Thursday, March 15, 2012

John Carter (of Mars)

Last night, Lady Chocolat and I went to see "John Carter" at the cinema. Lousy title, good film.

(Originally, it was called "Princess of Mars", which would have been a good and accurate title, and also serves as the title of the first of the Barsoom stories on which it is based. Apparently, though, marketing felt that boys wouldn't go to see a 'princess' movie, so they changed it to "John Carter of Mars". This would also have been a good and accurate title, albeit less good than the original. Apparently, though, marketing felt that girls wouldn't go to see a 'Mars' movie, so they changed it to "John Carter". This is an accurate but utterly bland title, which has managed not to alienate any particular groups - but has utterly failed to attract anyone. Good work! Next time, try "John Carter and the Princess of Mars", which isn't a great title, but at least has a little bit of an "Indiana Jones" vibe to it. Or just don't meddle.)

Anyway, the film was certainly pretty, and rather better written and performed than the last film I saw at the cinema. It told an entertaining story, and it told it pretty well. Which is about what was wanted, really.

But... I don't know...

It had sort of the feel of a modern "Flash Gordon" vibe to it - Earthman gets catapulted into an alien society, where he proceeds to ally with an alien species to bring down a great tyrant. Sure, there was a bit more to it than that, but that was my overriding sense of the film. (Probably because "Flash Gordon" was inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs work, rather than the other way around, but still.)

The problem is that that story is, to be frank, more than a little silly. "Flash Gordon" dealt with this by embracing the silliness. It's pretty hard to be all serious when you're wearing those outfits, when spouting that dialogue, or when you're Brian Blessed. Plus, Queen.

"John Carter", on the other hand, took itself oh-so-seriously. Sure, there were a few humerous moments, but it just lacked the sheer absurdity of "Flash Gordon" (or "Pirates of the Carribean", for that matter). It was good... but it just wasn't as much fun as the earlier film.

And yet, at the same time it just didn't have the gravitas needed to pull off the "Lord of the Rings" vibe, either - the one that gives the impression that "all this stuff actually happened". Good as the story is, it is always going to be pretty lightweight fantasy, and the film just didn't carry that off.

Ultimately, I had fun. It was a decent evening. And I would recommend going to see the film, or at least catching it on TV when the time comes (depending on how allergic you are to the cinema's rip-off prices). But don't expect to be blown away - it's much better than any of the Star Wars prequels (and have some very similar scenes done better), but that's not really saying a lot.

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