I had fun at John Carter

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Sunday, March 18, 2012
I had so much fun at this movie! My sister and I went to see it yesterday afternoon. It reminded me of a hybrid Indiana Jones/ Star Wars experience - thrilling, funny, lots of fighting, sand and dust.  It's not as good as the best of either series, nor is it as bad as the worst of either series. I found it to be solidly entertaining.  Should the other two movies of this proposed franchise be made, I will go see them. Yes, it was silly in parts, but it's Adventure Movie silly, which is the nature of the beast. If you can't wrap your suspension of disbelief around a a civil war veteran traveling to Mars via a magic widget, you probably weren't much tempted by this story in the first place.  Besides, there's something almost cozy about an other-planet adventure that happens in our own solar system.

The cast is great - I especially enjoyed Bryan Cranston in his small part as Powell; Dominic West was delightfully weaselly as the baddie prince of Zodanga (ZODANGA!); Mark Strong was evil and bald in the way he has perfected; I was happy (as always) to see James Purefoy. As the titular John Carter, Taylor Kitsch was broody and believable - I thought he pulled off both the fish out of water comedy and man out of time pathos of his role, all while performing nonstop action, mostly naked. Not everyone can do that!  Lynn Collins was tough, beautiful and smart as my new favorite character Dejah Thoris,  princess of Helium. She's an orange badass scientist princess -  how many of those do you meet in a year?  Having never read the book (although I've just downloaded the free ebook), I didn't realize how much Star Wars borrowed from this story. Princess Dejah is the obvious ass-kicking loyal-to-her-people predecessor of Princess Leia.

 I laughed, the guys behind me laughed and at the end they both said it was better than they thought it would be. The showing I went to - middle of a Saturday afternoon, 2-D -  was a little over half full, and appeared to be a mix age and gender-wise. (although overall there were probably more dudes than ladies.)

The reviews for John Carter have been mixed but much of the discussion has been less about the story on screen and more about domestic gross and how expensive it was to make.  These reviews almost uniformly have a very discouraging title, but some eventually come through and say "if you like this sort of thing (you know who you are) you will probably have a good time at this movie." I do, and I did!

Now I will cherry pick quotes that reflect my views:

A word on costuming and awfully wonderfulness, from the Salon Review titled "Will John Carter Rank Among the All-Time Bombs" (a review that seems mainly concerned with the perceived universal badness of movies about Mars):
Playing the ruler of Helium and father of Dejah Thoris, Irish actor Ciarán Hinds gets to wear the most awesome military uniform I’ve ever seen, which appears to have been jointly designed by Julius Caesar, George Washington, Idi Amin and Karl Lagerfeld. (Sacha Baron Cohen’s fictional Arab dictator can eat his heart out.) At its best, “John Carter” is a mightily impressive spectacle, cleanly photographed in dusty reds and brilliant blues by Daniel Mindel, which dares to straddle that elusive boundary between awfulness and wonderfulness. It’s awfully wonderful, or wonderfully awful.

The NYT review has a more neutral title -  'John Carter' with Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins:
Messy and chaotic, in other words, but also colorful and kind of fun. The movie begins in an atmosphere of Victorian spookiness: an old manse with dark paneling, a sealed tomb out back and many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore piled up in the study. In the blink of an eye we’re in Arizona Territory just after the Civil War, which is to say classic western territory, with monumental rock formations, beleaguered cavalrymen, bellicose Apaches and a dark saloon into which a taciturn stranger comes a-moseying.
Carter, stripped of his shirt and endowed with extraordinary leaping ability (something to do with gravity), befriends some noble Tharks (voiced by Willem Dafoe and Samantha Morton), acquires a loyal Martian “monster dog” and falls in love with a Heliumese (Heliumian?) princess named Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), who is both a fierce sword fighter and a big shot at the Helium Academy of Science.
There is more. There is nothing but more: a huge cast, soaring digital architecture, creatures both adorable and fearsome, lines of dialogue (“Thurns are a myth!”) made even more ridiculous by being uttered in earnest. The silliness — much of which is clearly intentional — is blended with some genuine grandeur.

I had fun. Normally, it would be enough for me to just tell my friends in person if I thought they might enjoy this movie - but since John Carter is getting piled on from every direction, I wanted to say that I liked it publicly. 

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