The Establishing Shot: John Carter Review JOHN CARTER IS A LOT OF FUN!

Friday, March 02, 2012 Craig Grobler 0 Comments

John CarterNot so much a review as some thoughts thrown together really quickly of Disney’s John Carter. Earlier this evening I went along to the UK Premiere of John Carter courtesy of upcoming screenwriter Chris Wilson or TolkienNerd as some of you may know him as.

The skinny
John Carter is not a perfect film. I should not open with that - as it sets a certain expectation that the film doesn't deserve. So just to clarify I absolutely loved every bit of John Carter until the climax which let it down for me, but was then lifted back up again by the ending. It is a very smart film with a class production and faultless effects - but failed on the most part to engage with me emotionally. I think this had a lot to do with the breadth and scope of what the story had to cover in its 132 min runtime.

In short John Carter is a perfect Saturday afternoon high adventure film - up there with the likes of Star Wars and Raider of the Lost Ark. It will sweep you away and take you an incredible journey. It is everything Avatar should have been – which may be a bit unfair as Avatar opened the door for all big immersive 3D films coming through now.

Setting the scene
Despite seeing some of the early footage and enjoying it. I, for some reason wasn’t exactly falling all over myself to go see John Carter. I think this may have something to do with Disney seemingly not really engaging with my age group at all. And although Tron: Legacy absolutely blew me away Disney seems to be that company that made lots of films I saw and enjoyed when I was a kid but apart from some anomalies hasn’t really entered into my life since - apart from that rather awesome visit to Euro Disney a couple of years ago. Which is a bit of a shame as they were for all purposes created by the man who brought the magic into our homes.

So I pop down to the BFI for the John Carter Premiere with little expectation apart from those I mention here! Discussion with Chris quickly positioned John Carter as one of those films we were going into with little expectation which sometimes delivers the best movie going experiences.

The team behind the film; Producers Jim Morris, Lindsey Collins - stars; James Purefoy, Samantha Morton, Dominic West, Mark Strong, Willem Dafoe, Lynn Collins and Taylor Kitsch and Director Andrew Stanton introduce the film..

My buzz going through the roof as the sparkling wine kicks in and Andrew Stanton and mother flippin Eric Masters, Bobby Peru, Raven Shaddock, Sgt. Elias, Jesus, or Martin David in my number 1 film for 2012 so far The Hunter – Mr. Willem Dafoe are sitting a couple of seats away from us. The lights dim and away we go…

Video: John Carter - Exclusive Ten Minute Scene

… so when I got back home I browsed a couple of reviews and was bemused by some of the negativity that John Carter seems to be getting (shades of Tron: Legacy), with some even drawing comparisons between John Carter and Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. Well they got some of that right, as John Carter does in fact have some elements in common with Star Wars, specifically STAR WARS or as it is now known Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope:

1. Despite the rose tinted hindsight, back in 1977 George Lucas’ space opera Star Wars was given a luke warm reception by critics and those supposedly in the know, which was dwarfed by the audience love for it. Over time the negative reception seems to have been forgotten and the positive critical acceptance highlighted.

2. Star Wars was given a fairly low key launch and the makers had no idea how it would be received.

3. Like Star Wars I was unsure of what to make of the barrage of fanciful imagery, great characters and set ups. But was ultimately swept away on a great adventure tale.

John Carter is a big screen science fiction epic like we used to get in the old days, remember them before "everything was crap"! And it succeeds on almost every level in creating a magically immersive adventure tale.

As I said in my earlier pre-screening posts John Carter faces a huge challenge in that the original source material - Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars series has been pilfered and drip fed science fiction culture over the 100 years since it was written. How will this be made fresh for an audience that are culturally plugged, post modern and savvy?

Well the filmmakers do overcome this challenge and make it look easy, whilst they are doing it. The narrative rollout is intelligently weaved into multiple storylines and varying scene set ups - so we jump around a bit keeping us on our toes and engaged and we also benefit from the very fast paced story. This however has the down side, in that it does not really let us emotionally engage with the characters enough. Although the storyline does have familial and romantic undertones and apart from John Carter’s relationship with his family - particular the scene where he unleashes his powers inter-cut with a pivotal reveal from his back story - which is absolutely awesome. I couldn't really hang my feelings on the other characters. Possibly this will be less of an issue for a younger audience who can read and empathise with characters more readily.

