In fact, there are quite a few changes made from the book that I appreciate. As I understand it, Carter was sent off to Mars in the books by some vague form of astral projection, whereas the movie gets him there by letting him find an alien device in the right place at the right time. Much easier to grasp, and it seems more plausible in its execution.
The character development was also exceptional, and I loved the updates everyone received. Everyone feels more…well, human. Dejah Thoris, a beautiful princess and Carter’s eventual love interest, is now also an accomplished scientist and a talented warrior. Actress Lynn Collins brings the princess to life and makes the character entirely her own, showing her as a strong and dedicated woman with heartfelt moments of vulnerability. Taylor Kitsch plays Carter with restraint and dark charisma. He is the loner who believes in more than he thinks he does, a man who wants to make up for past mistakes and find a higher cause than gold prospecting. Willem Dafoe excels as the voice actor for Tars Tarkas, a green Martian warrior who is by turns enthusiastic, desperate, funny, and committed to protecting the people he cares for.
And I was fascinated with their decision to have Carter tell his story to a fictional version of young Edgar Rice Burroughs, thereby inspiring him to become a writer and giving Burroughs an intriguing role in the story’s climax. Given the changes made to the storyline of A Princess of Mars and integrating elements from the next book, The Gods of Mars, Burroughs’s presence in the story actually works by tying together what could easily have been a lackluster, uninspiring resolution.
A note to fans of the books: though I loved the film’s changes, I mean no disrespect to Mr. Burroughs. Like Tarzan, his most popular work, his Martian story is still one of the must-read works of fiction from the early 20th century. And another of his books, The Land that Time Forgot, helped inspire me to become a writer. I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today without Edgar Rice Burroughs.
What shocked me most was the emotional involvement I had toward the story unfolding onscreen. When we discover Carter’s tragic past and see him resolve to protect others, or see Dejah on the edge of tears with no idea of what she should do to save her people, it struck me in a way I never expected. Other movies with deep characters have impressed me, but I am still in the early stages of learning how to involve myself in their lives. Normally, I still watch those people struggle through the story from on high, removed but curious, like a kid watching someone else fry ants with a magnifying glass.
By the time this movie finished, John Carter and Dejah Thoris were my friends. I was with them, on Mars, feeling what they felt. I still can’t explain how it happened, and it is probably just me who felt that sort of connection. All I know is that John Carter had me caring for these two people as surely as if they were family.
The supporting cast is extremely talented, even if some of them don’t get enough material — Bryan Cranston, Ciaran Hinds, Dominic West, Thomas Hayden Church, Mark Strong, and many others help show the unfathomable talent and love that went into producing this movie.
When it comes to spectacle, the special effects and musical score are unparalleled. CGI and the emotionally potent music are used to supplement the story and enhance its epic scope, instead of distracting from some inherent emptiness.
Does the movie have its flaws? Sure, but I hardly noticed them. Yes, the adventures of Carter are often “silly,” and it hardly ever gets its science right. That’s not the point. I don’t see how these complaints should be brought up again, when the movie (like the book) is meant to give us adventure and wonder, and stoke the fires of imagination. In my honest opinion, it is one of the best answers we have ever gotten to that favorite question of science fiction and fantasy writers: “What if?”