Virginia of Mars   5 comments

On the evening of Thursday March 1, 2012, I went with perhaps a couple hundred other lucky Phoenix fen to see a sneak preview of John Carter of Mars.  JCM is a film that I and a lot of other science fiction fans have been excited and hopeful about for years.  I practically had to go to Mars to see the movie, as the sneak was at Harkins Arrowhead theaters, hidden in a jungle of giant shopping mall stores out at 83rd Avenue and Bell in Peoria.  It took me well over an hour to find the place since I started with a wrong impression of where I was going, and then zigged when I should have zagged, but I didn’t give up, and I’m glad I didn’t.  The movie turned out to be not only spectacular in terms of special effects, but much better than I thought it would be in terms of story.  If you were hesitating, don’t.  You must see this film.

(You don’t have to see it in 3D, however.  The 3D effects were nowhere near as awesome as they were in Avatar.)

I scored a copy of this poster at VulCon 1, and it now dominates my living room.

I’m not going to issue any spoilers, or tell you anything you haven’t seen in the movie trailers, but I do want to make some comments about the film in general.   By now anyone who cares knows that John Carter is the story of an earthman magically transported to Mars (Barsoom) where he meets strange creatures and wins the love of a Martian princess.  People get sidetracked by the scenery.  Way back in 1912 when Edgar Rice Burroughs first wrote “Under the Moons of Mars” for All Story Magazine, he was writing a romance.  Yes, the setting was the exotic world of Mars, but the heart of the tale is the love story of John Carter and Dejah Thoris.  This is what Disney and Pixar should have focussed their marketing on–not special effects with armies and giant white apes.  A woman I talked to said there was “too much fighting”.  She liked the humor, and the love story, and Woola made her laugh, but the movie had “too much fighting.”
One of the humorous bits in the movie comes near the beginning.  During the first meeting of Tars Tarkas, jeddak of the Tharks, and John Carter, lost newbie on an alien planet, the green man thumps his chest and says “Tars Tarkas”.  Carter correctly deduces that Tars Tarkas is his name.  The earthman indicates himself, not nearly as strongly as he could have, and says “John Carter of Virginia.”  From this, Tars Tarkas deduces that his name is Virginia, and he calls him Virginia for the rest of the movie.  Even Dejah Thoris thinks his name is Virginia at the beginning of the film.  The theater roared with laughter.  It is a good joke on John.  Hence our blog title, Virginia of Mars.
John Carter is a long film–over two hours.  I loved it all, but it may be too much for some people.  The special effects were out-fucking-standing.  I especially liked the Barsoomian flyers, but I had a hard time finding a good picture of one on the web that I could use.  This will have to do.

John Carter sees Martian flyers for the first time.

It’s a fantasy.  We all have to suspend our disbelief, but Hollywood movie producers continually go too far.  John Carter’s earthly muscles give him tremendous jumping powers on Mars.  it is believable that he could jump perhaps 20 or 30 feet–which is about what Burroughs had him do in the books.  The gravity of Mars is about 1/4 the gravity of Earth.  The movie shows him jumping hundreds of feet at a time, practically flying.  The plot depends upon it.  Okay, he’s Superman on Mars.  It makes for great action, but it’s going to hurt the crediblity of the movie with critics and anyone who knows even the slightest bit about Mars and astronomy.  Hollywood should not bank on the stupidity of the audience.  We’re not that dumb.

Look! Up in the sky! It's a . . .

John Carter gains a pet and a protector on Mars, a calot named Woola.  He’s the Martian equivalent of a dog–a big powerful friendly dog.  I think the film makers did the right thing by having Woola bark like a dog–just to help with the identification in the minds of the audience.  However, Burroughs never said that calots had super speed.  It’s funny when Carter tries to escape his guardian by leaping only to find the THING waiting for him whenever he landed.  However, to show this critter moving at eye-blurring speeds during the rest of the movie, strains our sense of reality even further.  Just another example of Hollywood going too far.

"Stay, Woola, stay!" Dog training on Mars.

There is a lot in this movie.  Maybe I’ll do a second blog about it in a week or two just about the characters.  The acting was very fine, I thought, and the characters all deserve description and analysis.  But I don’t have time.  I want to come back to my point that Pixar/Disney is  blowing the marketing by focussing on monsters and battles.  To be successful a movie has to appeal to American women, and for the most part, they like romance.  They don’t like monsters and battles.  Star Wars uses the romantic triangle of Luke, Han, and Leia to bring the audience into the film.  The great Star Wars movie posters always show Leia.  Dejah Thoris is incredible–as beautiful women go she’s a 20 on a scale of 10.  She fights like an Amazon.  She’s a briliant scientist, a patriot, and a princess.  She’s perfection.  They should be emphasizing her role in the movie.  They aren’t.  In my opinion, this is the trailer they should be showing the most, and the emphasis should be on interplanetary romance in times of peril.

Don’t let anyone tell you this film is bad!  It’s amazingly great–with a few minor quibbles because Hollywood always goes overboard on things.  I will be going to see it again, maybe more than once. 

If you like John Carter, sword and planet stories, or just alien monsters, please leave a comment.



5 responses to “Virginia of Mars

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  1. That’s quite an endorsement! I’ve been hesitant about this one, but I think I’ll check it out! Thanks for the review.

  2. Thanks for the quick review & recommendation. I really liked the Marvel Comics rendition of John Carter Warlord of Mars comic books as a kid. Looks like I’ll be seeing it with the kids this weekend.

  3. I write fantasy fiction inspired by Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and others. E.R. Burroughs was always one of my very favorite authors. After reading his books about John Carter and his adventures on Barsoom, I feel I am more than ready to experience this cinematic interpretation. We all see different things in our mind when we read the words in a book, but we get a whole different perspective from a movie interpretation. Can’t wait to see this one!

  4. Thanks for the review

  5. I’m sad that so many viewers stayed away from this movie, and I blame the Marketing department of Disney. When folks saw the commercials on TV, they didn’t really seem to know what the movie was about. Anyone I asked said something like “Well, there’s this Civil War soldier…” and that’s most of what they could tell me about the movie. I kept telling them that the Civil War part was just backdrop and the real key was this guy who goes to Mars and can jump like Superman (a few decades before Superman was created) and he fights bad guys to try to save the Princess. Most of my friends had never heard of Edgar Rice Burroughs until I mentioned he was “the guy who wrote Tarzan” and they perked up because they had heard of Tarzan and that made it sound interesting. Why couldn’t they have emphasized THAT in the commercials?

    Anyway, I saw it 5 times in the theatre and can’t wait for it to hit DVD in June. 🙂

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