If it's crap ... We'll tell you
It is time to take a look at a movie that got released for one week in theatres during Spring, which may have been down to poor sales or just that it was a busy schedule. Either way, I didn't see it then, so I took a look at the Blu Ray this afternoon to see where I'll stand on Andrew Stanton's first live action piece. After the...err, feedback from the theatrical release, I went in with rather muted expectations, so how did it fare? Time to share my thoughts.
This is Disney's latest attempt to create a big-money, live action anthology, and from the exterior, it looks like they got the right material to base it upon, and a skilled team to bring the vision to light. Based on the popular Edgar Rice Burroughs Science Fiction novels, it tells the story of a post Civil War captain named John Carter, who is arrested and asked to help the army in their continuing fight. He refuses and escapes to a hidden cave where, after an encounter with a mysterious man and a small gold medallion, he gets transported to a new world beyond Earth. He becomes captured by an alien tribe who are astonished by the abilities he has gained from the lesser gravity. Carter soon discovers that he is on Mars, where tribal feuds and wars are threatening to seal the broken planet's doom. He gets sucked into the affairs despite his initial dis-concern, and must play his role not only to save the people, but discover the roots to how he came to appear on Mars in the first place.
This is put simply, a very simple and common representation of the story of an outsider being sucked into another culture, learning their ways, and fighting for their survival, except told on a grand Sci-Fi scale. Taylor Kitsch plays Carter, and the cast also includes the likes of Lynn Collins as a Princess and main love interest, Mark Strong as the feature antagonist, Thomas Haden Church, Dominic West and Willem Defoe as members of the Thark race. So, a recognisable cast, big epic storytelling, solid source material and a large advertising campaign. What could possibly go wrong?
Well....... something did go wrong in the process of making this film, and in a very fundamental way too. It may try to shout the Epic-Film shout, but it all just feels so... cold and bland as you watch it. The opening of Carter on Earth is both fun and interesting, but it's like the film lost that energy the moment he arrived on Mars. There is time given to describing the planet's physics and the alien tribe's structures, but not enough to make you invest in their struggles. And then the Jeddaks, who most resemble humans here, are really not that interesting at all. The war that two of their tribes are in is the main focus of the story, but is very unstructured and just dull. A lot of the scenes are to further along the story in general, but between the languages and characters and mythos to them, it gets too confusing for something that should be very straight-forward.
But the big problem here goes to just how everything in the film was built up, there's very little heart or soul to the designed world. Some of the CG is impressive and the detail is lavish, but it feels like over-dressing a green salad, it's not going to make it any more interesting without adding some real substance. The pace at which things move along is erratic to say the least, with long expanses of time devoted to just scenery, while major points just as the beginning of the romance are very much rushed and out of nowhere. Everything feels like it was pre-designed by a board of management, and Andrew Stanton didn't have any space to add his creativity to the material he was given. There are some moments where his influence creeps in, either in how shots were set up or the like, but all in all it was like he was told what to do.
There's something to the majority of the acting as well, that felt so utterly stiff. A grand Sci-Fi of this scale should be flamboyant and exciting, never once letting go of its grasp on you. But here, it was boring me for so long; it sticks to one tone that rarely changes throughout the film. And this is not helped by the performance of Mark Strong, who despite having surprisingly few appearances, is just awful. I would also go into the short-cuts the film takes to further the story, but that would take too long. But needless to say, a drink that immediately helps you learn an entire alien language fluently is totally absurd.
Now, before it looks like I'm panning this whole movie, let me talk about what I did like. As stated before, the CG is impressive, from the Thark tribe to the vast numbers fighting in the battles; it does at times give you a sense of the scale of what is going on. I love the design on some elements too, sure the Jeddaks are nothing more than Space-Romans, but their ships looked really cool and original. And the detail to all the scenes may be garnish, but is pretty garnish nonetheless. Some of the action scenes are played out rather well, and the score wasn't half-bad either. Full props go to Willum Defoe for providing one of the interesting characters, the chemistry he and Taylor have in the first act was winning me over for a short while.
And that really sums everything here, to look at it's an interesting film with moments that are genuinely enjoyable. But it was flawed from the start, because there was no creative space for Andrew Stanton to play with. Everything was too rigid and cold, the story was over-played and too long, and there was never a time when I truly felt interested in what was going on. This could have, no... should have been fantastic. It should have been one of the highlights of 2012. But once again, Disney was too focused on building a franchise that they forgot to concentrate on making the film. It's sad, but I can only give this a Rental (5.5/10). I will still say this is worth taking a look at, I know some people will enjoy it a lot more and manage to immerse themselves into the world of John Carter far better. It just didn't sell it to me, and will be one of this year's films that I will ask the question of, "What if.......?"
Thanks for reading! ^__^