John Carter, the Movie
Okay, so the age of making movies with some faint degree of faithfulness to the book on which the movie is modeled is long gone. And on rare occasions Hollywood does actually manage to produce a film that, by some fluke or merciful oversight by the gods of Olympus-wood, deviates from the tiresomely predictable one-size-fits-all mentality of today’s pathetic remnant of the glory that once was Hollywood, thereby releasing a film that does not make one feel as if he left his brain at the door, or stumbled into a comic Monty Python Department of Abuse sketch. JOHN CARTER, unfortunately, is not one of those happy exceptions.
Please let this wounded beast die a solitary and dignified death. Oh Holy Issus! Grant us the boon that no sequel escapes the mortal arena of future pre-production meetings to further tarnish and insult the memory of Edgar Rice Burroughs. From a startlingly original effusion by one of the century’s greatest story-tellers, that slouching beast called Hollywood has poisoned his well of creativity with a cyanide tonic of made-to-order blockbuster-itis, the inevitable potpourri of snide villains with English accents, a bizarre and totally superfluous 20-minute scene of Western gunfight mania and horse-chase scenes, and a menagerie of cartoon characters that are cut out of standard-issue contemporary American stock-in-trade for hugely grossing films. Look up Wiki: My Blockbuster Film, and you will see them listed from A to Z.
As if that is not sufficient to earn the eternal condemnation of all fans with a shred of respect for the memory of Burroughs, the producers perversely felt it necessary to drag in the dead cat of space-folding guild navigators from Dune, inexplicably confusing them with the holy white therns of Burroughs’ novels to which they bear not the slightest resemblance, and then merged the final concoction with – horror of horrors – that celluloid monstrosity, that outrage of outrages, that singular insult to the intelligence and taste of every thinking person, that monument to a corrupt and pompous Jean-Jacques Rousseau, that billboard of the collapsed capacity for judgment of the average modern movie-goer – Avatar the Movie. In brief, in JOHN CARTER Avatar meets Dune…and dies a well-deserved miserable death.
Not all is lost, however. To this reviewer’s total astonishment not a single Nazi appeared. That fact of the missing Nazi villain should alone merit JOHN CARTER an Academy Award as a staggering innovation in modern Hollywood film-making, almost unprecedented in its daring. Moreover, the evil Zadangans did not even have thick German accents, which can only mean that the producers were either totally asleep at the wheel, or were sleeping with the censors, or – no say it cannot be – consciously decided for whatever reason to risk accusations of racism and demands that they be arrested for hate crimes by making a movie that deviated ever so slightly from the utterly predictable formula that Hollywood unloads zombie-like again and again on the drugged and disperspicacious American public (now, that’s a word! Remember, you saw it here on SiriusReviews.com first) who never seem to recall in their advanced media-induced hypnotic state that they have seen each new film a thousand times over with only the names, costumes, and actors changed.
(Note to self. Plot for My Avatar-esque Hollywood Blockbuster Movie: Nazi patriarchal Republicans with English or German accents rape Earth; self-centered Hero with personal pain encounters Earth-worshipping Warrior Woman with PhD; Warrior Woman defends her Earth-worshipping peace-loving matriarchal tribe; Warrior Woman rejects Hero; Hero falls in love with Warrior Woman, learns to look beyond his personal pain to greater purpose by learning to hate Nazi Republican KKK Southern Fascist redneck racist corporation developers with English accents who rape the Earth; Warrior Woman accepts Hero; Hero and Warrior Woman together defeat English Nazi patriarchal Republicans and destroy their concrete-making Earth-raping machines; Hero and Warrior Woman live happily ever after as non-smoking vegetarians who grow their own food and celebrate gayness, and have no children, who of course would harm the Earth. Instead they welcome hordes of immigrants to replenish their numbers and pay for their social security in their old age… Oh, did I mention that the evil Republicans rape the Earth? But I digress…)
And, another great surprise, John Carter was allowed to remain a Confederate instead of a Union captain, which, for you graduates of California schools, would make him a veteran of the Civil War…which, for you California politicians, was actually a War that occurred in the United States during the 1860’s and not another term for Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement or for today’s Occupy XXX posers. Surprising since anything remotely connected with the South would ipso facto make John Carter a vile Republican in the eyes of America’s contemporary moron-igentsia, which remain blissfully unaware that Lincoln was himself actually a Republican, while the redneck racist Confederates were Democrats to a man. But I digress…
John Carter was also allowed, faithful to what Burroughs originally wrote, to stumble into a cave while fleeing Indians (is that word still allowed? Or did this reviewer just commit a federal hate crime?) And to transport via mysterious means to Barsoom where he “got his sea-legs” learning to bounce from ridge to ridge; and to discover the Tharks’ tribal egg incubator; and then to become involved in a power struggle between two green chieftains, coming down on the side of his new friend Tars Tarkas. But that’s where the similarity ends. Any further correspondence between the books of E.R. Burroughs and this beached thoat of a movie JOHN CARTER is not merely accidental, but savagely suppressed.
