I saw John Carter in a nearly empty theater today. Putting aside the fact that it’s going to be one of the worst all-time flops in economic terms, I’m ambivalent about it.
The book A Princess of Mars and its sequels are, simply, terrible. They’re racist, badly plotted, and over-written; fantasy with a badly-glued veneer of sci-fi. I loved them when I was 8 or so and didn’t entirely understand them, but even then the descriptions of the Tharks bothered me. The movie attempts to make sense of Burroughs’s meandering but still leaves its characters with some fucking idiotic dialogue.
Besides the impressive use of CGI and nice on-site shooting in some desert somewhere, the thing that stands out for me is the modern interpretation of Burroughs’s interpretation of Percival Lowell‘s vision of Mars. It is utterly romantic: the technically advanced people of a dying world building longer and longer canals to use the dwindling resources of water, knowing the whole time that they will lose their fight. I suspect that Lowell’s bad astronomy lasted as long as it did because of the romance of it.
The two leads are unimpressive. Carter is played by a man named Kitsch, who should by virtue of not changing his name qualify for the self-awareness version of a Darwin Award. Dejah Thoris is played by a woman who can’t necessarily deliver her lines but, to her credit, has triceps that make her look almost realistic when holding a sword.
Finally, if you’re a fan of HBO’s Rome and The Wire and AMC’s Breaking Bad, there’s a strange feeling seeing Julius Caesar, Marc Anthony, Detective Jimmy McNulty, and Walt White rubbing elbows as secondary characters.