Performances were great all round. Admittedly I did have concerns with both Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins in lead roles - based on what I had seen in Wolverine Origins or whatever that mess was called. This was wholly unfounded as both of them step up to the plate and shine. Taylor Kitsch is great as John Carter. They were aiming for something of an Indiana Jones like character and they pulled this off - better than the last Indy film. I don’t want to seem like I’m gushing - but the success of the film hangs on Kitsch’s performance and if he didn’t pull it off – the whole film could have been sunk. Fortunately Kitsch rocks the show and is one of the better sci-fi epic leads we have had of late. Playing both weary veteran and hero with understated charisma. Despite, the really fast pacing of their relationship arc - the chemistry between Taylor Kitsch’s John Carter and Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris works well.

Even with the great supporting cast that includes; Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, Dominic West, Bryan Cranston and the hamming it up James Purefoy - Willem Dafoe as Tars Tarkas steals the show and despite being a 6 or 7 foot green alien with four arms his performance and character is easily the most complex and engaging. Also Thomas Haden Church as Tal Hajus Tars’ second in command and Samantha Morton as Sola shine - in relatively small roles despite not being given enough screen time to really flesh out their characters, something that I feel hindered all the actors.

The visuals and special effects are spectacular, feeling ancient and fantastical - the filmmakers love of the material clearly coming to the fore. Do I need to mention that all the CGI characters are perfect and believably engaging even Woola the cutesy six legged dog like creature which I thought would be weak is super cool.

I marvelled at the visuals as I soaked them in. There was a particular effect I enjoyed that had a very tilt shift feel to it - where the characters or object were tiny on the screen in comparison to the scope of the entire scene and they looked like miniature but that is my visual design geek speaking. And again I'll say the physical aspects of John Carter's new found abilities are great to watch - there is something inherently real and human about them.

The detail in the costumes and set designs are superb. Again it may sound like I'm gushing - but John Carter is a class production.

I enjoyed the 3D and the immersivness it brought to the other worldly adventure but again noticed that slight juddering blur effect in some of the high speed action scenes. This wasn’t helped by one side of the image being projected slightly out of focus for some of the screening.

Something I didn’t enjoy about John Carter is the epic film formula we have to now endure with every big film of this type ala Star Wars/Lord of the Rings/Harry Potter. As I said earlier I loved most of the film till around the three quarters mark- which is usually where there is going to be a huge battle of sorts. Even though the John Carter spectacle and scope is staggeringly awesome and there are clever bits rolled into it it was not enough for me to overcome the formulaic play out, so much so that to be honest I'm still not entirely sure what the antagonists end goal or motives were.

I’m not usually one to make special mention of the soundtrack of a film unless it is exceptional and this is the case with John Carter. Michael Giacchino's score is noticeable as it pervades and holds the on screen action aloft. It is one of those scores that has a life of its own and brings suspense, pacing, tension, high action and humour to John Carter. It also brings a familiar ambience and sounds like an epic action adventure from the past.

All of this is masterfully brought together by Andrew Stanton the man behind the charming Wall-E. It must have been an incredible task to bring all the bits together into a single film, as he says it was like making 2 films - first shooting it and then the mammoth task of bringing it all together in post production. In the QA that followed the Premiere he made it sound easy something belies how big a project like John Carter must be. He anecdotally told us that on his first visit to the set seasoned actor Willem Dafoe said “Wow! This is the biggest set I have ever been on”.

There are so many clever and wonderful things to love about John Carter, the under stated cool hero, gorgeous princesses, fantastical and original worlds, incredible creatures, clever plot devices, spectacular battles, a great storyline. John Carter is an all out family fun action adventure with laughs and great battle scenes; it took me back to my childhood Saturday afternoon screenings. It feels and looks original and exciting and is just a whole lot of fun to watch. I liked John Carter so much that I’ll actually be going to see it again when it is released onto the IMAX's big screen. Ignore the naysayers and go see John Carter even if only to allow me to a sequel.

The Establishing Shot: John Carter Review JOHN CARTER IS A LOT OF FUN!

The Establishing Shot: John Carter UK Premiere, Pics & video Exclusive cast introductions & Andrew Stanton in a must see talk about John Carter

The Establishing Shot: John Carter Special 1 – An introduction to the World of John Carter and our thoughts on Disney’s upcoming adaptation

The Establishing Shot: John Carter Special 2 – We see 5 clips of exclusive John Carter footage and its AWESOME! Read our full analysis here

John Carter
Transplanted to Mars, a Civil War vet discovers a lush planet inhabited by 12-foot tall barbarians. Finding himself a prisoner of these creatures, he escapes, only to encounter a princess who is in desperate need of a savior.

Director: Andrew Stanton
Writers: Edgar Rice Burroughs, Mark Andrews, Michael Chabon, Andrew Stanton
Stars: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins and Willem Dafoe

John Carter hits theaters in 3D, 2D and IMAX 3D on March 9th.