Starring Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins and Mark Strong
Directed by Andrew Stanton
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action
Recently, former Pixar director Brad Bird (Ratatouille) took on the immense challenge of directing the fourth installment of Mission Impossible and the result was a critically acclaimed box-office smash. So it’s little wonder that there is a lot of insider excitement over Pixar director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Wall-E) taking the helm of the classic Edgar Rice Burroughs sci-fi series John Carter of Mars.
John Carter (Kitsch) is just your average greedy Civil War vet turned prospector who finds himself strangely transported to Mars where he now has super-human strength, thanks to the lower gravitational pull. Finding himself caught in a Martian civil war between two human-like races trying to annihilate each other, he falls in love with the beautiful princess (Houston’s own Lynn Collins) from one of the warring sides and helps them survive the menace of a devastating weapon given to their enemies from some strange mystical beings attempting to control the destiny of the planet.
In light of his highly successful career, it is not surprising where Stanton succeeded, but it is highly surprising where he failed. The crowning achievement of this film is its tremendous use of special effects. The CG is truly out of this world and one can assume that most of its reported $250 million budget went into the production and not on its cast.
The big fail here is in writing and casting. Pixar prides itself in their ability to tell stories and so it’s easy to assume that the story would be king in a film such as this. I’m sure there is a good reason why these classic books haven’t made it to the big screen yet and that is because the material doesn’t translate well to the screen. But looking at what they came up with, it doesn’t look like it’s a far stretch to get to a really good script. What we get instead is a confusing story that plods along and almost collapses from its own weight.
It doesn’t help that the cast has a tough time pulling it off. I’m sure Kitsch turned in an amazing screen test and that he has potential as a leading actor, but this film needed a star. It needed a Jake Gyllenhaal, Vin Diesel or even a Channing Tatum to guide us on our way. In an attempt to save money on actors’ inflated salaries, Disney ultimately shows why it can be worth it to put in a well-known actor and I’m sure they will be crying over that decision for years to come.
One thing that doesn’t help the film any is its lousy 3D edition. Just like the recent Pirates of the Caribbean film, the movie is too dark to make use of the technology. If you are going to create a worthwhile 3D project, it is important to cut down on the amount of nighttime scenes and if you use a lot of them, you must artificially crank up the lighting. After all, tinted 3D glasses will only exasperate the darkness. Unfortunately, I found myself taking off my glasses just so I could see what’s going on – choosing fuzzy vision over almost pure absence of light.
So while Disney was hoping that John Carter could be the next big franchise film, and they took a huge chance on a relatively little-known book series, I am guessing that Carter will join Prince of Persia and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice in the potential Disney franchise graveyard. C+