Entertaining Platt: John Carter

March 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

Stand five feet back from this picture. Can you still tell the difference between the actors?

First, to all the critics out there watching John Carter and wondering “what’s it all about?” I just want to say:

If you sang the praises of a movie like Black Swan or Tree of Life and John Carter confuses you, then you’re either an unmitigated moron or simply not a sci-fi fan, and you’ve got no business watching (let alone reviewing) a movie tribute to the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

I’ve heard complaints that John Carter uses all kinds of familiar tropes, but, people, this is the wellspring from which those tropes first arose. Here, though, they are brought spectacularly to life by Andrew Stanton (who also directed Wall-E and Finding Nemo).

The story’s not that hard to follow, really, unless you’re munching hallucinogens with your Milk Duds:

A soldier who fought on the losing side of the U.S. Civil War (and lost his family too) is accidentally transported from Earth to Mars, where he finds himself again faced with having to pick a side in a conflict. This time, instead of rebel gray vs. Union blue, it’s the red banners and blue banners of Tatanga and Helium, with the honor-driven, green-skinned Tharks caught between.

It’s a fun movie, but it shines brightest when it focuses on epic aerial battles and the CGI characters like Tars Tarkas and the loyal Woola. Normally, I’d feel strange saying that a movie is at its best when the CGI kicks in, especially given my opinion that over-dependence on computer graphics helped wreck the Star Wars prequels. But Stanton’s got solid experience making us believe in and care about computerized characters, and he accomplishes that here just fine.

The humans are less easy to feel compassion about. Whenever shown at a distance, it’s actually pretty easy to mistake Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins for each other in their half-naked Martian garb – especially in places like the darkened temple. I thought for the longest time when I saw the trailers that it was John Carter kneeling on the floor of the temple as it started spreading spidery lines of blue light. The dialogue is sometimes cringe-worthy. And it’s difficult to take seriously any talk of a city named Helium. (But, hey, Earth has a town called Rabbit Hash, so cut Barsoom a break, all right?)

But it’s a classic space fantasy story brought to vivid life, the one that really started it all, and it’s a great tribute to the medium. Worth watching.

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