The writings of Edgar Rice Burroughs have greatly influenced sci-fi over the last 100 years. With John Carter the long road of taking the series of novels to the big screen has finally been realized. The result is a decidedly mixed bag and one that won’t exactly hold direct appeal to any particular age or demographic.
Based on the first novel “A Princess of Mars” the story centers on John Carter who finds himself transported to Barsoom (Mars) where he becomes involved in a war between factions on the planet. While he has little interest in taking sides he eventually forms allegiances while attempting to find his way back home.
The film starts on Earth and really struggles there. The scenes are dull and the relevance of them are totally unclear. Once on Barsoom it begins to get more interesting though even then the sense of discovery isn’t as compelling as would have been anticipated. Eventually the action picks up, the story gets its hooks in, and improvement comes through the second half of the movie which delivers a surprisingly strong conclusion considering the earlier struggles in getting the audience emotionally involved.
While that sense of discovery is lacking there is feeling of wonder and imagination that shines through. Given that the source material is so old it doesn’t always translate well but that forward-looking nature is easily identified. There are some decent laughs to be had but it’s generally focused on providing adventure and it does a sufficient job of that.
The special effects are suitable when keeping in mind that they’re trying to convey scenes written 100 years ago and that means they won’t always come across as realistic as one would imagine now. Outside of that though the alien creatures look great. The 3D is ultimately unnecessary – adding some depth to scenes but otherwise not enhancing the experience significantly.
Despite some dreadful spots – which early in the film include jarring scene transitions – somehow I ended up enjoying the film as a whole. It’s a tough one to recommend, and I suspect there will be opinions that stretch completely across the board, but there is a unique nature about it that struck me as being commendable. As an origin story John Carter struggles to gain traction but eventually shows some promise which would bode well for any possible sequels to come.
John Carter is rated PG-13 and opens on March 9.