PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

March 9, 2012

‘John Carter’ finally hits theaters

Sean McBride
The Port Arthur News

— I can vividly recall devouring the “John Carter of Mars” books as a pre-teen. I loved the pulpy nature of these science fiction adventures, although I will admit that the pictures of bug-eyed monsters and bikini-clad maidens on the book covers were what probably first caught my attention. I’ve often wondered why Hollywood never turned these classic books into a series of big-budget cinematic adventures.

Walt Disney has finally done just that, and it’s with more than a little nostalgia that I’m happy to announce that the new film captures much of what made the books so special to me in my youth. This is a larger-than-life epic with amazing special effects, some PG-13 flavored action, a little romance and lots of cool Martian monsters. The ten-year-old boy in me was thrilled by the movie. Come to think of it, the moms and dads and scores of kids in the audience also seemed to be having a grand time watching “John Carter.”

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the books, Taylor Kitsch plays John Carter, the Civil War veteran who is magically transported (astral-projected?) to Mars just as the planet is about to tear itself apart in a devastating war. Carter finds that he has superhuman strength thanks to the lesser gravity and atmosphere of Barsoom—the name the locals use for Mars. This comes in handy when Carter rescues the humanoid princess, Dejah Thoris (Lynne Collins) and finds himself fighting alongside a tribe of Tarks. By the way, the Tarks are a race of eight-feet tall, four armed, green Martian warriors and thanks to some top-notch special effects, they are completely realistic in this movie.

All of the monsters are believable, as are the Barsoom landscapes, civilizations and flying machines. I sometimes see movies where I spend half of the time thinking that I’m watching a guy in a rubber suit or some cheesy special effects. That never happened here.  “John Carter” is directed by Andrew Stanton, who is mostly known for his work on the animated movies “Finding Nemo” and “Wall-E.” It’s obvious that Pixar taught him the power of creating a totally believable world that’s filled with memorable imagery.

I do find it interesting that the story feels a bit dated. Edgar Rice Burroughs started writing these tales just over one hundred years ago, so I suppose that’s to be expected. Then again, it’s familiar to us because we’ve seen many of John Carter’s themes in classic science fiction films. George Lucas and James Cameron, for example, freely admit that they found inspiration for “Star Wars” and “Avatar” within the pages of Borroughs’ books.

Ultimately, if you take John Carter’s notable pedigree, add in Stanton’s visual flair plus a better-than-average cast of actors and a superb musical score and you’re left with a crowd-pleasing cinematic winner. It will appeal mostly to younger boys who think that bug-eyed monsters are cool, but if you have even a passing fondness for science fiction fantasies, you should love the old-school adventures of “John Carter.”

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM-TV and KBOI 2-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kboi2.com.