Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe
Director: Andrew Stanton
Rating: ***(3 out of 5)
In recent times, a new sub-genre where sci-fi and its opposite, the historical, is fused, has emerged a la “Thor” and “Aliens Vs. Cowboys”. And though Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “John Carter” has been in the making for over eight decades now, it comfortably fits into this modern sub-genre, warts and all.
A soldier from the American Civil War, John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is transported to the planet Mars where being able to jump great distances on Mars’ reduced gravity, makes him a kind of superhero. In a war that threatens to destroy the planet, he is asked to choose sides. He refuses only to realise that he still has a kind, loving heart and cannot just walk away.
“John Carter” is the creation of the same mind that gave us Tarzan. However, here Burroughs places the Tarzan-inspired character of Carter in Mars, fighting against and alongside alien beings. This strange, mesmerising story, if all had gone well, would have been the first full-length, animation feature from Disney back in 1931. However, fate willed otherwise.
And so the story passed through different people and studios to finally land in the hand of a very unlikely candidate, a Steve Jobs protege Andrew Stanton, who has written and directed such delectable films like “Finding Nemo” and “Wall-E”.
But one look at “John Carter of Mars” (the original title) and we know why it did not go to other seemingly other worthy contenders – there is perhaps too much special effect for the comfort of a ‘normal’ director and delight of an animated one.
Grand special effects, great set design and delectable costumes are indeed its strengths. After all too much time, money and effort have gone in to make this an eye-popper. However, the altar where it falters is also the holy grail of most commercial cinema — the writing.
For the original idea and the skeleton for the film might have been Burroughs’, the final product, its wit and humour is very modern, and mostly cliched.
Again, looking at just the story, one can clearly see the influence of “Avatar” with the similar themes of an outsider adopting a lost cause. Yet it lacks the depths, the universal metaphor and association that make the James Cameron flick so magical.
Thus, though it sincerely tries, unlike its character, it fails to take off from the familiar earth to take the leap of faith in Mars.
Yet, for those wanting a safe, comfortable two-hour watch, this is as good as it gets.