Saturday, March 10, 2012

John Carter 3D Review

John Carter is the first of the big budget, epic science fiction movies to come out this year. Produced by Walt Disney and directed by Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo), it's based on Edger Rice Burroughs book, A Princess of Mars.

John Carter starts out with a prologue detailing a war between two city states Helium and Zodanga on Mars or as it is called by its inhabitants, Barsoom. The film then moves to 1881 where a wealthy John Carter, (Taylor Kitsch) a former Confederate cavalry officer, has summoned his young nephew, Edgar Rice Burroughs (Daryl Sabara) to his mansion. Once there Burroughs discovers that Carter is dead but has left his diary to him.

Burroughs starts to read the diary and the movie flashes back to Arizona in 1868. Carter is a man who is wanted by the Army to fight Native Americans. He refuses and escapes into the dessert where he discovers a mysterious cave. Once there he is attacked by a Thern, a race of mysterious shapeshifting aliens. Carter kills him but accidentally activates a device which transports him to Barsoom.

Once on Barsoom, he is captured by Tars Tarkas, (Willem Dafoe) a member of a race of tall, six limb aliens called Tharks. Carter discovers due to Mars' lower gravity, he has superhuman strength. Yeah, he can leap tall buildings in a single bound. Meanwhile Matai Shang (Mark Strong), a Thern, has forceed the evil leader of Zodanga, Sab Than (Dominic West) to end the war by marrying the beautiful princess of Helium, Dejah Thoris. (Lynne Collins) The purpose of the marriage? It wold force an alliance. She refuses and flees in her ship which is attacked by Than. John Carter saves her. Seeing his ability to fight, she wants him to fight for Helium. However, Carter wants to return to earth. Whew.

Director Stanton uses his experience from Pixar, the animation company, to good effect. He lets the story dictate the shots and the action. There are few camera gymnastics. The result is a movie that shows a strange new world and weird creatures. I found Basoom, an interesting planet. There are also nice touches of humor.

Taylor Kitsch does a good job as the reluctant hero, John Carter. Mark Strong as Shang does his usual fine work which is to portray any character he has with beautiful diction. Willem Dafoe is unrecognizable as Tars Tarkas. And by that I mean his voice sounds nothing like him. Lynn Collins makes Dejah, a dedicated leader of her people but also is a stunning woman who commands the screen.

The score by Michael Giacchino deserves mention. It's epic and romantic in the "Lawrence of Arabia" way. And it has touches of "Planet of the Apes." It's another great score by Giacchino.

But where the movie stumbles is the screenplay by Stanton, Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon. Starting the movie with Burroughs plot device is nice homage but it takes away from the main part of the movie. There's a lack of exposition in the middle of the film. I mean you have to be an uber geek to get who the Therns are. And the discovery of a mysterious machine was confusing. This cloudy narrative hurts the movie.

As for the 3D version, skip it. It's a conversion from 2D to 3D. While I admit the conversion is good, there's depth in many of the scenes, it's still inferior to a movie shot in 3D. On any conversion, you get this pop up book feel. There's no way artists and computers can fill in the blanks of 3D objects. And worse, it's too dark. That's the price of converting form 2D. The movie was shot in 2D so the lighting probably was not adjusted for the 3D polarization. Scenes at night look like mud. Save the extra bucks if you want to see this movie, and see it in 2D.

John Carter is a romantic science fiction movie. It's enjoyable. The grade is B.

No comments: