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Review – John Carter (2012) by Jamie

John Carter has one of the most troubled histories in all of cinema. It’s long and storied past began all the way back in 1931 when Bob Clampett, a director of Looney Tunes, approached then still alive author Edgar Rice Burroughs with a proposition to turn his book ‘A Princess of Mars’ into an animated feature. Unfortunately test footage of this adaptation proved unfulfilling to a nation and MGM decided to make live action Flash Gordon serials instead. Throughout the decades the rights to the book would pass to Disney and Paramount with each attempt at an adaptation proving unsuccessful until Disney finally began filming in 2010. So yes, nearly 80 years of development hell is quite an achievement.

John Carter’s problems were far from over however. In 2011 Disney lost a lot of money on a film called ‘Mars Needs Moms’ and seemed to decide that the problem with that film was the inclusion of the word Mars in the title never stopping to think that a film titled Unidentified Planet Needs Moms would probably have done even worse. So the originally proposed title for the film John Carter of Mars was truncated to simply John Carter, a title which, if you knew nothing of the history of the project or its source material, would leave you thinking you were going to see a film about a man with a decidedly average name and nothing else. Marketing! The film was finally released in the early spring of 2012 and, according to some reports, lost Disney somewhere in the region of 160 million dollars.

So how was it that a film based on source material that inspired everything from Flash Gordon to Star Wars could be such a massive flop? Let’s take a look.

The story concerns one John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), a former confederate soldier who has taken to prospecting since the end of the civil war. Whilst trying to escape the US cavalry who want a man of his experience to help them fight Apaches, he gets in a fight with a mysterious man with a mysterious medallion and said mysterious medallion whisks him away to a planet that the natives call Barsoom but which we know as Mars. It is a dying planet were disparate city-states (and half the cast of BBC/HBO’s Rome) fight each other for domination. There are the red skinned, human-like cities of Helium and Zodanga, Helium being the good but losing side and the Zodanga the evil but winning side thanks to there Jeddak (leader) Sab Than (Dominic West) mysteriously attaining a powerful weapon. There are also the four-armed, green skinned Tharks led by Jeddak Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe), who I guess are the noble savages who seem to remain as neutral as possible during this civil war. Because it’s an allegory, you see.

On Mars, John Carter has incredible strength and leaping abilities because of his anatomy and the gravitational differences between the two planets and so, whilst really just wanting to get home, he eventually gets embroiled in the conflict when the Princess of Helium (Because apparently they have a special word for king or leader but not Princess) Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) runs away after her father promises her in marriage to Sab Than in an effort to end the war. All the while the progress and outcome of the war is being place by a mystical race of space-faring immortals called the Therns, led by Matai Shang (Mark Strong), who gave Sab Than his mysterious weapon and prevented Helium from discovering the same technology for themselves. Oh, and the whole plot is book ended with the story being told to Edgar Rice Burroughs as he reads his Uncle John Carter’s diary.

As you may be able to see from that synopsis, the plot is a bit bloated and convoluted. I mean it’s not Star Wars prequels with endless scenes of political maneuvering bad but it’s a little flabby around the waist. It seems as though there’s a pretty simple plot in there but it’s overly complicated which work to the films detriment because it seems as though it never really knows who it’s target audience is. There will be moments of comedy involving Carter discovering his amazing leaping abilities or a really fast stubby penis-dog (that is seriously the only way I can describe the character of Woola) or an action scene involving John Carter fighting four-armed, white furred King Kongs in an arena but then there’s also long scenes involving the religion of Mars or the weird technology called the ninth ray. Add these things all together and you get a bit of a disjointed mess that may work well in a book which can take as long as it wants to explain things but in a two hour film you need decide where to trim or your left with things which seem important but are never really satisfactorily explained. To be fair, I’m sure some of the hanging threads in this film would have been explored in sequels but, well, that’s not going to happen now.

Now, I should take a moment here to say that the movie itself isn’t actually terrible. It kept me decently entertained and it looks very, very pretty with some great special effects. The main problem with the film is the source material. As I said earlier, Burroughs’ Mars books have been massively influential on pretty much the entirety of science fiction that came after them. As a result the film seems a bit unoriginal. There’s not much here that we haven’t seem before which is a shame since the books were probably the originator of some of these tropes. We’ve seen an alien out of his element with increased strength and jumping abilities fight to save his adopted planet before. We’ve seen an evil emperor with devastatingly destructive technology before. We’ve seen space princesses, four armed aliens and people fighting for their lives against alien beasts in arenas before. The sad truth is that everything that John Carter sets out to do has been done in film time and time again because the books influenced those very films.

Still, as I say, it’s a decently entertaining film of waste a couple of hours two and perhaps the thing that annoyed me most was the framing device of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Sticking him in there isn’t going to make me believe that the books are an actual history of events that actually took place Disney. It worked with Bilbo writing his story in The Lord of the Rings because it just did for some reason. Weirdly it doesn’t work as well in The Hobbit. Can’t adaptations of books just be that without throwing in all this meta-bullshit? I can’t help but feel as though it’s some kind of reverence for the age of books as we progress further and further into a digital world but the reason Burroughs’ books should be revered is because they’re good and because they influenced an entire genre of humanity’s collected fiction not because they tell a secret history of events that actually transpired.

So John Carter is, in the end, a watchable film that does nothing particularly new but isn’t as stupendously awful as it’s box office failure would have you believe. I honestly think that removing Mars from the title was a reason for it‘s failure because who wants to see a film called John Carter? It could be about an accountant or a mechanic or a tramp or anything.Anyway 2.5 out of 5. Laterz and let’s just hope Disney doesn’t plan on releasing any other space opera films with princesses and warring factions and decide that the sci-fi element isn’t what will sell it… Oh. Damn. Well, I guess we can all look forward to Wars: Episode VII in 2015!

johncarter

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Review: Toy Story 3 by Jamie

Right. This is a spoiler free review.

