English Title: John Carter.
Production: USA, 2012.
Release Dates: 22.02.2012 (USA), 05.03.2012 (Russia).
Russian Distributor: WDSSPR Disney (08.03.2012).
Genres: Action / Adaptation / Adventure / Fantasy / Sci-Fi.
Director: Andrew Stanton.
Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Dominic West, Mark Strong.
Running Time: 132 minutes.
One expensive Martian
Perhaps, one of the major film premieres in Russia this season will be held on 5th March of 2012, when some celebrities will arrive to present John Carter, review of which is already waiting for you below. Going through the country, the Hollywood stars will continue their international tour, while we have already enjoyed watching their latest title.
The average budget of films released in recent months remains low. Indeed, why spending money on making more drama or comedy movies, if it is more beneficial to bet on a sentimental plot? When we found out, how high the production costs for John Carter (2012) jumped, it was important to notice the other side of the coin – a new generation of expensive blockbusters, which are very risky to make, while trying not to base everything on pure digital effects, since they can’t find a way to the hearts of the audience missing seeing huge real sets or at least some realistic landscapes in the surroundings.
The new Walt Disney Pictures release is valued around 250 mln. USD, what is just a little more than 220 mln. USD devoted to making another major studio’s premeire this spring known as The Avengers (2012). Probably, it was a rather venturing investment, though the treasurers at Disney showed enough faith in the updated Martian adventure. Now this Sci-Fi movie’s producer named Lindsey Collins compliments her partners proudly. Before we get to the actual movie, it would be wise to remember the main steps of this story getting to the big screens, since it has taken several decades for that to happen in Hollywood.
Let’s start from the very begginning. An American writer known as Edgar Rice Burroughs in the first half of the XXth Century started a series of fantasy novels titled Barsoom (1912-1964). The protagonist of this plot was an American Civil War (1861-1865) veteran named John Carter. The fate makes him get transplanted to Mars to join the local conflict there. The first book in the seres was called A Princess of Mars (1912). Its text was chosen as the basis for a planned long ago movie featuring John Carter.
At first, while Edgar Burroughs was still alive, it had to be an animated feature film directed by Bob Clampett, who is known for his Looney Tunes (1930-1969) works. The son of the writer named John Colemen Burroughs tried to help Bob in his activities, but the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer producers weren’t willing to take on the risks and cancelled the project. In subsequent decades, such idea also interested other production celebrities like Ray Harryhausen, Mario Kassar and Andrew G. Vajna, though already voting for a motion picture instead of a cartoon.
In the 1980s we saw a rise to fame for some Sci-Fi Fantasy stories, including the memorable Star Wars IV: A New Hope (1977) or savage classics like Conan the Barbarian (1982). Many wanted to make money out of them, and those planning a new John Carter movie did too. The updated script version could manage to get to the hands of a popular writers duo, including Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. The main role was intended for Tom Cruise and John McTiernan known for huge action movies in the end of the XXth century was nearly set to direct, but turned the offer down. Simply, he feared that the special effects production house would be unable to match glorious ideas depicted in the original novels.
Mars is inhabited by strange creatures
A Long Road
The screening rights for filming a new Barsoom story managed to settle with Walt Disney Pictures. One its Senior Executive, Jeffrey Katzenberg, was going serious about it, but internal staff conflicts made the license go home to the Burroughs’ assets. After that two more companies including Paramount Pictures and Columbia Pictures were competing for it. The first one won the struggle, and its producer James Jacks was planning to hand this project over to Robert Rodriguez for directing and expecting to see something similar to Sin City (2005) from him. Filming of John Carter was due to start in Australia, but at the very last moment Rodriguez decided to leave the team, just as his successor – Kerry Conran.
Then it seemed like Jon Favreau was a good man for the job. He has taken the helm in 2005 considering many creative aspects of the future film. Acclaimed director was going to include all three first Burroughs’ novels inside one script, while also wishing to make the movie look more like Planet of the Apes (1968) in terms of reducing the number of special effects to rely more on good costumes and make-up artists. Even more, starting plot points were similar for these two different stories. Maybe it was a lack of concentration or more enticing offers, but Jon Favreau moved away, and Paramount Pictures gave up selling the rights to the market again, while opting to make a Star Trek (2009-2013) remake. Meanwhile, Jon Favreau left to be involved in two Iron Man (2008-2010) movies, which were, probably, easier in terms of their development.
