Disney’s telling of the Edgar Rice Burrows “Princess of Mars” story hit theaters last week to mediocre attendance and reviews. The week before it’s release I received an email from Disney to my yahoo account proudly proclaiming “COME SEE THE YEAR’S FIRST BLOCKBUSTER!!!”… it would seem public opinion of their “blockbuster” has been rather underwhelming. Perhaps Disney fancied “John Carter” to be the next “Avatar”? (Personally, I didn’t then, and still don’t see what all the hoopla was about Avatar, it was pretty “meh” to me, but that’s for another review)
The history of Burroughs’ writings is extensive, and if you’re a sci-fi fan I highly recommend taking a long look at his works. Most are available free for any eReader thanks to the wonderful Project Gutenberg. Like most book-to-movie experiences, no the movie is not 100% true to the book. They never are, and to expect it to be so is a massive flaw on the part of any movie-goer. Accept that there WILL be differences, and deal with it, or you’ll be unhappy with the theatrical result, no matter what. The movie adaptation has been “in the works” for decades, and passed around & sold from company to company for some time before seeing the final result that we see from Disney.
“John Carter” starts out with Carter’s nephew (Edgar Rice Burroughs) rushing off to tend to his uncle’s estate, after his death. The nephew is given Carter’s personal journal, and as he reads the journal we are transported to when Carter was a Confederate Civil War veteran gold speculating in Arizona. He stumbles upon a cave in the desert where he finds a gateway and accidentally transports himself to Mars. We follow his adventures as he is taken prisoner by native creatures and becomes involved in the planetary conflicts of Barsoom (the Martian name for Mars).
Disney has the financial ability to afford the very best in animation and CGI, and it shows. It’s made to be visually stunning, and is, but it seems we’ve become accustomed to such things, and it just isn’t as “Glorious” to us now, as “Star Wars” was with it’s groundbreaking effects. The story was well told and well acted, with enough humor to be funny and enough seriousness to be strong.
I didn’t take my kids to see this, not because of the story, or worries of violence or anything inappropriate, but because of the runtime of the movie. At 2 hours 12 minutes I didn’t think my kids would have the patience to sit through it. To watch at home on blu-ray, I’m sure they’ll be fine with it, but it would have been asking too much of them to sit still & quiet for that duration for a movie that I don’t think would have fully captured & engaged them. A lot of negative reviews include the bloated runtime as part of it’s problem, but I’m not sure that the full story could have been told had there been a half hour chopped out. There is a fair amount of low-grade violence in John Carter, sword fights, fistfights, gunshots.. but nothing gruesome or overtly scary. I would not say that this movie is inappropriate for kids at all, just make sure that a young audience you may share it with is into sci-fi action flicks, or they’ll be bored. Any kid under 7-ish probably won’t be able to follow the storyline, but again there’s nothing in it that I would call necessarily inappropriate for any age.
I am only about 1/3 of the way through the first “Barsoom” series book (A Princess of Mars), and am looking forward to finishing it and to reading the rest of the series. It would be nice to see this movie bring about renewed interest in Burroughs’ writing, his work is very good. I liked the Disney version of this story, I wouldn’t call it a Blockbuster, as they so proudly declared in their email, but it’s not bad. (ps. ignore the “click to look inside” arrow on the artwork in the upper left corner.. it was the best I could find.)