Wednesday, June 27, 2012

John Carter (2012)

Am I the only person who found it impossible to not say John Carter's name like Arnold Schwarzenegger? You know, cause it's really close to "John Conner?" Didn't you ever look at the poster and think "John Conna! Cum wit me if you vant to live!" Or maybe you actually saw the movie and when John Carter gets transported you maybe thought to yourself "Nygaah! Git you ass to Mah's!"

Nobody? Ok then. Disregard that last paragraph.

"John Carter" is of course famous for failing. Along with "Battleship," this film was the first of two huge financial disasters for Disney in 2012. Both of these films had budgets that could have fed a small country for a few months, and both of them tanked like a horse in Skyrim. (/nerdjoke) It's pretty clear why "Battleship" went under, even though I thought it wasn't that bad. I think the main problem was that people couldn't get past the fact that the genesis of it was a board game. It wasn't great, but it wasn't as awful as people made it out to be.

With "John Carter" it was the advertising. This has been a note of record, and I'm pretty sure plenty of people in that department got fired. And rightly so. The trailer for "John Carter" was a big, jumbled mess that didn't tell us anything about the movie we were supposed to be excited about. I thought it looked like it was trying to tackle too many ideas, and I had no idea what anything was or what was going on at all. It was a terrible trailer and advertising campaign. And it was so quietly shuffled out of theaters, head hung low, that I never got a chance to see it.

So I finally got to see "John Carter" and I have to say, I'm really glad I didn't blow $9.50 on it. Had I seen this in theaters I would have been ticked off. Or maybe not ticked off but tired and bored. I didn't give two craps about this movie. And it's not because it was overly bad, which it wasn't, but because it just was so bland and unmemorable. That's a weird thing to say about a movie as admittedly visually stunning as "John Carter" is, but it's true. "Bland" is the only word to describe it, not because there is any notable lack of tradecraft, but because it's just so unbelievably stock.

It's really sad when you can see stuff like this in a movie and say "It's been done."

The story concerns an American Civil War soldier who, through some technology never really explained, is transported to Mars (Oh, I'm sorry. Barsoom. More on THAT later, because THAT didn't get old). Thrust into the middle of a conflict between two countries on the planet, he leads an uprising to stop the war. Or something like that. I know it involves these 4-armed bug type creatures for some reason, and there are these pale dudes who are kind of like gods but not. Oh, and there's a princess.

See, this is what I'm talking about. I saw this movie yesterday and I've already forgotten nearly everything about it. I can't even remember a single character's name besides John Carter, and I only remember him because his name is on the freaking box art. I had no clue what was going on, but at the same time, I knew everything that was about to happen, because the story is so paint-by-numbers.

I know that "A Princess of Mars" by Edgar Rice Burroughs is a classic sci-fi story that has been the inspiration for a lot of films. I've never read it, and nobody I know has ever read it, true, but I'm aware that it exists. The fact that it is a story that other films have lifted heavily from does give it a pass on being derivative. After all, we can't blame an old story for being influential. But that doesn't mean that it will be fresh and exciting when we've seen this story a hundred times before. It will be boring. Like "John Carter" was.

It's a shame, but when a story has been mined so much that nearly everything about it has become a trope or cliche, that's going to be boring as hell and annoying to sit through despite how pretty you make it look. It's not the story's fault, but that's the way it is. Fortunately, Hollywood doesn't do that too much.


There were two other things that irked me about "John Carter." Or at least, these were the things in the movie that were memorable enough for me to remember that I didn't like.

The first was the cast. Taylor Kitsch as John Carter to put this nicely...bad. He was bad. Between this and "Battleship" (Headlining two earth-shattering bombs in a row. Ouch.) I'm not sure he's going to have much of a career. And based on his performance as John Carter, which essentially consisted of him squinting and grunting while seeming like he was distracted by the football game on the TV in the next room, I can't say that I'll be too sad to see him go. It's not a good thing when Channing Tatum has more charisma than you do, I'm just saying.

Lynn Collins as the token Princess was also quite irritating. It's not that she did a bad job necessarily (she was better than Taylor Kitsch, anyway) but I can't stand her character. It's that same "I'm a Princess who is tough and strong and totally a strong role model but ugggh I have to run away from everything and get somebody else to fight my battles for me" crap that you always see. Also, she's another one of those chicks with a "kind of" accent. It's kind of there. Enough to where she can't pronounce "John Carter" properly. It's "Jawn Cah-tah." I hate that accent. Oh, and she whispers a lot. Why does every Princess do that? She's like Liv Tyler in "Lord of The Rings." You just want to chapter skip through her scenes.

On the plus side Willem Dafoe is in this movie. That's cool.

Oh wait. You don't see him? That's crap.

The second thing was that the culture of Mars, oh sorry, BARSOOM, is shoved in our faces pretty hardcore. That's not a problem by itself necessarily, after all it lends credibility, but geez give us some time to adjust. You want to know why I don't remember anybody's name? It's because they are all these crazy alien names that are impossible to remember, and many of them sound the same. I swear there was one word that was used to address like 4 different people. It sounded like "Rejjick" or something, and it was really confusing for me because I was thinking that was the name of Willem Dafoe's character, and then all of a sudden that's what they're calling Ciarán Hinds! About halfway though the movie I realized that it must mean "king" or "leader" or "Your Majesty" or something. Could have used that info earlier, guys. Or here's a thought: "Don't do that."

I think that maybe if "John Carter" was a TV series this alien culture could have been more gracefully introduced as to not be so jarring and disorientating, but we are thrown on Mars (oh sorry, BARSOOM) at about the 15 minute mark, and are there until about the last 10 minutes. That's about an hour and a forty five minutes that we are dunked headfirst into this culture with all the subtlety of a freight train. That's not nearly enough time to adjust to the amount of stuff they throw at us.

 For reference, as the credits roll on "John Carter," Gandalf hadn't even fought the Balrog yet in the Director's Cut. And there's two movies left. #doingitright

You know, I just realized something. I can perfectly sum up how confusing "John Carter" is: I don't even know if the people on Mars were originally from Earth. I don't even know if the aliens are aliens. That's pretty bad.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "John Carter" isn't a bad film, but I just didn't care. It was a stupendously boring and confusing cluster of stuff being thrown at me in front of a bunch of pretty CGI. Don't waste your time. Skip it.

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