Re:tro Re:view – John Carter!

Jondee here on Jarsoom,

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Before the Force Awakens, sixty five years before A New Hope, there was Barsoom. The trailers for John Carter were horrible, they gave little clue about the story, and seemed to re-has what we already saw in Avatar and other science fiction films. To judge John Carter based on them, is like saying you are going to see Force Awakens based on the Star Wars Holiday Special. I saw the trailer and was disappointed that this wasn’t the vision of Mars that I saw in my mind, not a Western desert scape, but an otherworld. If you can put aside such prejudices, you will find one of the most spectacular sci-fi worlds, iconic characters, and the reason why Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars has been treasured by the best writers and artists. The writer and creator of Tarzan, Pellucidar, and more worlds than can be imagined, had his first world in Barsoom. It was first realized as a pulp story in All-Story Magazine and collected as A Princess of Mars in 1912. The novel inspired the finest science fiction writers from Ray Bradbury to scientists like Carl Sagan.

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The Barsoom of John Carter was realized by Andrew Stanton who invested his creativity, hard work, and cred from working on Pixar films to fashion the impossible. It opens with narration by Willem Dafoe describing Mars which is really known as Barsoom. The conflict between the mobile city of Zodanga, sucking up resources, and the city of Helium is shown. Then, the airship battle which is stopped by pulses of blue energy from the robed Therns. The brutal Zodanga leader, Sab Than (Dominic West) is given a weapon to blast the energy by the Thern leader, Matai Shang (Mark Strong). This shifts to the rainy town of New York, 1881, where John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) slips away from a man to deliver a message. This is received by his nephew, Edgar Rice Burroughs (Daryl Sabara), who takes a train to his uncle’s estate. He finds out that his uncle has died and left him the estate and a journal. Carter relates his story which takes place after the Civil War, 1868, in the Arizona Territories. He tries to buy supplies, he knocks out the three ruffians, and shows a piece of gold before he is knocked out by Union soldiers.

Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins)

He is woken by Colonel Powell (Bryan Cranston) who tries to go over Carter’s record, when he tries to make his escape several times, lol! This is hilarious and also shows that John Carter is relentless. Carter does not want any part of the fighting. He is woken by a vision of his wife (Amanda Clayton) and manages to escape on the colonel’s horse. The rest of the cavalry soldiers chase after him. They all stop when Carter talks to Apache soldiers. One of the cavalry man shoots an Apache and this gets into a shooting match. Carter sees Powell is injured and picks him up to ride into a canyon. He takes them into a cave to make their last stand, but the Apaches withdraw. It is Carter’s cave of gold with a spider symbol. Carter goes to investigate the cave when a Thern emerges. Powell warns him and Carter kills the Thern who starts chanting words. He is dying, Carter takes his medallion, before saying his last word, “Barsoom.” He wakes in a sunny landscape and finds the slightest movement has him thrown in the air and slammed. In frustration, he throws a rock that flies for miles. Carter finds he can make incredible leaps which is said to an inspiration for Superman.

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He checks a strange structure where he finds green infants hatching from their eggs. Carter’s necklace is taken up by a spear and a hunting party of Tharks. The Tharks are massive, green aliens. They have a tusked face and four arms. Their leader is Tars Tarkas (voiced by Dafoe) who spares his life to find out about him. He introduces himself and Carter says, “Captain John Carter, Virginia.” The running joke is Tars and other Tharks call him “Virginia.” Carter is taken captive by the Tharks. This shifts to an introduction by Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins). Dejah’s outfit in the novel is the inspiration for Princess Leia’s slave bikini. The people of Helium are Red Martians and the film has this as interesting body tatoos. She is going over a speech she is going to give to her father, Tardos Mors (Ciaran Hinds). The general, Kantos Kan (James Purefoy) reports that all of their forces were destroyed by Sab Than. Dejah shows them her Ninth Ray device which is shorted out by a disguised Thern. Tardos Mors tells his daughter that Sab Than is coming to marry her and spare Helium. The Thark infants are taken to the village and captured by Thark women. The only one left is Sola (Samantha Morton) who is given Carter. Carter tries to get the medallion and is threatened by Tal Hajus (Thomas Haden Church). He challenges Tars Tarkas, but none of the other Tharks “pledge their metal” to him. Carter is washed and shaved like the other infants and given a drink by Sola, the “voice of Barsoom.”

"JOHN CARTER" L to R: Woola, John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

He is chained and shrugs off the Thark infants to find his guardian, a “monster dog” called Woola, which has a massive toad-like head, puppy eyes and bulldog face, that can move at super speed. Carter leaps away from it to find his medallion, Woola follows and is struck by the Tharks. Carter comes to save him, killing a Thark with one punch. Carter and Sola are chained, she is given a brand which is her last punishment. Carter is released when flyers from Zodanga pursue a Helium ship. Carter sees that it is not a “fair fight.” Sab Than searches for Dejah and she commanders the Zodanga ship. Carter sees that she is about to fall and catches her. He takes her sword and takes out the Zodanga soldiers. The sword is knocked out of his hand and wielded to deadly effect by Dejah! Carter makes incredible leaps to enter the Zodanga ship and destroy the other one with a cannon. Sab Than duels with Carter, but he is still awkward from the gravity. They are interrupted by Tharks firing on them. Sab Than’s ship pulls away, Tars Tarkas says, “You are ugly, but you are beautiful” giving him his harness. Tars will spare Dejah if Carter will be his “Dotar Soljat, his right arms.” John Carter must find a cause to believe in, win over Dejah Thoris, and somehow defeat Sab Than, the almost mystical Therns, and the Zodangans. The film keeps much of the detailed cultures, races, and languages created by Burroughs, very well paced, with beautiful visuals. Five Ninth Rays out of Five! Don’t miss this film!

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