing it to get the extra $3 needed to go to the 3D showing)