In 2007 Walt Disney Pictures got its rights for John Carter back. The created team was led by Andrew Stanton. When the filming was finished, he already obtained two Oscars, even though only for his animation works. A similar way for another director, Brad Bird, once moved him from drawing to making spy action movies like Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011). Newly appointed screenwriters included Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon, though this crew considered classical illustrations made by Frank Frazetta to be already outdated, while opting for the seach of a new visual style style for the film.
The story of this motion picture takes the first book as a foundation, but many details and even whole events were added as the new ones, so don’t expect this film to follow up the novel closely as it often happens with many movie adaptations. The main character is still John Carter, who was fighting for the Confederacy during the Americal Civil War. Here he is played by Taylor Kitsch. He already appeared in several relatively small roles, where the most well-known one would, probably, be the one of Gambit for X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009).
The action surroundings and the costumes look really nice
Mission to Mars
John Carter here is more concerned with his searches for a golden cave than for any war matters. The depressing memories of the past also haunt him reminding of a personal loss. While escaping from an Apachean gang with a wounded US-colonel named Powell and performed by Bryan Cranston, he manages to reach the desired goal. Then John gets transplanted to Mars, where he is accepted into a horde of green Martians known as the Tharks. The tribe is led by Tars Tarkas voiced by Willem Dafoe. This leader has a daughter Sola and the worst rival Tal Hajus, who in the John Carter film speak with the voices of Samantha Morton and Thomas Haden Church, respectively.
At the same time, human-like red Martians are fighting their Civil War. The leader of the Zodanga tribe named Sab Than is a notorious villain with a face of Dominic West. He’d do anything to crush the last bastion of resistance in a highly developed settlement Helium. Secrets of the beam energy and the air battles of fragile ships will soon introduce you to even more heroes. Helium’s ruler is Tardos Mors having only one daughter – Princess Dejah Thoris. These roles went to Ciarán Hinds from The Woman in Black (2012) and Lynn Collins.
Everything is clear with the new character of Ciarán Hinds here. This popular Irish actor stars a lot nowadays. He can play anyone from the devil Roark in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012) to a wealthy landowner from the abovementioned recent motion picture starring Daniel Radcliffe. Lynn Collins, in turn, is a young American actress, who was actively involved in several TV series and also in second plan roles for a few feature films. For example, she was playing Kayla Silverfox – the Wolverine’s girlfriend in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Now in John Carter she turns to a Princess of Barsoom, and, most likely, she will appear in two more films of the first trilogy based on the Burroughs’ novels.
Tardos Mors of the red Martians is feared for his people. He makes ready for a war marriage giving away Dejah Thoris to Sab Than to make the cities allied. Though little does he know about the deal made by the villain with a secret order of Holy Therns. Its priests are watching over the populace of Mars and other planets deciding their fate. The local leader of Therns on Mars is Matai Shang, brilliantly played by talented British actor Mark Strong. He is already very experienced in playing evil masterminds, if you remember his Lord Henry Blackwood from Sherlock Holmes (2009) or Sir Godfrey out of the Robin Hood (2010) story directed by Ridley Scott. Matai Shang plans his own ambitions, and Sub Than is merely a pawn in his skilled game.
Some scenes have a Dramatic feel
The choice was made to attract new faces to star in the main roles of John Carter. It isn’t only about savings in terms of creature future films of the trilogy. With each new release these actors will become more experienced in portraying their characters showing more condifence. Meanwhie, the cast is more notable for its second plan celebrities like with the voice of Willem Dafoe provided to one many-handed Martian warlord, or with Mark Strong’s evil glancing. Even the Helium commander, Kantos Kan, played by James Purefoy shows his talent. His part lasts for a few minutes in the whole movie, but still he makes it memorable reminding you of the young Han Solo from the Star Wars (1977-1983) first trilogy. One of the Tharks was also voiced over by director Jon Favreau himself.
Another lovely creation is a big, bold and incredibly charming Barsoomian dog named Woola, who pledged loyalty to John Carter. A short separate storyline was placed on the boundary of the XIX and XX Centuries, where the main hero suddenly dies, urgently inviting his nephew Edgar Rice Burroughs (Ned) to inherit all the property, including a secret Diary giving clues to the mysterious death. Ned’s character is presented here by actor Daryl Sabara. Of course, while on Mars, John Carter is destined to play a major role in the internal conflict between Helium and Zodanga houses. He will fall in love with the Princess Dejah, whose name sounds so similar to Princess Leia from the Star Wars franchise. However, if you have read other novels by Burroughs, then you already know that the mysterious jumper from Earth will be loved by several Martian women.
