A Box Office Flop, John Carter Movie Called ‘one of the best science fiction films ever made’
Reviewed by Glenn Cutforth
Director: Andrew Stanton
Writers: Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews,
Michael Chabon: (screenplay)
Edgar Rice Burroughs: (based on the story
A Princess of Mars)
Stars: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, William
Defoe, Mark Strong, Dominic West
When I was a teenager, after graduating
from high school, I worked
in my Dad’s store. One of the
salesmen introduced me to the novels of
Edgar Rice Burroughs and I began my
induction into the mystery and adventure
from the amazing mind of one of the most
proficient writers in history.
ERB was the creator of Tarzan as well as
many other series including At The Earth’s Core, The Lost Continent, John Carter of Mars, Out of Time’s Abyss, Venus, etc. as well as many stand-alone novels.
I wasn’t really interested in the Tarzan
books, since we had lots of movies of Tarzan adventures, but I was into the other series, especially the John Carter series and the Pellucidar books.
I read all John Carter of Mars series although I don’t remember much about them, only that I was hooked and read a lot of ERB books.
The first book of the series is The Princess of Mars, and since 1930 many have tried to bring the series to the big screen without success. (The book was written in 1912 as was the first Tarzan book.)
However, director Andrew Stanton,
who had previously worked on Disney animated films, convinced Disney to do the
film, which was released on March 9, 2012
to mixed reviews.
The film cost $350 million to make and
grossed $284 million worldwide, making it
one of the largest box office bombs in movie
history — even though, in my opinion,
it’s one of the best science fiction films ever
made and one of my favourite films of all
So why was it a flop? In my opinion it
was poor marketing and bad decisions on
how to make the film better known as a Science Fiction adventure beloved by masses
of people who grew up reading the Edgar
Rice Burroughs books.
First of all, the title is too bland. Why
would they call the film simply John Carter
rather than John Carter of Mars? The name
John Carter was a character in the long running TV series ER and was well known, thus people were confused about the film title because it didn’t differentiate between the film’s character and the TV character.
Another problem was the cost of the film.
Though the CGI effects are spectacular and
worth every penny spent on them, the film’s
high cost plus the cost of marketing in addition to the lousy marketing of the film added up to a disaster waiting to happen.
I recently re-read the first novel, The
Princess of Mars and kept popping up the
film to see how it was portrayed in a live
action setting. For the most part, the film
script did follow the plot of the book with
some differences, especially in how the
characters were portrayed and some plot
points to enhance the drama and action.
For instance, in the book The Princes
of Mars, Dejah Thoris, feels like a minor
character in that she’s not involved in
a lot of the action and adventures of John
Carter which is appropriate for a Princess.
However, in the movie, the Princess is a
warrior who takes part in a lot of the action
sequences and is quite good at it as portrayed by actress Lynn Collins. I like the film’s version of the character much better.
Another example, when John Carter
is captured and sent to the area to fight
the white apes, in the book Kantos Kan
(James Purefoy) is with him in the arena,
but in the film it’s Tars Tarkas (William
Defoe) the leader of the Tharks who has
been overthrown by one of his lieutenants,
Tal Hajus (Thomas Haden Church).
Taylor Kitsch, who has apparently been
in a lot of flops, is fine as John Carter. He
is handsome enough, has a great body and
his acting is adequate for the part. In the
book and movie Mars he is called Barsoom.
In any adventure/action movie there
must be a great villain, and Sab Than
(Dominic West) (The Wire, The Affair) is a
great one. He’s the nasty leader of the city
of Zodanga who is out to destroy the city of
Helium by marrying the Princess of Helium,
Dejah Thoris and killing her afterwards. He
goes to great length to pretend he wants
peace between the two cities but his real
intentions are a devious scheme.
The most amazing part of the film for me
is the CGI effect that portrays the Tharks,
the 12-foot green race who have four arms
and a large claw on each side of its face.
The crowd scenes of the Tharks is amazing
to behold with all of them showing perfect
emotions on their faces.
The first meeting of John Carter and
Tars Takas when the Martian mistakes
Carter’s name as Virginia is both funny and
kind of touching.
Another element of the movie I love is
the ongoing sense of humour throughout
that adds to the enjoyment of the film. Not
laugh out loud humour, but witty dialogue
that lightens up the atmosphere from time to
time. Humour is also provided by Woola, the
dog-like creature that follows Carter around.
It’s unfortunate the film was a box office
loser because the end of the film sets up
for a planned sequel, The Gods of Mars, but
dropped. It’s ironic that at the very end of
the film, before end credits they call the film
John Carter of Mars.
I’ve watched the film four times now and
enjoyed it every time, and I’ve made it an
annual event. We were deprived of a series
of films based on John Carter of Mars and
with the current dreary state of movies today,
we’re missing out a lot.