Brave new world is lit­tle won­der

Kapi-Mana News - - ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT -

John Carter Star­ring Tay­lor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Do­minic West, Sa­man­tha Mor­ton, Willem Dafoe, Thomas Haden Church, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Do­minic West, Bryan Cranston. Screen­play by An­drew Stan­ton, Mark An­drews and Michael Chabon, di­rected by An­drew Stan­ton. 132 min­utes, rated M (vi­o­lence), show­ing at Read­ing Cine­mas Porirua. On the rare oc­ca­sions a big-bud­get space ad­ven­ture is green-lit and reaches the cinema, there’s al­ways a lit­tle voice in my head – prob­a­bly that of an eight-year-old – pon­der­ing ‘‘is this the one?’’

Is this the one that’s go­ing to be good enough to be talked about in the same sen­tence as Star Wars? Is this the one that fills my heart with in­ter­ga­lac­tic won­der? And, alas, due to di­min­ish­ing ex­pec­ta­tions over the years, is this the one that doesn’t supremely suck?

John Carter is the one – but only in terms of not to­tally suck­ing. It has its mag­i­cal mo­ments, but they are cer­tainly out­weighed by the awk­ward ones.

An Amer­i­can Civil War veteran is trans­ported to Bar­soom (what the Mar­tians call Mars) while prospect­ing for gold – where his strength and abil­i­ties are mag­ni­fied. He leads op­pressed Mar­tians in bat­tle against the evil ones, and charms the heart of a princess. Bloody crazy premise and es­capism at its purist.

The movie is based on the pulp fic­tion se­ri­als of famed fan­tasy writer Edgar Rice Bur­roughs, pub­lished be­tween 1911 and 1943, which carved out a sem­i­nal en­try in a sub­genre of sci­ence-fic­tion known as ‘‘plan­e­tary ro­mance’’.

Can’t say I’ve come across the term be­fore but when you con­sider its con­nec­tions to the western genre – bar­ren land­scapes and show­downs be­tween good and evil – aren’t much dif­fer­ent than those of Star Wars, his in­flu­ence is un­de­ni­able.

And like Lu­cas’ pic­tures, and Flash Gor­don for that mat­ter, John Carter is unashamedly a space opera.

Those of you who like a lot of sci­ence in their sci­ence-fic­tion will be chok­ing on their pop­corn around the time John Carter isn’t, from breath­ing CO .

For the rest of us, the prob­lems are more char­ac­ter re­lated. Bar­soom is home to many kinds of Mar­tians and none of them are very en­gag­ing.

The hu­manoid ones – the war­ring clans of He­lium and Zo­danga – are prone to campy cos­tumes, ridicu­lous di­a­logue and oned­i­men­sional archetypes.

I know that’s space fan­tasy to a cer­tain ex­tent, but any scene in­volv­ing Princess De­jah Tho­ris ( Lynn Collins) or her fa­ther (Ciaran Hinds) pranc­ing about their CGI palace, bab­bling about god­desses and blue light, had me think­ing the Star Wars pre­quels weren’t too bad af­ter all.

And what on Mars is Mark Strong do­ing in this movie? A pow­er­ful or­a­cle/spec­tre no less, with a cock­ney ac­cent!

The lanky, four-armed green Mar­tians pro­vide some much needed sav­agery to the equa­tion, but suf­fer from the ap­par­ent decision not to use per­for­mance cap­ture – or at least not very well.

Per­haps I ex­pect too much af­ter Avatar, but I wanted the tal­ents of Willem Dafoe, Sa­man­tha Mor­ton and Thomas Haden Church to come through their char­ac­ters in more than just their voices.

A lit­tle more suc­cess­ful is our lead­ing man, Tay­lor Kitsch, an in­trigu­ing choice to play Carter.

He’s not as phys­i­cally im­pos­ing or ma­cho as we have come to ex­pect from a Hol­ly­wood ac­tion man.

This is re­fresh­ing to a point. I found it hard to sep­a­rate Kitsch from the brood­ing Texan high schooler he played on Fri­day Night Lights, let alone ac­cept him, dressed like He-man, as hero to a dy­ing planet.

I can’t think of a type of movie that’s harder to nail than a space fan­tasy that’s play­ful, epic and fun for the whole fam­ily.

As luke­warm as I am about this movie, I ad­mire An­drew Stan­ton ( Toy Story, Wall-e) for giv­ing it a crack – so few would dare.

Should Dis­ney see prom­ise or profit in a se­quel, I’ll line up for a ticket. I may even pon­der: ‘‘Is this the one?’’

Stranger in a strange land: Tay­lor Kitsch strikes a heroic pose in John Carter. Space fan­tasy is a no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult genre to pull off, and though di­rec­tor An­drew Stan­ton doesn’t suc­ceed, we thank him for try­ing.

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