Saw John Carter this weekend. I am a big John Carter fan, so I was on the fence before going to see the film. But I have been waiting for this for a long time. A chance to see the Tharks in all their glory, Woola and the white apes, and epic battles of Barsoom. I couldn’t miss that.
As it turns out, John Carter is a solid film, a worthy effort. The film does one thing very right. It gives plenty of attention to the cool world of Barsoom. The Tharks (those giant green folks, for you Barsoom newbies) are fantastic, portrayed in all their brutal glory. And Tars Tarkas, one of the greatest characters in the history of fantasy, is everything I would want. Dejah Thoris manages to incorporate her original charm while being nicely updated for our times.
And Woola! Hands down, the best thing in the film is John Carter’s loyal pet. And Woola has an even bigger part in the film than in the original books, so this is one area where the film improves upon the books.
Overall, I really enjoyed the film. And I enjoyed it even more once I ran it through a little A. Lee Martinez brand imaginediting (patent pending). It’s a technique I learned from wise monks (who happened to be aliens) where one fixes slight problems with otherwise great films via the power of ignoring stuff.
To begin with, anything that takes place in a city on Earth can be completely ignored. It adds nothing to the story and only serves to create an unnecessary plot point. This means the bit where we go to Earth after starting on Mars is best forgotten about. Ignore this until we get to the part of John Carter in Arizona.
From there, everything is good. Then we get to the cave. In the original novel, the cave is a contrivance, a simple plot device that serves to get our hero from Earth to Mars. It isn’t even a special cave, as in later stories Carter travels to and from Mars without it.
It’s easiest to just think of the cave as a teleportation device. Later on, there is some nonsense trying to explain it as some sort of interplanetary telegraph. IGNORE THIS. Cave = Transporter. That’s all you need to know.
Once on Mars, everything is fine. Except for the Therns, the race of white Martians, who are meant to be some shadowy conspiracy group working behind the scenes. The problem with this is that it makes the Therns look like idiots. They seem like less of a threat and more of a way to complicate the story (again, needlessly). They bear little resemblance to their original novel, and perhaps it was deemed that the story needed a “cosmic” threat, rather than being solely about Carter’s adventures on a fantastic world.
My solution is to ignore the conspiracy element entirely and just think of the Therns as evil wizards working behind the throne. The actions of the villain can work just as well if we consider him in charge. And in my version of the film, the leader of the Therns dies, killed by Carter and Tars.
Finally, when Carter goes to the balcony, throws away the amulet, and declares himself to be “John Carter of Mars”, the movie is over. Do yourself a favor and get up and walk out of the theater. You can sit there for another five minutes, but there is absolutely no reason to. It answers questions we really don’t have, resolve plot points we don’t care about, and nothing can really top the image of John Carter, triumphant, with Woola at his side.
And with that, John Carter goes from a good film to an almost great one. There are still some pacing problems. The second act sags, but that’s the way Hollywood writes movies at this point. I can only do so much.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,