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By Christopher Stipp

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Check out my other column, This Week In Trailers, at SlashFilm.com and follow me on TWITTER under the name: Stipp

JOHN CARTER - FILM REVIEW

John Carter Soars By Ray Schillaci

john_carter_72First off let’s have a reality check for all those haters that have not even seen this film. The great Edgar Rice Burroughs (of Tarzan fame) delivered the character of John Carter in his stories of Barsoom (Mars) in September of 1911 in a serialized form within a pulp magazine through July of 1912. In 1917 a hardcover novel was produced entitled, “A Princess of Mars” and subsequently 10 other novels were to follow for the next 45 years. The character of John Carter appeared in 8 out of the 11 novels. Burroughs stories have inspired films from Flash Gordon, Star Wars and all the way to Avatar and even Cowboys & Aliens.

Add all this to the fact that many studio executives and filmmakers have tried to get a John Carter project off the ground and failed miserably. To quote one famous novelist who was at the screening, “For every dollar Disney spent, there are 10 people that want to see this fail.” Enter Pixar’s Andrew Stanton (director and writer of Wall-E, Finding Nemo and writer of Toy Story 2 & 3) determined to deliver the same whiz-bang feeling we experienced when we first saw the original “Star Wars”. Other than the minor glitch of having a slow start incorporating a back love story, “John Carter” proves to be a rousing spectacular, fun-filled adventure for all ages.

Andrew Stanton has given us a wonderful story infused with good humor and an anti-hero that we want to cheer for. John Carter, a former famed Confederate officer from Virginia has been captured by the North just after he discovers a cave filled with gold. They try to recruit him for his abilities as a strategist and fighter, but Carter has no intention to fight anybody’s battles. Upon his escape, Carter heads back to the cave and is mysteriously transported to another world.

john_carter-_billCarter’s introduction to the gravity of the new world is enjoyable and becomes increasingly fun as he realizes he is no longer on Earth when he encounters the unusual life forms. The exchange is very humorous and that is where director Andrew Stanton and his cast shine. It brings back the joys of watching Han Solo from “Star Wars”. The subtle tongue-in-cheek humor pervades and makes our journey all the more enjoyable. John Carter is once again urged to join another war, but he is more inclined to save himself until he meets up with the princess of Mars, Dejah Thoris. Lynn Collins is fetching as the princess, poised, classy and sassy all at the same time.

As one would expect, Carter ends up helping the Martian tribe and the princess, but not without the intention of helping himself as well. He is a flawed hero and Taylor Kitsch makes him all the more interesting with his charismatic presence. Carter leads a fight against another tribe all fighting for the dying planet’s resources. The opposition is also aided by mysterious astral beings that appear to have control over time and space, which makes Carter’s fight all the more suspenseful.

John Carter is a fantastic fantasy/science-fiction tale that captures both the spirit of its originator Edgar Rice Burroughs and the sweeping epic feel of David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia, Bridge on the River Kwai). Some may compare it to a desert version of “Avatar,” but that would be doing this roaring adventure a disservice. The comparisons of so many past films will not be helped since this story was basically the impetus for so many others, right down to the flying vehicles.

Everything about the film is top notch from the set design, special effects to the rousing score by Michael Giacchino. There is no question about viewing an IMAX presentation. John Carter is meant for the BIG screen. Whether or not there is a need to see it in 3D is debatable (at least for this critic). I still have my reservations about 3D. I felt that way about “Up” and “Hugo”. The only true depth perception that really captured the imagination was “Avatar” and even that, after awhile, was hard on the eyes with its running time.

John Carter deserves to garner repeat business and it definitely warrants sequels. It is definitely far better than the last three Star Wars movies. I may even go as far as saying that it nearly exceeds “Return of the Jedi” since it is sans anything that is like a Ewok.

Is it a film that everyone will love, probably not? Rom-com and pseudo intellectuals will scoff at the fun and that Saturday matinee feel, but this film was not made for them. John Carter’s audiences are thrill seekers searching for an escape to another time and place in order to leave their troubles outside the theater doors. So, grab your popcorn and soda and as the theater lights dim, be prepared for enough action and adventure for several summer openings, and it’s barely spring.

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