John Carter: Idiots Need Not Apply

March 20th, 2012 by Max Allan Collins

I’d like to offer a few words about the movie JOHN CARTER – basically, that it’s terrific. The reviewers (whether print or blogosphere) who have savaged this film – particularly those who have gleefully pronounced it a fiasco of HEAVEN’S GATE proportions – are…what is the word I’m looking for? Idiots.

Nate and his girl friend Abby – both in their twenties, and Barb and I, neither in our twenties, none of us idiots – loved this film. For anyone who grew up on the Mars novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Pixar director Andrew Stanton has conjured almost literally a dream come true – the characters that previously lived only in the shared imagination of author and reader are alive on screen. We encounter strange, fully delineated creatures and cultures, sometimes humorous, other times horrific, in this heartfelt piece of filmmaking. Epic and intimate, JOHN CARTER is faithful to its influential source material, and despite what you’ve heard, not at all hard to follow…again, unless you’re an idiot.

The Western section alone, with Bryan Cranston as a Custer-style general, is as entertaining an action film as I’ve seen in ages – the introduction of Carter himself, through a series of quickly cut scenes of comically escalating violence, is masterful storytelling. It’s true that between action scenes the characters occasionally talk – an outrageous notion, I realize. Some have said that Carter’s heroic powers (driven by the variant gravity of Mars) are nothing special – after all, they are basically Superman’s…created by Burroughs decades before science-fiction fans Siegel and Shuster, bless ‘em, came up with the guy in the red cape.

Overall, JOHN CARTER possesses a haunting quality that combines the desert spectacle of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA with the fantasy romance of TIME AFTER TIME, even as it reminds us that its classic source inspired such pop culture touchstones as FLASH GORDON, STAR WARS and DUNE.

Some have found the unfortunately named Taylor Kitsch a stiff as John Carter. I found him charismatic and compelling, and would let the guy play Nate Heller any day of the week. Lynn Collins, as Princess Dejah Thoris, is a striking, full-bodied woman who is well up to her swashbuckling task; and she could play Ms. Tree any day of the week. Also, I am fine with any movie that has the sense to cast both Julius Caesar (Ciaran Hinds) and Mark Anthony (James Purefoy) from HBO’s Rome in the same epic picture.

I would imagine that most fans of Burroughs (and his Barsoom and Tarzan) will be in this film’s pocket the moment they realize that Burroughs himself is a major character. As an author, I am thrilled to see a one-hundred year-old novel becoming the source for a big budget 21st Century film. Do not miss this one. Unless, of course, you’re an idiot.

* * *

The first review of LADY GO, DIE! has appeared, and it’s a fine one, from that terrific crime writer, Tom Piccirilli.

Thanks to the Amazon reprints and e-books, TRUE DETECTIVE is getting attention all over again.

And Ennis Willie’s second Sand two-fer, SAND’S WAR, for which I wrote an introduction, got a swell write-up from the always interesting Bookgasm.

See you next week, probably with an inside look at the writing of the currently in progress ANTIQUES CHOP.


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15 Responses to “John Carter: Idiots Need Not Apply”

  1. I haven’t seen the film yet(my health forces me to wait for the DVD), but I look forward to it. I have a nephew that just started college and his mother, my niece, used to call him “another you” because he was one to have a book with him at all times. I tried to introduce him to some of the classics(a set of Heinlein juveniles one Christmas, a set of the Mars books another) and he swears he read them. Not sure he did. He had his own authors that gave him a love of reading and maybe that’s the way it should be. We each must find our own way.

  2. JSweet says:

    Thanks for the alternative perspective. Fan of the books and was excited about the movie until I saw the commercials — which made me think “They screwed it up.” Combine that with the horrible reviews and I decided to pass. Your review sounds like a totally different movie — and one I’d like to see. Perhaps if it had been more like the mindless action pic the commercials make it look like, it would be doing better? But you’ve convinced me to check it out — at least on DVD.

  3. tonyw says:

    Dear former ACL colleague, I wholeheartedly agree with you. It is the best film I’ve seen for some time, a work of good craftmanship. Michael Moorcock has seen it three times and the Manchester Science Fiction Fantasy Group in the UK love it. Please continue your championship of this unjustly neglected film.

