…and it wasn’t bad at all.
A friend of mine really wanted to see “John Carter” (which really ought to have been titled “A Princess of Mars”), and she talked me and another friend into going with her. I was the only one of us who’d read any of the Barsoom series, though C. had read all of the Tarzan books. My memory of the five or six Barsoom books I read back in high school was vague as to plot, though I did remember loving Tars Tarkas, Jeddak of the Tharks. I remember he seemed to save the day a lot. Also, I’ve always had a thing for sidekicks.
I have been noticing a lot of critical press about the movie, but after viewing the end product, I’m not sure what the actual movie has to do with all that press. It was perfectly fine – not the best movie I’ve ever seen, but very far from the worst. The design was lovely; I thought it felt very true to pulp-era science fiction, in particular the flying ships but also the helmets the Red Martians wore. I’d always imagined the Tharks as being a lot brawnier than most of them were depicted in the movie, though later on some more muscular ones appeared. I also liked how their four arms were animated in ways that made sense to me. The filmakers made an effort to include such rarities as characterization along with the hand-to-hand combat and explosions.
Several excellent actors had secondary parts. Ciarán Hinds, whom I’d recently seen in both “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” and “Ghost Rider,” played Tardos Mors, father of Dejah Thoris. Mark Strong, who was also in “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” played the evil Matai Shang – he gave the part more gravity than I had expected. James Purfoy played Kantos Kan with a a great sense of humor. I think the best performance in the whole thing was Willem Defoe as Tars Tarkas, with both serious and humorous scenes. I think I got my money’s worth just from those few actors. Plus Woola, the doggie. I mean calot. He was adorable, despite his rather mucus-y tongue.
Some of the 3-D was excellent, and it never felt pasted on. The only time I felt the story moved too slowly was at the beginning, when there was a prologue (I am usually bored by prologues). I realized, however, that I didn’t have much sympathy for John Carter…I found him kind of boring, even with the snatches of his sad past; I think it was mostly because he was at the mercy of Barsoom, and did well just because he happened to be extra-strong there (different gravity, don’cha know). His sole motivation is, first, survival, and second, to go home. Then he gets home just as he decides he wants to stay. Spoiler: in the next book, he gets back. *yawn*
I wanted more Tharks. I strongly suspect this is how I felt about the books as well, back when I read them. The Tharks were the main thing that made the series other than a Western that happened to be taking place on another planet, with some handwavium skiffy technology tossed in (the 9th Ray, etc.).
So, my vote is, “Needed More Tharks.”
Or at least kept the interim title of John Carter of Mars. (John Carter and the Princess of Mars would have done.)