John Carter

Around 20 years ago, Disney released a film, based on a property only familiar to a few. The film was a nearly-perfect adaptation of the source material, and a great film in its own right. The studio, however, didn’t support it that much, and when it opened at #4 in the box office, it quickly sank. That film was The Rocketeer, and to this day, Disney continues to give the film a short shrift — most recently releasing a bare-bones no-extra-features BluRay for the 20th anniversary — despite the fact that it stands as one of the studio’s best-realized productions.

I see a lot of The Rocketeer in John Carter.

I’ve been a fan of the John Carter stories since I first read “A Princess of Mars” at age 11 or 12. My wife and I saw the midnight premiere of John Carter last night, in IMAX 3D — and despite reservations that I had, from awareness of the studio’s dumping the film in a traditional dead zone for releases which traditionally presages a dud that they’re looking to forget quickly, what I saw was a nearly perfect distillation of the themes and images that have been in my head for 30 years. Some changes were made, of course — such things are inevitable in film — but the changes (especially an updating of Dejah Thoris into a more active and capable character, while still maintaining her traditional allure) actually serve to make the film better than the source novel in some respects.

In many ways, it’s a bit like Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring in that way — a film that gets the look and feel of the work so very right, but with slight changes that make it a better film.

Of course, the press has passed judgement — they’ve read Disney’s intention (the neutering of the title, the early March release, the near-total lack of tie-in support), and, as ever eager to follow the lead of their betters, are lining up to belittle the film as gimmicky, one-dimensional, hokey, and even derivative. (Yes, a century-old story which influenced dozens of sci-fi blockbusters is now criticized as copying those blockbusters. This is the culture we’ve created, kids — welcome to it.)

Don’t believe it. John Carter is everything a Mars movie should be: mysterious, wondrous, exotic, thrilling, and filled with unabashed pulp heroism. Efforts like this should be rewarded.

The fans of NBC’s always-on-the-brink-of-cancellation Community have a saying: “Six seasons and a movie.” John Carter deserves a trilogy (at least) — but at this point it doesn’t look likely that it will even make back its budget on US box office. Which is a damned shame — because the lesson that Disney will learn from this is that films like this don’t make any money.

If you love science fiction, pulps, or just a good, old-fashioned tale of heroism, do your self a favor and go see this film, before it, like The Rocketeer before it, sinks out of view.

5 Replies to “John Carter”

  1. Our entire group is going to see it tonight and I’ll take the kids to it when they are back in town. I’m doing my part.


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