  4. writerdude says:

    I plan to see it. From the trailers it looks as if they’ve captured EXACTLY what’s in the Burroughs books. All the bullshit that gets praised and then they dump on this.

  5. Edmond D. Smith says:

    I’m with you on John Carter, Max. I saw it with my 25 year old nephew last night. We both thought it was great. Whatever the reasons for its financial failure it isn’t because it’s a “dud”. Sad to see that there won’t be any sequels.

  6. […] Max Allan Collins had this to say about the movie on his blog: We encounter strange, fully delineated creatures and cultures, sometimes humorous, other times […]

  7. I’m very pleased that this rare movie review on my blog has been so warmly received, especially since I was fairly beligerent about anyone who might disagree with me. But the crap heaped upon this film really outraged me, and still does.

  8. Peter David says:

    I second the opinion of the representative from Jasoom. The first time I saw the film, I was actually tearing up slightly at the end because the ten year old inner me was sobbing with joy over seeing some of his oldest friends treated so well on the big screen. I went a second time with my nine year old daughter who, at the end, asked whatever happened to Sola’s mother, and I was able to hand her the graphic novel prequel that I’d written for Marvel. I’m heading out to see it a third time this afternoon because, even though I probably don’t need to, I’m interested to see it in 3D.

  9. DaveZ says:

    Max, when I was a teenager, the pulp authors that were in vogue were Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft, so I never read any Burroughs or knew anything about the Barsoom novels (although that will be changing soon). So I had no real expectations going into this movie. I loved it. A very intelligent, inventive, yet emotionally strong (and very clever) action film. I probably enjoyed this as much as any sci-fi/fantasy film since Blade Runner. But I can tell you why it failed at the box office–awful commercials where they had no idea how to promote the movie, and worse, seem to be running away from letting moviegoers know this was based on Edgar Rice Burroughs novels. The commercials made this movie look like a mess, and if the commercials/promotions were 1/10th as good as the movie, this would’ve been a hit.

  10. It’s really gratifying to have all of these great comments to my defense of JOHN CARTER. And a special treat to have my old pal Peter David stop by.

  11. Diegomom50 says:

    Just found your article through a group of John Carter Lovers called Back to Barsoom. I went to see John Carter when it came out at the IMAX, not knowing what it was about. Not a clue. Didn’t know who Edgar Rice Burroughs was, never heard of John Carter. The music by Michael Giacchino swept me away and I soon found myself in Barsoom. I have seen it 13 rimes and I am anxiously awaiting the DVD release on June 5, 2012. I am now reading the books Princess of Mars, Gods of Mars and Warlord of Mars. I am a converted fan thanks to this movie. I am so lucky I got to see this wonderful film in the IMAX. It took my breath away.

  12. Maegan says:

    Oh, I am always to glad to see a positive reaction to John Carter. I’m baffled by all the negative critics – they must have no imagination. I too was swept away by this movie. It felt new and familiar at the same time, like someone took all the best elements from my favorite sci-fi and fantasy movies as a kid and blended them together seamlessly. Every time I watch it, I notice something new. John Carter has something for everyone, both sexes and all ages. Several of my girlfriends, my mom, and my aunt also loved it. I have since started reading the books. I sure hope Disney, or someone, decides to make more movies in this series, and I know I’m not the only one. There’s a facebook group 8500 strong: Take Me Back to Barsoom – I Want John Carter to Have a Sequel!

  13. Joe Adams says:

    I think the negative critics are same ones who loved the Twilight films and anything with explosions. I pre-ordered the DVD through Amazon and hope it will be in the mail in the next two weeks. I went to a midnight preview and there were only two other people in the theater … actually a pretty good way to watch a movie. I think they have what they need to do the major series … Books 1-6. And I would be in the theater for every one of them, assuming I live that long. (But I would hope they would do Gods and Warlord together, since it is really one story.)

  14. I am gratified that my column on John Carter continues to be read and appreciated. I love that film. But anybody who thinks there will be sequels don’t understand how Hollywood works….