John Carter: Volgi Was Right

Ah, screw it, thought the Czar. And he grabbed the boys late Friday night, and with the Царица riding shotgun, we headed off to the cinema and viewed John Carter.

As the Volgi suggested we would, we enjoyed it. The Czar devoured all 11 novels decades ago, but remembers very little about them—they were pulp fiction (the Czar rarely reads fiction in the first place), and meant to be forgettable.

The problem with the first novel, A Princess of Mars, is that Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote it as a serial publication: put in a cliffhanger, and maybe some magazine will pay you a fifty to write another installment. Or maybe not. As a result, the first novel was a rambling, disorganized series of cliffhangers that would be hell for a screenwriter trying to fit that into the traditional four or five-act movie structure.

And so the John Carter screenwriters retained the most memorable parts of the first novel, dumped the rest, and wrote a whole new cohesive storyline. One of the chief complaints we have heard about the movie is that it is too confusing and jumps around; hey, you should have read the book. But the thing that made the first book work is the same thing that makes the movie work: these characters are pretty cool.

This is not to give the movie a free pass on the acting. Taylor Kitsch is too Disney-wimpy to pull off the cold, steely killer that was the novels’ John Carter. The books’s Dejah Thoris was a slender, noble princess with a ruthless fighting spirit; Lynn Collins portrays her as any one of a dozen Disney Amazon-with-a-brain ninja-fighting-type babes in a bikini. We’ve seen it before (Prince of Persia?), and quite recently, too (Three Musketeers). Disney producers really need to get out and meet more women.

The Czar was more concerned for everyone’s favorite characters, the Tharks. The trailers made them look skinny and unimpressive, rather than the powerful, vicious, and marauding badasses they were in the books. Fortunately, they got the Tharks right, but injected a little more humor into their warrior culture—which is about right. The Czar has met many a badass in real life, and they all have great senses of humor.

The villain is forgettable, and there is all this new weirdness about shape-shifting bad guys executing some Phantom Menace stuff, but while that is sure to annoy the purists, the Czar gets it. A Princess of Mars was a messy book, and all it did was set the stage for the much more impressive and memorable Gods of Mars, which corrected the faults of the first book by being structured. And indeed, Disney realized this and made a better introduction to the second story. As you predict, the sequel has been greenlit; we expect John Carter: The Gods of Mars to be a vastly better movie than the first. And it should be closer to the original novel.

Two more points: fanboys are probably annoyed as hell over the goofy portrayal of Carter’s loyal calot, Woola. Yeah, the kids loved him, and he is goofy and funny. But the Czar, this morning, reviewed the depiction of Woola in the original novel and guess what. That’s how he is in the book, too. They even got the appearance exactly right.

Last point: there is a bit of a plot twist at the end that actually fooled the Czar. Yes, a bona fide surprise ending! And it worked! Not just clever, but it really fed into the overall story. Well done.

So should you see it in a theater? If you like sword-fighting and crazy monsters and alien landscapes, yes: especially if you want to get in on the ground-floor of a trilogy. But Star Wars (1977) it isn’t. Your kids will probably not even want the action figures certain to be in stores this week. But if you want to see a different kind of movie, and get a taste of what people were into around 1912, this would be a fine DVD or Blu-Ray rental.

Parents: nothing objectionable, although the Tharks are indeed pretty cruel to babies and animals—but nothing is specifically shown (most kids would probably miss it). And nothing worse than you would see on a nature documentary.

P.S. The Czar reminds viewers that this Mars is not our Mars. Barsoom, as it is called in the movies, evolves over the course of the novels to be in an alternate universe, where things were quite different. Some criticism we have seen relates to Barsoom looking nothing like Mars, and Disney got all the facts wrong. Give us a break.

Volgi, you wanna post your review?

About The Czar of Muscovy

Божію Поспѣшествующею Милостію Мы, Дима Грозный Императоръ и Самодержецъ Всероссiйскiй, цѣсарь Московскiй. The Czar was born in the steppes of Russia in 1267, and was cheated out of total control of all Russia by upon the death of Boris Mikhailovich, who replaced Alexander Yaroslav Nevsky in 1263. However, in 1283, our Czar was passed over due to a clerical error and the rule of all Russia went to his second cousin Daniil (Даниил Александрович), whom Czar still resents. As a half-hearted apology, the Czar was awarded control over Muscovy, inconveniently located 5,000 miles away just outside Chicago. He now spends his time seething about this and writing about other stuff that bothers him.