Review: ‘John Carter’ (of MARS, you Disney marketing fools!)

As a modern retelling of the “John Carter of Mars” story, the only failure here is Disney’s ability to successfully market a good thing.

A veteran of the American Civil War, John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is done with fighting for other people’s causes (and for good reason). When a chance encounter with a strange being in a secret cave mysteriously transports him to a new land, John finds himself the prisoner of alien creatures living in desert wasteland. It isn’t long before our hero learns that he has stumbled into yet another war not his own and possessing sought-after skills that could turn the tide in the favor of his choosing. Fortunately, Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) is hellbent bent on saving her world and her way of life, and in return for helping to save her world, John Carter may again find the home and family he lost long ago.

Mars. The story primarily takes place on MARS, dammit! Also, John Carter was a Confederate soldier; didn’t you see that in the trailers? These are just a few of the important details that make John Carter what it is: a story that science fiction has been borrowing heavily from for a number of years. Originally published as serial fiction in 1912, the same guy best known for inventing “Tarzan,” Edgar Rice Burroughs, was writing the blueprint for what would become both Star Warsand Avatar (at least the advertising got that right), but the marketing (reportedly costing upwards of $100 million) not only left out the word “Mars” but also anything explaining what was the hell was going on. Sure, the production design was striking (what else would you call ships that sail on sunlight?) but not enough to sell it to new audiences. Fortunately, the rest of the world seems to have figured out what Americans were never told or didn’t know, but more on that in a bit.

John Carter is an instant classic: a reluctant hero drafted into fighting the good fight on a distant planet to save the princess and save the day. In this updated version, femme fatale Dejah Thoris is no wallflower, perfectly capable of swinging a sword and kicking butt but in need of fellow asskickers (it doesn’t hurt that Lynn Collins looks great playing the regal princess, solving the world’s problems, or skewering bad guys). The featured alien race (ie non-humans) of Mars are the Thark, and they are wonderfully realized here (and happily free of any JarJar Binks annoyances). The story is quick paced, full of enough action and plot to satisfy any filmgoer, and manages to feel original in spite of how many elements have been previously borrowed for other space operas. Some of the concepts are a little rough, like being telegraphed to another world or exactly what is going to happen to the princess if John doesn’t save her, but these are minor points compared to everything else that works so wonderfully.

The final rumored price tag for all this crunchy goodness was $230 million, a number Disney has essentially said they cannot recoup. Look at the worldwide total, however, and a different story emerges: John Carter has almost made back all of its budget in theaters alone. By Disney declaring it wasn’t a smash success by Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland standards, potential audiences have been left wondering if Disney ever had any faith in their realization of Burroughs’ work; it reeks of “we don’t like someone in the production ranks” and hints at self-sabotage. The fact that JC is succeeding in spite of this is a testament to the source material and to the vision of those who believed they could pull it off (because they did).

You know those extra-costly theaters with the plush seats, huge digital screens, and thundering sound systems that just seem a little much for the ticket price? That’s the kind of venue this film was made for and where you should go to see it. By the time pay-per-views, video-on-demands, Blu-rays, and premium channels start making everyone who didn’t see this in theaters wonder why they’d never heard of it before, John Carter should be so far in the black that Disney should be ashamed of themselves for treating Mars like a red-headed step planet.

(a three and a half skull recommendation out of four)
3.5 out of four skulls

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13 responses to “Review: ‘John Carter’ (of MARS, you Disney marketing fools!)

  1. the movie is pretty good.
    why didnt disney market is properly.
    ok, it had its flaws, slow pace and a bit long. but overall, very enjoyable.

  2. This is not a retelling of tarzan this is based off his book “the princess of mars” that came out in the 20′s…other than that…good article.

  3. I’ve been so frustrated by how people have not gone to see John Carter and form their own opinions. Are people really so lame to not see a film and even to go around trashing it? I’ve run across it over and over again. While those who have actually seen it really enjoyed it, like you did. Thanks for a great review! And while it’s not a Tarzan retelling, it is by the creator of Tarzan, and Disney really missed a big step not using that, as well as Stanton’s credentials, in the ads. They screwed up so much with marketing this film, but that doesn’t mean the film itself is bad. I hope more people will go see for themselves. Glad it’s done so great overseas though. We need that trilogy!!

