Sunday, March 18, 2012

John Carter of Mars

I recently saw John Carter of Mars, the 3D film version of Edgar Rice Burroughs's Mars novels. The film has been getting rather mixed reviews, but I thought it was entertaining and well-made. The 3D effect is believable and didn't make me nauseous nor give me a headache. The Mars landscape (Marscape?) is very well made and the monsters and other creations look good. (Some people seem to think the tharks don't look at all what they've had in mind, but this is bound to happen everytime someone makes a film out of a loved book.)

I have some reservations, though. The drama is rushed at points, and important stuff is bypassed too fast. The main actors are not very interesting - I already forgot their names -, though Dejah Thoris looks great. (Her transformation into a sword-yielding science woman is a good thing, a trembling Victorian-era princess would be stupid in 2012, though the science bit isn't very convincing. Her sword-yielding and good physics seem to serve up to those nerdy teenagers who like to fantasize about sword-yielding princesses. The Dojah Thoris of the film might not be someone with whom the female audience empathizes with.) The battle scenes are at times confusing and sometimes even not very exciting. The main baddies (the priests of Iss) are over-written.

My main gripe is that the film is too damn serious! Some have said it's stupid and full of fluff, but I thought the movie could've benefited from being funnier, more ironic in the good old swashbuckling manner. John Carter's transformation into a cynical loner seems forced, but than again the cynical anti-hero has become almost a cliché in the recent times. The tharks are not entertainingly hostile anymore, they are just plain hostile. Tars Tarkas's heroics feel imposed upon. The frame story with the Martian priests on Earth also feels forced - it also feels like they're going to do a TV series on this. But with these reservations I'd give the film something like two and a half out of five.

I also reread the first two Mars books by Burroughs, with the new cover illustrations by Ossi Hiekkala (see the photo above). The better of the two is the second one, The Gods of Mars. The story never slows down during the first 100 pages. It's pure wonder of story-telling. The first one, however, seems even haphazard at times. The genre rules of the Victorian time also slow the story down. The magic is still there, though, and Burroughs remains one of the most influential writers of the 20th century.

Nota bene: I edited the bit about Dojah Theris's transformation, as I happened to read someone else's opinion on that and I got to thinking about it again.


Anders E said...

I will probably not see this - Fantasy is simply not for me. But here's a very funny slam of it. Rude, arrogant and unreasonable, but funny nevertheless.

"Things happen, and John Carter makes them happen."

Juri said...

Yes, I've noticed I'm in a minority on this, and yes, it is true that the film escapes the mind rather fast. The Bugs Bunny comparison is pretty apt, though the Mars film is never funny, which is a pity.