Tars Tarkas looks exactly like the Grinch. The River Iss, instead of leading to the South Pole where the white therns massacre unsuspecting boat-pilgrims – an innovative and dramatic development in The Gods of Mars – leads instead to a happy neon Disney World Tree of Life. Oh Dejah Vu! Dejah Thoris, the love interest of John Carter, is no longer the endearing, empathetic, and vulnerable girl fresh from the nunnery of Helium’s imperial palace, having been shot out of the sky by Tars Tarkas and his Tharks while on her way to carry out her imperial duty to marry willingly a Jeddak she does not love, but in this calot-of-a-movie Dejah has become greater than life. A cardboard character who is not only Chief Professor of Helium’s entire Scientific Academy and who has just made the most important scientific discovery of the past ten thousand years, and a staggeringly beautiful young woman, she is also supremely endowed with the strength and speed of an Olympic athlete, and, most unlikely of all, is herself an impossibly skilled warrior far surpassing any male warrior in Helium, a city that is supposed to be devoted to war, including apparently even John Carter himself, whom she twice pushes from the midst of a bloody sword-fight uttering “Get behind me” to which he meekly squeaks “Yes ma’am” or some such forgettable acquiescence. This is an exchange that is utterly incomprehensible and totally out of the context of Burroughs’ Barsoom in that John Carter is supposed to be uniquely endowed by virtue of his Earth genetics with superhuman strength and agility, and is a master swordsman with decades of practice, while Dejah Thoris is supposed to be merely a Barsoomian, and an especially pampered and helpless one at that – in short the weakest and least warrior-like of any character in Burroughs’ entire series of novels, never at any time taking up a weapon of any sort, or even offering resistance as one bad guy after another steals her away from Carter.
Indeed, in this movie, Dejah Thoris has taken on a status that is so exalted that it is impossible to attain even on that most female-chauvinistic of societies in the history of planet Earth, Amazonia… oops, I meant America… having moved quite beyond the previous level of “most matriarchal” society in history to the next level of “most female militaristic”. Half the soldiers of Zadanga and Helium, indeed, have mysteriously become female (just like in today’s Amazonia, er, America), which doubtless has Burroughs spinning in his grave, in shiny costumes reminiscent of Mars Needs Women or Zsa Zsa Gabor in Queen of Outer Space, further dragging the reputation of Burroughs thru the mud. With all of Dejah Thoris’ sword-fighting, put downs, know-it-all professorial lectures, and dominating conversations with every male, one wonders how there was time for John Carter to actually appear in JOHN CARTER, and why they didn’t just leave the title the way it originally was in the first book: A Princess of Mars, since the movie is plainly as much if not more about her than about him. Oh, and how did they manage to omit from the movie that perhaps important little item that Dejah Thoris IS NOT HUMAN and, like all Barsoomians, she will live 1,000 years, and in time give birth to eggs just as do the Tharks? And that these eggs, fathered at least in part by John Carter, will be deposited in their own egg incubator?
Okay, I’ll have to re-check the egg thing. But there is also the gratuitous parallel of the strip-mining Zadangans with the polluting itinerant factories on Avatar. Not to mention the parallel between the tall green and fierce but ultimately harmless “natives” of Barsoom (the Tharks) with the tall blue and fierce but ultimately harmless “natives” of Avatar, both being “Indians 3.0”. Ironically, while Burroughs’ Princess of Mars ends with its only oxygen-producing factory ceasing to produce oxygen, and John Carter speeding thru the lonely wastes on a flyer as the only person on Barsoom who knows the entry code to the factory, and passing out as he struggles to flip the factory’s lever only to awaken once more on Earth, the producers opt instead for an overly elaborate spy-on-spy denouement on Earth, with worm-hole traveling therns watching his every move. Where the hell did the director get that from?
And how is this any less faithful to the cult of environmentalism than turning the Zadangans, who are supposed to be mirror images and warlike racial cousins of the warlike Heliumites, into strip-miners? And then to make these English-accented strip miners into worm-hole travelers intent on exploiting the resources of Earth, and Mars, and other planets? What the hell?! And using medallions with a mysterious Ninth Ray to create worm-holes for traveling at will among these planets for such a trivial purpose, merely by uttering something that sounds all the world like klaatu barada nikto? I don’t know what story this may be, but it sure the heck isn’t A Princess of Mars, or the Gods of Mars, or the fabulous Llana of Gathol, or anything else written by Burroughs. These were far more interesting and original works than this Hollywood garbage about itinerant strip miners with English accents, and a knack for stealthily adopting the images of other people. Burroughs left the substance of how Carter actually traveled to Mars unexplained for a good reason: he didn’t want the reader to be distracted from the first-person perspective adventure romance as John Carter pursues the perpetually abducted Dejah Thoris, by wasting time and focus on meaningless technical irrelevancies. It’s a romance, stupid, not an Art Institute class in whiz-bang special effects. But these idiots put it back in in spades, accomplishing nothing except to dilute what had been a splendid story.
I successfully resisted the impulse to walk out. But it was quite a struggle to stay and stomach the whole monstrosity. The producers should have left well enough alone. In their efforts to bridge the gap between a 19th century adventure fantasy intended for testosterone-drenched adolescent males who want to rescue girls who are sweet, young, passive, and grateful; and a 21st century pre-determined formula film intended for an audience of female militant chauvinists brainwashed by today’s power elite to be abusive, grungy, man-hating, self-centered, greedy, short-haired, flat-shoed, and violently militant, there can be no middle ground. There can be no John Carter/Princess of Mars. There can be no excuse for turning The Perils of Pauline into The Lost Girl. The sequel, drenched in trendy American anti-male chauvinism, can only be John Carter v Dejah Thoris: The Divorce. But who will get custody of the eggs, one wonders? And who will get Rin-Tin-Tin: Woola, the cartoon salamander? —SiriusReviews.com.
John Carter, the Movie,