Tuesday, March 13, 2012

It's John Carter of Mars, okay? And it's from the director of Finding Nemo and Wall-E.

And isn't that enough to make you go see it? It should be, right? So why didn't Disney use that somewhere--anywhere--in a trailer or a print ad? It's like somebody WANTED this movie to fail, and fail big. Or somebody was really, really stupid. Because when you sink a quarter of a billion dollars into something, and then effectively throw it to the wolves by never telling anyone it was co-written by a Pulitzer-Prize winning author, titling it after a character in ER, and booking it into 90% 3D cinemas and only 10% 2D, it either has to be deliberate sabotage or stratospheric stupidity.

JADED MOVIEGOERS WORLDWIDE: It's Hollywood. Go with stupidity.

I saw John Carter [OF MARS] over the weekend at the only cinema in town which is running regular 2D screenings (the AMC 42nd Street) and it was packed (like sold-out packed) at 11:45 AM.  And I liked it a lot.  It was true to its source (which was also a drawback--see below), it had a good script and great special effects, it took itself seriously, and it was fun Saturday morning entertainment.  Did I believe it was taking place on Mars and not in Utah?  No--I've seen too many westerns set in the same canyons.  Did I care?  No.  It was fun.  Was it the greatest movie ever made?  No, but then neither is The Rocketeer.  Was it the worst big-budget movie ever made?  God no--it has a lo-o-o-ong way to go to beat Alexander, Sahara and Rush Hour 3, lemme tell ya.

The main drawback--and pretty much every review mentions this--is that, when Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote Under The Moons of Mars in 1912, he created a genre which everyone after him has been strip-mining mercilessly, from Flash Gordon to Buck Rogers to Star Wars to Superman.  Everything that was original to the Burroughs novel has been used and re-used so often it's become a tradition--which means the source and origin of all these tropes, now that it's been filmed, looks like it's completely derivative and doesn't have an original thing going for it.  And when the guy who said the words first sounds like nothing but echoes, you need to do one of three things--emphasize the fact that he was there before everyone; find something new and unexpected for him to do; or tell the story straight and assume audiences will understand that by appearing derivative, you're actually being faithful to the source material.  

Needless to say, what we have on screen is Option 3.  Not counting one or two smart updates . One of which is the way Carter is transported to Mars.  The other?  Dejah Thoris.

If you're looking for a genre movie with a strong female lead, look no further.  Yes, she does a Lois Lane plummet not once but twice so she can get rescued by the super guy, but she's no damsel in distress--she rescues Carter, too.  She's smart, she's strong, she's real-world sexy (as opposed to movie bimbo sexy) and jeez, she's played by the same actress who held her own as Portia opposite Al Pacino's Shylock.  What more do you want?  Seriously--you're looking for someone who could play Wonder Woman?  Here she is.  That's how good Lynn Collins is.

Like I say, it's not a movie without problems, but it's chief problem is that it's gotten such unrelentingly dismissive reviews that people aren't going to enjoy it for what it is: an interplanetary romance, in the old sense of the word romance, which implies a certain kind of adventure, that follows a certain set of rules. If that's your cup of tea, go see the 2D version (if you can find a theatre that's playing it--stoopid Disney).  And don't bother to wait through the credits; there's no teaser at the end. Just a long close-up of a Disney accountant working a spreadsheet to balance the pre-production costs without taking a write-down.

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