I came into John Carter with low expectations. It had mediocre reviews and a famously bad trailer, and it had been through the kind of last-minute rewrites that often lead to a confusing, directionless story.
Furthermore, I’m a big fan of the Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom books. Fans like me are perennially disappointed by movie adaptations, because we often feel affronted by any changes made to our sacred scriptures.
After twenty minutes, though, I leaned over to my wife and whispered, “I think… I’m enjoying this movie.”
The big shock was that the movie was true to the spirit of the books. There were some very standard Hollywood plot changes: a magic mcguffin or two was added, and the roles of the scene-chewing villains were expanded. None of this bothered me. Plot was never very important in Edgar Rice Burroughs novels. From Tarzan to Pellucidar to John Carter of Mars, Burroughs’ formula is frequent action, power-fantasy wish fulfillment, and exotic setting. That’s what the John Carter movie delivered.
The movie lingered appropriately on John Carter’s superpowers, giving him a good long scene to get used to walking and jumping in Mars’ lower gravity. He also got some very impressive hero-vs-minions battle scenes. You want to leave a Superman movie feeling like you can fly, a Star Wars movie feeling like you have a lightsaber at your belt, and a John Carter movie feeling like you can leap over buildings and hack your way through armies of Tharks. In that respect, John Carter delivered.
Another surprise: John Carter was funny. I found myself laughing along with the audience at the gags. Here’s a way that the movie surpassed the original: if there was a joke in A Princess of Mars, I don’t remember it.
We went to great lengths to see John Carter in 2D. After suffering through a few migraine-inducing post-production 3D movies recently, it was a pleasure to watch a nice flat movie. I really think that post-production 3D makes any movie experience 30% less enjoyable.
When we left the theater, I heard a knot of people chattering about how much they loved the movie. It turned out to be some sort of Princess of Mars fan meet-up group. Fans of the books seem to like the movie. Box office evidence suggests that no one else likes it very much.
John Carter’s terrible opening weekend guarantees that there won’t be any more Barsoom movies made for another 80 years or so. I can’t complain, though: I got one enjoyable Mars movie, which was one more than I was expecting.