Welcome Back Carter

Every once and a while a movie comes a long that builds anticipation longer than it runs in theaters. Some movies are coy and tease you with only bits of the movie, building anticipation through mystery. The Ring was really good at this and Dark Knight toe’d the line. Other movies, however, build the anticipation for you, by comparing it to other successful movies. When Disney takes this tactic, they have big hitters in their league, combined with the expectation of quality they’ve built for themselves. 

Seeing as how I just spent a month talking about TV, it felt good to come back to movies. They’re shorter and cheaper (per hour, anyway) and you’re a hell of a lot more likely to listen to me when you don’t have as much to lose. Unfortunately, I’m jumping back in with John Carter. It’s not that it’s a bad movie. It’s just that it isn’t the kind that reminds me why I love them so much.

John Carter is, without a doubt, this weekend’s big release. If you have a local movie theatre, there is at least one banner, that is bigger than you, hanging up, featuring something promoting John Carter. I posted three trailers on the Facebook page for NikGSpot, asking for likes to vote on which release to cover this week. With a resounding two votes, let’s dive into John Carter.Editor’s Note: The other two trailers are posted at the bottom, if you’re already considering skipping John Carter.

Time

Wrapping up after 132 minutes, John Carter isn’t short. Nowadays, going over two hours is pretty dangerous. Youtube kids lose interest after two minutes. John Carter has a lot of action but there are two words that any “blockbuster” movie wants, that this movie does not deserve: “Action packed”. Is John Carter packed full of action? No. It’s not. As a matter of fact, I found myself quite bored, during the lulls in action, and unsatisfied, when it picked up again. Beautifully presented, John Carter is interesting at first glance. Then, as the movie wears on, that interest starts to fade. As a basic rule of thumb, half a star means that I definitely won’t re-watch that movie. It doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy my first run through it, though. Aren’t we all looking for out next “favorite” movie, though? The one we can watch over and over again. Editor’s Note: Other thumb rule: No star = I regret spending that much time on it.

Acting

I’m torn on the acting of John Carter. On one hand, you get a selection of awesome voices bringing a human tone to alien characters. On the other, you get fresh talent that just isn’t delivering on the epic level needed to pull off this movie. As far as I’m concerned, the acting in a movie is only as strong as weakest link, if that link is in the main cast. In the case of John Carter, it’s the characters on the screen the most that are so disappointing. I’m not an idiot, though. Credit will be given where credit is due.

The title character is played by Taylor Kitsch. Some people might recognize Kitsch from Friday Night Lights. I’m not one of them. The first time I ever saw this guy was his disappointing depiction of Remi Lebeau, in the even more disappointing Wolverine movie. In John Carter, Kitsch is the only human on Mars but somehow ends up acting more alien than anyone else. I’m not trying to say he’s a terrible actor. I’m just saying he’s the worst actor in John Carter and he’s playing the main fucking character.

I didn’t know it until I looked her up, but I first saw Lynn Collins in X-Men Origins: Wolverine too, when she played Silver Fox. You might not be taking as much from that statement as I want you to. The Wolverine movie sucked. Then, when I saw one of the actors from it in John Carter, I didn’t even recognize Collins. Within John Carter, she’s not any more memorable. I can’t paint a clearer picture here. Collins plays Dejah Thoris, the obligatory love interest.

If I saw the animated face, before casting, I can’t say Thomas Haden Church would have been my first choice. Tyrannical and forceful brute that leads an army of Martians (that’s not what they’re called)? Probably Michael Clark Duncan. That being said, Thomas Haden Church is one of the better character actors out there. Each performance is better than the next. John Carter is no exception. As a matter of fact, he is one of the exceptions within John Carter. I’m not sure whose brilliant idea it was to put all the good actors behind animated faces but it did not work out in their favor.

Willem Dafoe doesn’t need any more praise printed about him (Who am I kidding? This will never be printed). If you’re not already a fan of Dafoe, you probably haven’t seen any of his movies. That, or you’re Helen Keller. In John Carter, Dafoe’s voice brings character where it is desperately needed. Unfortunately, for me anyway, he still gets out-shined by being animated in a movie where almost everybody looks the same. Willem Dafoe’s voice is more distinguishable than John Carter‘s acting, though, and that single-handedly earns half the star.

Before going any further, it should be mentioned that all of the characters, that were depicted by green “manlike” creatures, didn’t just voice an animated character, like a cartoon. Shooting had Dafoe up on stilts, bringing a tangible feeling to their performances. This might explain why everybody who looks like a normal human leaves something to be desired. The tried and tested prove themselves again, in John Carter, but nobody else measures up.

Directing

John Carter is beautiful to watch. The movie, that is. Notice the link. I’m not the first person to point out its likeness to Avatar. As a matter of fact, I thought John Carter was Disney’s direct response to Avatar. That’s foolish, though. If you check the dates, you’ll see that John Carter was being pitched a few years before Avatar. This little fact allowed me to stumble into another that broke my heart. Robert Rodriguez had initially signed on to make John Carter with the same digital stages he used to make Sin City. He even wanted to hire Frank Frazetta to help design on the project because he had worked with Edgar Rice Burroughs on the novel art. Editor’s Note: Frank Frazetta’s granddaughter was one of my closest, childhood, friends. He was also the only reason I squeezed a C out of a “Contemporary Art” class.

Ultimately, with Rodriguez off the project, John Carter ended up on Disney‘s plate and they popped it out as fast as possible. Had I known any of this prior to watching it; well, I probably wouldn’t have watched it. I did, though, and nothing about the style of John Carter resembles Robert Rodriguez. That’s a bad thing, sure, but it’s not a bad movie and the animation is stunning. If John Carter isn’t anything else, it’s pretty.

I didn’t think it was motion capture but it is … kind of. The four-armed aliens are captured, on camera, with actors filling in their spots. Then, in post production, they were given the alien outside that you get to see. I’ve had mixed feelings on the motion-capture technique, in the past, but now I can see it becoming what it needs to. The whole movie doesn’t need to be animated, just the things that don’t exist in real life. I think Beowulf really ruined it for me.

Writing

John Carter is based on a a series of books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, who released them between 1911 and 1943. So, as far as sci-fi goes, this is some pretty advanced shit. Movies were just breaking onto the scene when the books were being written. Now, in our overly saturated lives, we see TV and movies everywhere we go. Visual media has become the norm. This, I feel, is the ultimate downfall of John Carter. What they had was something classic, an old way of looking at space and science fiction. Then, when Disney got their hands on it, they tried to amp it up for the modern audience, competing with other big blockbusters. Ultimately, I think this depiction falls short of the imagination of Burroughs.

That being said, I didn’t read the books and can’t tell you just how accurate it is. Apparently, John Carter based around the first of eleven books based around the title character. Disney is already in talks about a sequel, based on the second book in the series. May be, as a collection, all eleven would be awesome. I don’t see that happening, though.

Soundtrack

John Carter struggled to stay interesting, despite its beautiful special effects. I can’t say I have any suggestion for a change but the music doesn’t do anything to make up for it. In the end, John Carter just didn’t satisfy me and its score keeps on with that theme. There is only one word for the type of music that Disney attaches to every franchise it wants to build: typical. If it’s not a musical cartoon, it doesn’t get the attention to individuality that it needs.

Now, as promised. The other two movies that almost had this review spot.

If you leave this page, with this link, stay away from the comments. It’s Spoiler City.

I still haven’t watched this. I will, eventually …

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