Friday 16 March 2012

Review: John Carter

Year: 2012
Director: Andrew Stanton
Screenplay: Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews, Michael Chabon
Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins and Willem Dafoe

Synopsis is here:

The goings on behind John Carter, remind me much of situations that have happened in places where I've worked. Here, we have an expensive product (reportedly over $250 million) that has a uncertainly in it's success, despite similar commodities having large amounts of achievement. A bunch of cooks  (executives, marketing and the like) who are all chopping and changing the recipe, despite appearing to hold their own reservations to the broth itself. There's is a braying, foaming at the mouth mob (we call them the consumer), seemingly waiting to rip the product to sheds. And at the end of all this, there is a director who honestly wants to do the best job he can.

John Carter (formerly of Mars) has so many disparaging factors attacking it from all sides that one was never really surprised at it's revenue stream. Many are debating the films financial success, but all in all, it's save to say that the film hasn't impressed as hoped. But then again how could it? With all the name altering, release shifting and weak marketing, Carter had seemingly lost it's voice before it even began. Let's not lie to ourselves. Despite the original story being a foundation of so much the fanboys hold dear, this attempt, with it's lack of known names and third world debt busting budget, was always going to be a tall order. But with so much nonsense surrounding it, at no point did any of the elements look to combine to create one true vision. All this and I've not yet got on to the bloody film itself.

John Carter (of Mars, Barsoom, whatever) is a film which is as flawed as it is entertaining and as earnest as it is erratic. For every character moment which sparked interest in me, there was juncture based on quite weak motivation. It's ambition clearly shows throughout, and yet it still feels slashed to try and fit everything in. With this said, the film still feels lengthy and yet you're never quite sure why it does. Sub-plots appear streamlined for a sequel not yet green lighted for a sequel Disney have not yet entered on to the franchise farm. However; if a sequel were to appear, I'd happily pay money to see it.

The thing is; while everything doesn't hang together as gracefully as you would hope, (American Civil War! Now MARS! Now Roman style Colosseum antics! An eternally lengthy Royal Wedding!) John Carter didn't bore me, as it jumped haphazardly from point to point. And why would it? Stanton's film; gives us a lead character who has enough heroism and appeal to keep investment. True, the first time Taylor Kitsch opens his mouth, his gravelly voice is more than a little gigglesome, and much of his reasoning behind his actions are muddled and murky at best. Despite this, Kitsch gives his performance his all and it clearly shows. As does the turn from Lynn Collins, whose display will remind many of Princess Leia, like so many characters of such an archetype.

Everyone in the film are so engaged in the situation, you just wish everything could be a bit more clear. We have three different tribes, all fighting, but for reasons that the audience are merely asked to bypass. The films antagonist (Brit villain for hire Mark Strong), is the type of heartless, immoral bastard that you you will love to hate. However, the film underplays the nefarious nature of the events that occur, much like the reasons for Carter to join the war that is taking place. When reasoning arises, it comes across mealy mouthed and unimportant. It just doesn't match the energy of the characters.

This brings frustration as when the film hits the mark, it strikes strong. A wonderful set piece involving Carter fighting for his life, intercut with his own personal back story is a moment I found emotionally overwhelming (all of the set pieces I enjoyed). It's old fashioned style towards everything is also welcoming. There is no pandering to modern trends; and this alone, gives the film a strange freshness about it despite the story itself being technically older than the films that have come before this movie (if that even makes sense). The films humour is also quite charming.

It's a shame we've been spoilt visually in the past however, as Avatar looms large over Stanton's industrious effort. The film is good looking and stylish in it's own right (despite that bloody orange/teal colour palette), but it just cannot match the efforts that take place in James Cameron's beautifully realised vision. It is; however, much more of a match, in its story. Despite both featuring the same archetypes within them, John Carter's various tribes, space travel and mixture of sci-fi and period history appears to be much more dense and enjoyable than Cameron's grunts on Pandora.  There is a richness in between the lines that could have been further unlocked were it not for all the mitigating factors that the film clearly had issues with. The development hell faced, along with the need to be a franchise can clearly be seen within John Carter.

I can say however, I was never bored with John Carter. I always wanted to know what came next, enjoyed its sense for adventure and its banter. Carter didn't reach the truly epic scale I had hoped, but by no means did it truly disappoint itself. It's a damn shame that all the pottering about the money, the release date, the marketing and everything in-between, have not allowed the film to breathe. John Carter isn't perfect but wear its flaws, like its heart, on its sleeve and goes down fighting.

NOTE: I'm not in Marketing. If I was I would have simply gone down this route: "Before avatar, before star wars route, Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) takes you to Mars!" I don't know how that would work. But like I said, I'm not in marketing.