15 years ago, the first fully CGI animated film was released by Pixar. That film was, of course, Toy Story.. It introduced us to a cast of characters who, despite being made of plastic, had an emotional range equal or greater than many actors who have graced the silver screen. And far, far more emotional range than Keanu Reeves. It was a great film as was the second which came out in 1999. A good time was had by all.

Personally, I was 10 or 11 when the first Toy Story film came out. It’s hard to pin down exactly which because of the great difference in release dates between the UK and the US, especially with Pixar films and especially back then. Still even though I wasn’t exactly a little kid I still kind of grew up with the Toy Story films and, even though I’m always a little cautious with sequels, especially ones with the number three in the title, I was looking forward to Toy Story 3. So was my anticipation rewarded with the kind of joy akin to receiving a Castle Grayskull on Christmas Day or was my hope dashed to pieces like so many ruined LEGO creations?

The answer, of course, is rewarded. Toy Story 3 is seriously the best film to come out this year (Still haven’t seen Inception yet but even that will have to work hard to top this) and admittedly that’s not saying much given the turgid shit that this summer seems to have served us up so let me go one step further. Toy Story 3 is one of the best films this decade… Wait, that doesn’t work either what with this being the first year of the decade… Fuck it, Toy Story 3 is really, really good, alright.

I’m not gonna do one of my normal, long winded synopsises because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. Everyone should see this film and they should see it knowing as little as possible about it. So I’ll just summarise a few things that everyone should probably already know. It’s a good few years after Toy Story 2 and Andy is 17 and is getting ready to leave for college. In the confusion of his packing, moving things to the attic and moving other things to the trash, his old toys get donated to a local daycare. They find life isn’t as awesome there as they might have hoped and so they decide to try and escape and make their way back to Andy.

There, synopsis over. Let’s get to the substance. There is so much going on in this film and yet it plays out in a beautifully simple way. It touches on themes of loyalty, love, friendship, family and learning to let go and it all seems as though Pixar where taking a massive risk taking the franchise in this direction. They could have done another film set when Andy is young and it all would have been very safe and familiar and I think the first idea for this film would have been like that with some kind of recall for Buzz Lightyear figures put into effect or something. Thankfully someone came up with this idea and thankfully Pixar doesn’t shy away from risks.

Perhaps first and foremost on the importance block is the fact that the film was funny. I mean really funny. There were scenes were the whole cinema was filled with raucous laughter, in particular a certain situation involving Mr. Potato Head and when Buzz is accidentally set to a Spanish mode (Don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler, it was in the trailer.

Still, the character with the most consistently funny scenes is Ken (Michael Keaton) who I was surprised was actually in the film as much as he is. I remember seeing the clip of him and Barbie meeting in either a trailer or a preview clip online and thought that would be it, he would be there for that one joke. Thankfully he’s not and he is awesome. He is ridiculously camp, obsessed with fashion and just basically seems to have the kind of personality that a male toy from a girls toy line would probably have.

The villain of the piece shows up in the cuddly bear form of Lotso (Ned Beatty) a toy who certainly has some issues with abandonment. He is aided in his dominance of the Daycare by Big Baby, a baby doll who appears in one of the creepiest and bizarre moments of the films. I won’t give it away but I’ll just say it involves a swing and it is awesome.

Speaking of terrifying, Jesus fucking Christ, one of those creepy fucking cymbal monkeys is in here as well, his unblinking eye always watching for any escapees, his cymbals and horrible monkey screeches acting as an alarm. He also posses one of those rictus grins that those little bastards always have. Ugh, but still awesome.

Speaking even more of terrifying, there is a scene near the end that is actually pretty goddamn horrific considering the film is a U. But it is also this scene which has perhaps the second most heart-wrenching moment in the entire film, just watching the toys come together as a family and the way that they deal with what is about to happen to them. I have no shame in saying that I was crying at that moment and also genuinely scared for the characters.

The biggest heart-wrenching moment is, however, the ending. Seriously if you don’t cry during that scene then you are an inhuman monster, devoid of emotion, incapable of empathy and we should probably lock you away before we find a bunch of dead hookers buried under the patio in your garden. You sicken me.

Hmm, I don’t like this whole writing without spoilers thing. It constrains me too much. Still, you honestly just have to see this and I would hate myself if I ruined any of it for you.

Now, is there anything really that bad to say about the film? Well, not much actually. There is the occasional bit where the film seems to drag on a little but these moments are few and far between and quickly forgotten when things get going again. There’s also the feeling that some of the plots threads are recycled from the previous two films and the idea of a prison break style plot isn’t exactly massively original but it all seems easily forgivable given what the filmmakers do with everything they have at their disposal.

So to summarise, Toy Story 3 will make you laugh. It will make you cry. It will make you nostalgic for your own childhood and your own toys. It has references to Jurassic Park, Cool Hand Luke and the original Toy Story with a cameo from Sid. Hell, it even has Timothy Dalton playing a thespian stuffed hedgehog.

Most importantly it is the ending to a great trilogy of films (Hopefully at least. The biggest mistake Pixar could make is deciding to green light a Toy Story 4), a trilogy 15 years in the making. For many of us that’s a substantial part of our lives, certainly over half of mine. We’ve travelled along way and for a long time with these characters, we’ve seen them lose their way and redeem themselves. We’ve seen them grow closer as friends and as a family. Finally we’ve seen the end of their story and, even though they are only toys, it’s one of the most emotional and human endings to any film series I have ever seen. Five pints out of five. Laterz.




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