Walt Disney's latest sci-fi adventure film, John Carter, is based on "The Princess of Mars", the first in an eleven volume series written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, about the trials and tribulations of John Carter of Mars, a Confederate Army Captain who is mysteriously transported to Mars (or Barsoom as the natives call the red planet) and forced to fight for not only his life, but the life of the entire planet. This year marks the centennial of the book's original publication, so I suppose this is as good a time as any to release a movie on the subject. Apparently though, while in production, the so-called genius marketing gurus at Disney found out, through agonizingly painstaking demographic research, that people are less likely to see a movie with Mars in the title than one without. Now this probably has less to do with Mars itself than with the inability to make a good movie about the damned planet. Though I stand behind both Robinson Crusoe of Mars and, believe it or not, Mars Attacks!, I think Mission to Mars and Ghosts of Mars should be enough relatively recent activity to authenticate such a theory. But I digress.
So, with Mars successfully out of the title, let us look at the movie itself. The film, directed by first time live action director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, WALL-E), has been getting a lot of critical flack in the weeks before its release, but I really do not see anything majorly wrong with the film. Sure, it has its cheezy, quite kitschy elements, but how could a film set on Mars (or Barsoom if you will) and featuring seven and a half feet tall green men with horns and four arms apiece, not be as kitschy as it is? So kitschy in fact that they cast a man named Taylor Kitsch to play the titular man of Mars. Kitsch, who incidentally was the man who made this comic book head from long ago quite angry with his quite lame portrayal of Gambit in the all-around quite lame X-Men Origins: Wolverine, gives a gusto-filled performance that is good enough for such a genre as this. Add to this the sexy warrior princess of the original book's title, played with her own certain gusto (of the ooh la la variety) by Lynn Collins of True Blood, and the aforementioned not-so-jolly green giants (voiced by, among others, Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton and Thomas Haden Church), and you have yourself a solid, if not more than a bit kitschy, sci-fi adventure film.
It obviously would be quite ridiculous to call a picture that cost upwards of $250 Million a B-Picture, but nonetheless, style-wise that is exactly what John Carter (with or with Mars attached) is. With an aesthetic that reminds one of those cheesy Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers serials of yesteryear (thanks to CGI, no strings attached when it comes to special effects), as well as having an effect on Star Wars (Lucas names Edgar Rice as a big influence), John Carter is the epitome of the B-Pic mentality, and taking it in this manner, instead of the apparent seriousness some of my fellow critical compatriots have taken it, one cannot help but become enthralled with its wild and crazy goings-on. Though it costs more (and shows it) John Carter closes relative seems to be the 1980 camp cult classic version of Flash Gordon. From its reluctant Earth- born hero to its warring factions to its crazed native populations to its hot battle-ready princess to its maniacal despot to its last minute dreaded wedding rescue finale, one cannot help but see the abundant similarities, and this too highlights its kitschy camp qualities. Sure, this may not be a great action epic that will go down in the annals of film history, but for what it's worth, it is quite an enjoyable picture indeed.