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Get Carter

March 14th, 2012

Look, I get it. My tastes and yours rarely overlap. Your eyes glazed over for Speed Racer. When Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow premiered, you said that you were washing your cat. And you don’t even own a cat. So I wasn’t surprised that you didn’t even meet the film industry’s tragically lowered expectations for the opening weekend of John Carter. But, really. Fewer of you showed up for the first-ever film adaptation of the century-old, seminal work of sci-fi adventure than did for Battle: Los Angeles10,000 B.C. or Cowboys & Aliens. Cowboys. And. Aliens.

I’m ashamed of you.

Oh, we can blame Disney’s marketing department for not understanding how to sell you on it. They went so far as to castrate John Carter of Mars to plain ol’ John Carter after they concluded that you avoided last year’s expensive boondoggle Mars Needs Moms because of the word “Mars.” (Instead of the more likely offender, “Moms.”)

We can also look at the disappointing history of films that appealed first and foremost to hardcore geeks. But heck, even Watchmen nearly doubled John Carter‘s $30 million weekend. You really, really didn’t want to see this one.

What truly gets me are the reviews, many of which are as scorching as the desert wastes of Barsoom. I feel as if you didn’t even see the same film I did, that perhaps the theater accidentally screened some early ’80s leftover starring Reb Brown. Because while I won’t claim that John Carter was Raiders of the Lost Ark, it wasn’t Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull either.

What I saw was a good-humored adventure with visual spectacle, a scantily-clad and muscular cast, plenty of PG-13 bloodletting and an adorable slug-puppy companion that should have been the Breakout Animated Character of 2012.

I’ll grant you that it has a slow build in the way that action films once did before Steven Spielberg strapped them to the front of a runaway mine car. It takes a while to get to the action, but once John Carter, sword in hand, begins leaping Martian airships in a single bound*, the movie becomes giddy fun.

I feel that John Carter is perhaps the purest distillation of early pulp sci-fi we’re likely to see. It even works in some of the quirkiness of author Edgar Rice Burroughs’ fantasy worlds. We all know Burroughs from Tarzan, but his other series–such as those set in the inner world of Pellucidar or the prehistoric island of Caprona–have some very weird shit going on.  You get a taste of that in this film, what the mysterious energy source of the “Ninth Ray” and the hyper-advanced Therns who use its power to shape the development of civilization on Mars (and beyond).

The brutal criticism and–more importantly–your apathetic response have pretty much scuttled any hope of a follow-up, and will probably send former Pixar director Andrew Stanton back to making features about animated dustmops, but you can’t take this film away from me.

*While the influence of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Martian stories on Star Wars and Avatar is obvious, I previously hadn’t given much thought to the connection between John Carter and the original incarnation of Superman. They even have the same rationale for their strength and super-jumping ability: the relatively lower gravity of their adoptive worlds.



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