  4. I sadly misworded the opening sentence of my review, giving some the impression I mistakenly confused John Carter with Tarzan. This has been corrected. This was my fault, but I still reserve the right to point it out to everyone who pointed out. Just kidding! But no, really.

  5. its an absolutely wonderful film! Just ask anyone in China–who don’t hear what idiotic American film reviewers say–where it is #1 in the box office two weeks in a row…despite all the pirated discs floating around that country.

    The movie is rapidly gaining steam from the fans, and the burgeoning foreign boxoffice. it has now grossed more than the cost of production in a month. For good reason. Let’s all hope that the producers aren’t scared of making the sequels!!

    • il y a 2 acteurs X-Men Origines:Wolverine, pas semeluent Gambit mais aussi Lynn Collins qui jouait Kayla Silverfox, la petiet amie de Logan, tue9 par Dent de Sabre.

  6. I agree with you that the movie was much better than the negative advance buzz would have had us all believe. One would think that the sarcastic repartee between John Carter and Dejah Thoris would have appealed to the legions of moviegoers who enjoyed the similar love/hate byplay between Han Solo and Princess Leia. There was plenty of humor in the movie, especially on the part of Tars Tarkas, but you’d never pick that up from the advertising campaign.

    Oh, and so far as I can tell, I’m the only one who has spotted that Woola is the prototype for the Luggage in the Discworld books!

  7. A 100% accurate review! Thanks for pointing out that this is actually an entertaining and artistic movie! I’d also say this is an addictive movie for anyone who will actually go see it. I rated it 4 of 5 after my first viewing, but by my third viewing on the IMAX screen, I was rating it 5 of 5. And you are oh so correct that many people will be sorry they didn’t see it on the big screen within a few months to a couple of years!

  8. John Carter was a fantastic film from beginning to end. It’s my favorite movie of 2012 and maybe my favorite film off all time. Disney can more than recoup their losses with DVD/Blu/Pay-per-view/Network revenues. Also, maybe they could actually make some MERCHANDISING for this thing, how about that? Or an animated series to pump up awareness of the overall Mars mythology.

    It would be a damn shame (and bad business, contrary to popular opinion) if Disney didn’t move forward with the proposed trilogy. Think about it. Look at how much it made overseas and on DVD/Blu-ray DESPITE Disney’s best efforts to kill it. The audience will only grow in the coming years as positive word of mouth gains momentum. And they’ve already laid much groundwork – CG models, scripting, casting, costumes, make-up, design, etc. They literally just have to: 1) admit their stupidity 2) hire a new chairman and head of marketing and 3) tell Stanton to get rolling. They’re more than halfway there with the firing of Ross and the head of marketing. Alan Horn, the new chairman, just has to have the balls and vision to not listen to the naysayers, crutch the numbers, listen to the fans, and greenlight parts 2 and 3.

    Anyone looking to join the cause pushing for a John Carter sequel should check out the guys at http://www.johncartertwo.com or the Facebook group “Take me back to Barsoom”. The story is not over. The popular press can suck it. John Carter is the flop that wasn’t.

  9. Great Review! John Carter was an exceptional film. It was a wonderful story that made you want to go back and see it time and time again. The characters were heartwarming and fantastic. The cast – incomparable and the story was beautifully written and directed by Andrew Stanton. There are thousands and thousands of fans from all over the world who love John Carter and are fighting for a Sequel. Now that the DVD has been released (and Number 1 in sales it’s first week!) I hear new fans say everyday that had they seen more advertising of this film by Disney, or had known what John Carter was all about, or had not listened to reviewers of this film, they would have seen it in the theater. Had Disney marketed this film even close to standards, had Disney politics not played a part in the mishandling of this film, John Carter would have been a box-office success. So take a chance, buy the DVD and watch this film for yourself. Then join the thousands and thousands of fans who was Disney to take them Back To Barsoom! http://www.backtobarsoom.com

  10. I couldn’t hear the dialogue enough to understand what the hell was going on. It is a good movie for 11 year olds who love a lot of action and strange looking creatures. I couldn’t tell the villains from the good guys. I did not understand the reason for the wars. Was it over the spice?

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