Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Case for My Favourite Martian

John Carter may be based on a book from one hundred years ago, but the special effects of today turn this science fiction tale into an extraordinary visual feast.  The costumes, the landscapes, the craft and the four armed aliens are all beautifully and lovingly rendered, and it's obvious that a lot of money has been spent to make the whole movie look spectacular. And it succeeds.

Pity then, that the story is so damned slow.

John Carter is a retired Confederate soldier accidentally rocketed to Mars, who finds that the planets lower gravity gives him super strength and the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound.  He also finds himself in the middle of an alien civil war.  But somehow all these elements never really gel into something particularly exciting.

It's not the fault of the actors.  John Carter is played with a deep growl and a lack of clothing by Taylor Kitsch, and Princess Dejah Thoris is played by Lynn Collins as a plucky feminist warrior whose only weaknesses are a surrender-monkey father and a soft spot for rock hard abs.  They are a good looking couple for the posters, and both handle the undemanding script pretty well. 

Supporting them ably, Bryan Cranston adds a bit of Malcolm in the Middle humour as a Union commander, while on Mars, quite a few of the actors from the cast of swords, sandals and scandal tele-epic Rome reunite for a markedly more G-rated a romp in what is actually pretty similar territory.  Meanwhile Dominic West from The Wire plays the bad guy Sab Than with a whole lot of camp and another lot of fun, with Mark Strong playing the Sinestro (or just sinister) brains behinds Than's brawn.

No, it's not the actors or the special effects, and not even the story.  It is the pacing, set at a speed not uncomfortable for a snail.  There are big action set pieces that are great, set in beautiful desert locales or on wonderfully retro-futuristic machines, but the bits in between drag.  When I merged from the cinema, I was convinced the film had gone on for around three hours, and was surprised (pleasantly) to find that only two had actually passed.



There were a few people in the audience who laughed at most of the jokes and rolled along with the ride.  I could appreciate the jokes, but the slow meandering through the story meant that I was never really swept along with it - I more just bobbed around in its wake.  Not a bad film, no, but uninspiring, definitely.

Verdict: John Carter is an amazing looking movie, with no expense spared in wardrobe, effects or attention, and the acting is solid if occasionally a bit melodramatic.  A shame then that someone didn't take to the film with a pair of scissors (if that is how one edits these kinds of things these days) and turn this film into something a bit more exciting. 

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