The comparable cost of production here could be matched only to Avatar (2009) directed by James Cameron. Along with its enhanced edition it was worth then around 246 mln. USD. In addition, to Avatar 2 being in the works, this year you will also get the Prometheus (2012) motion picture from the Ridley Scott’s talent. A new Star Trek movie will be released next year in 2013, so alongside further expansions in the universe of John Carter, there isn’t much on the table left for the huge Sci-Fi action movie lovers. The latest Andrew Stanton’s creation is very expensive, what can be seen in everything ranging from production designs to special effects. Jim Morris was looking over the explosions, rays and all the power of destruction. Let us not forget him heading Lucas Digital in the past, which included such divisions as Industrial Light and Magic, Lucasfilm Animation and Skywalker Sound.
Many episodes of this movie will refresh famous scenes of other Sci-Fi Fantasy hits from the past, and it might have been done intentionally. The gladiatorial arena scene looks somewhat like the Jedi battle on Geonosis. The robe and the cold glance of Matai Shang were somewhat inspired by tricky shape of Saruman, an evil wizard of the film trilogy – The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) from director Peter Jackson. Even a small-scale battle with John Carter’s hair being nearly as long as the Conan’s one against a group of hungry creatures will make you think about humans and elves slashing hordes of orcs and goblins. Well, from the 1980s this project wanted to compete with other popular films, so all these analogies are not surprising, though they have been leveled up to the modern production standards and inspired by ideas appeared in 2000s.
Evil vs. Good
The John Carter filmmakers did right, when chose not to rely only on the digital technologies power. The Utah deserts happened to be a nice setting presenting more natural surroundings for this blockbuster. Later on its looks were enhanced with special effects, required objects and luxury interiors. The costumes are also notable in this saga just as the designs of various buildings and palaces reaching all possible heights and bottoms. In this aspect, it’d be interesting to see, how the team will update its visulas for the next movies in the series following other Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels, since, certainly, there they might face many more production challenges.
The title’s neat ending «of Mars» was dropped off intentionally, and the Director has already explained, why it happened. John Carter himself is proud to get a new name only a few minutes till the movie ends. So the crew decided that it would be better to keep it for the further sequels, since the audience then wouldn’t have any problems understanding the context. Generally, the launch of a new movie franchise is a very difficult and expensive undertaking, because the public still has to convinced that the new story is worth their time.
In this particular case, we have not seen quite massive PR-campaigns compared to those accompanying the Avatar’s release, which had become well-known to many even before it came out. With John Carter it feels more like a surprise or a new discovery for the typical moviegoers. Although this motion picture is also available in 3D, yet it neither adds any more value to it nor brings any advantages. Here we can compare some recent trends, especially with a more thrilling IMAX 3D, and you could do it yourself, if you have had a chance to watch Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012) already.
You will notice all the differences right away, and the latter one will get the credit. On the other hand, that sequel used too much digital looks at times, so you can pick the one bringing what you like better. When watching the new Disney’s eye candy we often wanted to take off the 3D glasses making the picture darker and tiring out the eyes. Alas, the 3D-version won’t let you enjoy the colorful 2D-image at its best, since the 3D-episodes get blurry then.
The official soundtrack for the new John Carter movie was composed by the award-winning American music writer named Michael Giacchino. He has already collected such awards as BAFTA, Golden Globe, Oscar and even three Grammys. His previous album was made for the Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol spy movie. Now he is working on the music for the upcoming Star Trek sequel. Michael Giacchino’s latest 19 tracks last for nearly 48 minutes of pure orchestral sound. This compilation will be released on March 6th of 2012 worlwide. The melodies are quite moody and memorable, especially, the main titles called John Carter of Mars and lasting for whole 9 minutes.
The film John Carter is aimed more towards a younger male crowd. Though still its adventure plot can offer something to females and girlfriends as well. For example, one love story between a Princess of Mars and one brave man of Earth, who often forgets good manners. For those, who still feels nostalgic about the Sci-Fi Fantasy, which dominated the box office in the 1970-1980s, it might be an encouraging watch including some cool scenes and several funny one-liners added to entertain even more.
John Carter Trailer
Movie Score by GameScope:
8.5 / 10