“What the hell is that movie?" is something I’ve heard a lot lately in reference to John Carter, no doubt due partly to its crappy, vague title. Originally titled John Carter of Mars and based on the novel A Princess of Mars, it seems as though Disney is going out of its way to sweep this film under the rug, because they certainly aren’t doing their best to get people to see it. In addition to the vague name, the trailers and posters have been infuriatingly unhelpful when it comes to educating the public on why they should see this film. But fear not! Sh*tty trailers aside, I have full confidence that John Carter is going to be great, and I’m here to tell you why.
It’s directed by the guy that directed Wall-E and Finding Nemo
This is the part where you’re probably going to say, 'Yeah, well those are animated films. What makes you think he can direct live action?' To this I say ‘Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, bitch.’ Brad Bird, prior to directing the fourth Mission Impossible film, had just directed animated films, such as The Incredibles and Ratatouille, leaving many to wonder if he was capable of directing live action; it turns out, he is. Like, very capable. Ghost Protocol was, in fact, one of the most expertly directed action films I’ve ever seen.
Wall-E is not only one of my favorite films ever, but I think it is the work of somebody with an inherent understanding of science fiction, and Finding Nemo is quite simply great story-telling. At the very least, Andrew Stanton, director of these two fine films, certainly knows how to tell a tale, and John Carter is one for the ages, which I’ll get into a bit more below. While I doubt it will be on par with Wall-E, which had the benefit of not having Taylor Kitsch in it, I can’t imagine any way that it won’t at least be super cool.
It’s based on the books that inspired all of your favorite sci-fi and fantasy.
A Princess of Mars, the first story in Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom series, was published in 1912 — one hundred years before the release of John Carter. Consisting of more than ten novels set on Barsoom (Mars), more than half of which feature John Carter, the Barsoom series is one of the progenitors of Sci-Fi/Fantasy, paving the way for all sorts of awesome movies, including this little film you may have heard of called Star Wars.
Epic sci-fi adventure owes what it is to Burroughs' and his novels, and it’s a shame to see Disney marketing this film like it’s an Avatar knockoff, which I’ll get into more below. My point is, this story isn’t copying other sci-fi and fantasy that you love; it’s the reason that stuff even exists. At the very least, you should go see it to pay homage for everything that came after.
It’s better than Avatar
James Cameron’s Avatar was the highest grossing film of all time, which still boggles my mind. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Avatar. It’s gorgeous, technically brilliant, and the action scenes are all super cool. However, it has an insanely formulaic script, which wouldn’t be as much of a problem if the dialogue wasn’t all so bad and if the characters weren’t all cardboard cutouts. John Carter is, on the surface, a similar story about an outsider thrust into an alien conflict and forced to be the savior of a whole race of people. So what’s the difference? It’s not shitty.
Films like Avatar owe everything to stories like A Princess of Mars, and so to see Avatar do so well while John Carter gets brushed under the rug is pretty painful to me. Will John Carter offer up as much pure, visual spectacle as Avatar? Probably not. But I’m willing to bet that we’re going to care about John much more than we did about whats-his-face.
It cost 200 Million to make
Yeah, yeah, so did Transformers or whatever. Fine. I know that a movie being expensive doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be good. When it comes to John Carter, though, all of that money went towards creating a vivid, original alien world. A lot of people are complaining that the CGI in the trailers isn’t great, but with that kind of money on the screen, I can’t imagine it’s not going to show in other places.
Even more importantly, though, it shows that at some point in the process, the studio had faith in the film, because otherwise they wouldn’t have spent so much on it. If a new director of live-action films is given that much money to adapt a century-old novel, it means the story is good. Or it means something else, I guess, but I’m pretty sure it means the story is good.
It’s about Mars, for god’s sake!
One of the worst things that Disney has done to John Carter is remove the of Mars from the end of the title. In interviews, Stanton has said that the concern was that girls wouldn’t see a movie called John Carter of Mars, and boys wouldn’t see a movie called A Princess of Mars, but the simple truth is that no one is going to see a movie just called John Carter. It doesn’t sound like it’s about anything.
Having the word Mars in the title is evocative. It let’s you know that this isn’t just some weird Prince of Persia knockoff about a dude running around in the desert. It’s science fiction/fantasy on a grand scale, which simply isn’t communicated by the new title. Most people I’ve talked to don’t even realize that the film is set on mars, which seems to me like something you should want to get across in advertisements.
This goes hand in hand with some of the stuff I mentioned before, that while John Carter may look like a rip-off of other stuff, it was actually the originator of said other stuff. Barsoom (aka Mars) is a strange, wild planet with various warring alien races and a plethora of dangerous wildlife. The aliens are nice and weird-looking, and the world just feels new, mostly by virtue of being so old. This is important, I tell you.
As viewers, we need to reward originality. While this may look like a story we’ve seen a hundred or a thousand times, I can promise that there’s a sense of child-like wonder and imagination to the world of Barsoom that you’re not going to get anywhere else — especially not in Avatar, however many floating mountains it may have had.
Willem Dafoe plays an alien
One of the main Tarks (The green tusked guys from the billboards) is played by Willem Dafoe. And that’s awesome.