Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
John Carter
Directed by Andrew Stanton
Written by Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon

John Carter
Principal Cast
Taylor Kitsch -- John Carter
Lynn Collins -- Dejah Thoris
Samantha Morton -- Sola
Willem Dafoe -- Tars Tarkas
Thomas Haden Church -- Tal Hajus
Mark Strong -- Matai Shang
Ciarán Hinds -- Tardos Mors
Dominic West -- Sab Than
James Purefoy -- Kantos Kan
Bryan Cranston -- Powell
Polly Walker -- Sarkoja
Daryl Sabara -- Edgar Rice Burroughs
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rick Klaw

After numerous failed attempts and a dreadful direct-to-video 2009 clunker starring Antonio Sabato, Jr. and Traci Lords, the classic Edgar Rice Burroughs novel, A Princess of Mars, finally arrived on the big screen just in time for the story's centennial. Re-christening the tale John Carter, acclaimed animation director Andrew Stanton (Wall*E, Finding Nemo) in his first live-action endeavor created a lush, yet uneven film that disappointingly turned out to be one of the biggest box office disasters in recent history. The recent blu-ray/DVD release delivers an opportunity for financial redemption.

The story is familiar to fans of the books. To escape hostile Apaches, former Confederate Captain John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) hides in a cave lined with gold. After a violent encounter with a man who suddenly appeared in the cave, Carter awakens on Mars, known to the natives as Barsoom. In the smaller planet's lighter gravity, Carter's strength increases dramatically, and he can leap extraordinary distances. His superhuman abilities catch the attention of the Tharks, a large, fierce race of green-skinned warriors with six limbs. Upon demonstrating his mettle in combat, Carter earns the respect and eventual friendship of Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe), a Thark chieftain. After witnessing an aerial battle, the Tharks capture Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), a member of a humanoid Martian race, from one of the downed ships. Carter follows the woman and gets embroiled in the conflicts of the Red Planet.

Mixed reviews (52% on Rotten Tomatoes and 51 on Metacritic) and a terrible ad campaign doomed the $300 million project. A fate John Carter really did not deserve.

Stanton and cinematographer Dan Mindel effectively use the very Terran landscape of the Utah wilderness to create a magnificent Martian desert vista. Intricate cities and exotic clothing, far more elaborate than imagined by Burroughs, showcase an engaging, if too-familiar alien world. Despite the use of the varying locales, Barsoom seems small; resulting in a provincial feel to what should be an epic conflict.

The film's finest moments center on the amazing depiction of the Tharks and their society. Steering well clear of the tired "green men from Mars" cliché, Stanton and his cohorts deliver an engaging portrayal of these noble, brutal beings with fascinating glimpses into their harsh society. With strength tempered by empathy, Dafoe and Samantha Morton as Sola bring these key characters to life.

The same cannot be said of Kitsch and Collins. Separately, their performances range from adequate to charming. Yet together, they lack the necessary chemistry to connect emotionally, with each other and with the audience. Although the intensity of their connection should shoot sparks from the projector, the romance feels forced, and their cause fails to elicit a suitable degree of sympathy.

Both actors excel in the many, frequent action sequences. Seamlessly merging CGI with live action, these outstanding scenes offer some of John Carter's most exciting moments. As promised in the trailers, the white ape combat, if misplaced, thrills.

Screenwriters Stanton, Mark Andrews, and Michael Chabon successfully incorporated many elements from the 1912 novel. The framing device of a young Edgar Rice Burroughs receiving a manuscript from his presumed dead Uncle John "Jack" Carter, the Apache attack, and Carter's first experiences on Mars are lifted almost directly from Burroughs. Even the dog-like, Disneyesque Woola derives from the original.

The story falters when it deviates from Princess. An unnecessary and convoluted metaphysical contrivance for Carter's journey requires distracting, albeit visually interesting explanation. The underlying cause of the Barsoom conflict feels contrived and simplistic. At the same time, the story focuses far too much attention on the why and the how.

As briefly explored in the cursory documentary extra "100 Years in The Making" (included on both the DVD and blu-ray), elements of A Princess of Mars show up throughout science fiction in every medium. Popular films such as Star Wars and Avatar and iconic characters Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon derive largely from the Martian novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs (eleven books in total chronicling the stories of John Carter and his brethren).

The more interesting and comprehensive "360 Degrees of John Carter" (blu-ray only) showcases the massive efforts beyond the lavish production. The extensive documentary reveals many of the special effect secrets and introduces the barren Utah landscapes used throughout.

The blu-ray includes the much ballyhooed Disney Second Screen technology which enables extras such as production scenes and design sketches to be shown alongside the movie. While an intriguing concept, the technology added little to the enjoyment of these often insightful and beautiful extras. Luckily, they can be seen separately as well.

Stanton dominates all the extras including bloopers, deleted scenes, and audio commentary that round out the blu-ray. Watching him talk gleefully and unabashedly hopeful about John Carter (these commentaries are typically done during the production of the film), lends an air of sadness to the whole proceedings. Poor sap doesn't realize the anguish that is to come.

Copyright © 2012 Rick Klaw

Professional reviewer, geek maven, and optimistic curmudgeon, Rick Klaw has supplied countless reviews, essays, and fiction for a variety of publications including The Austin Chronicle, The San Antonio Current, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Moving Pictures, RevolutionSF, Conversations With Texas Writers, Electric Velocipede, Cross Plains Universe, Steampunk, and The Steampunk Bible. Coming in March 2013 from Tachyon, he is editing The Apes of Wrath, a survey of apes in literature with contributions from Edgar Allan Poe, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Franz Kafka, Gustave Flaubert, Joe R. Lansdale, Pat Murphy, Leigh Kennedy, James P. Blaylock, Clark Ashton Smith, Karen Joy Fowler, Philip José Farmer, Robert E. Howard and others. Klaw can often be found pontificating on Twitter and over at The Geek Curmudgeon.

SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or other stuff worth mentioning, please send it to
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide