I’m a sucker for a good space opera. You know, that hopeful and simple brand of science fiction that features grand adventures, reluctant heroes, and a crater full of melodrama.
The most famous example would be the “Star Wars” movies, but countless other illustrations from Flash Gordon to Buck Rogers exist throughout pop culture. And none of it would have been possible without John Carter.
John Carter was an Earthman who had various adventures on Mars in a series of books written by Edgar Rice Burroughs in the early part of the 20th Century. Although not nearly as famous as Burroughs’ other creations, the King of the Apes himself, Tarzan, John Carter influenced a generation of science fiction writers like Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke.
Interestingly enough, John Carter never got the big-screen treatment until now, but the wait was well worth it because the Disney release “John Carter” delivers enough thrills and spectacle to impress audiences of any era.
John Carter is played by Taylor Kitsch, best known for his work on the television series “Friday Night Lights.” Kitsch is a good fit for this archetypal character; he is clearly a graduate of the Harrison Ford school of acting which requires lots of looks of headstrong determination sprinkled with an occasional wry smile.
John Carter is a forlorn Confederate veteran of the Civil War who stumbles upon a cave of gold in Arizona. There he happens upon a medallion that instantly transports him to the surface of Mars or Barsoom to the locals.
You’ll have to disregard roughly a century of scientific discovery, but the Mars John Carter finds himself on is much more than a giant, desolate, red desert.
The planet is at war with various races vying for power and all very interested in the arrival of the man from Earth.
Thanks to a lighter gravitational pull, John Carter finds on Mars he has superhuman strength and the ability to leap like a flea which allows him to kick all manner of butt.
He first encounters a giant race of multi-armed, green-skinned Martians who are voiced by the likes of Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton, and Thomas Haden Church.
Before long John Carter meets up with less alien-looking races and naturally, there is a princess, Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), being forced to marry against her will. But Dejah is no damsel in distress. In addition to being a princess, she is also a scientist, a warrior, and a smokin’ hot babe. How could John Carter not fall for her?
Ciaran Hinds plays Dejah’s father, the ruler of Helium. Fans of the HBO series “Rome” will get a kick out of seeing Hinds and James Purefoy who played Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, respectively, playing the Martian equivalents of the same characters.
While there is a simplicity and almost an innocence about the story, the creative team behind “John Carter” certainly knows how to connect with audiences.
Director Andrew Stanton is a Pixar alum who has some experience delivering a blockbuster, having directed both “Finding Nemo” and “WALL-E.” And when Stanton needed a little help brushing up his screenplay, he went to Pulitzer-Prize winning author Michael Chabon, who also penned the screenplay for “Spider-Man 2.”
In a lot of ways “John Carter” is what the “Star Wars” prequels should have been. A sense of fun and adventure is at the forefront at all times and the humanity of the film never gets lost in a sea of special effects.
This is an old-fashioned movie told with cutting-edge technology and while it is easy to be cynical about such a lightweight plotline, it is refreshing to see a movie that approaches its subject with an authentic, wide-eyed sense of wonder.
“John Carter” is a relic from the primordial days of science fiction, but the guy still packs quite a punch and this is a saga from not so long ago on a planet not so far away that I hope we get to visit again soon.
“John Carter” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action.