“John Carter” Review, Part 1

Many people love to gripe, bemoan, scoff, whine, and otherwise complain about the state of Hollywood. And they have good reason. Superfluous reboots and unneeded sequels give the movie industry the vibe of a broken record, special effects and marketing campaigns repeatedly supplant great storytelling, and audiences are increasingly jaded and cynical.

Then there is the rare film that obliterates your pessimism. A diamond among the veins of common rock. A film that effortlessly draws you in and shows that all is not lost, a film that “gets it right” — you feel that the movie lived up to its full potential and deserves to be treasured. You sense that it will be a part of you until the day you die.

As far as I’m concerned, John Carter has accomplished that. I cannot remember the last time a movie captured my imagination so completely, or tugged so hard on my emotions, or left me with such an overpowering sense of triumph and optimism. True, it wasn’t very successful when it came out earlier this year. But neither were Firefly and Serenity. That Disney bungled the marketing and critics sneered at “another silly adventure film” shouldn’t matter. This film deserves to be given a chance.

You might know the story by now, but just in case: the movie is based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’s John Carter of Mars novels, works of pulp science fiction that have ignited the imaginations of just about everyone from Steven Spielberg and Frank Frazetta to Arthur C. Clarke and Carl Sagan. The film revolves around a Civil War veteran who avoids human contact and prospects for gold, to try and forget a heartbreaking tragedy in his past. When he encounters an otherworldly being inside a cave, he is accidentally transported to the planet Mars, finding other humans, tall aliens, and all manner of high-stakes adventures.

This is not only the Mars of Burroughs, but of Percival Lowell and H.G. Wells and Ray Bradbury, the romanticized Mars everyone wishes we discovered in the space age, with elegant civilizations that cling to life on a dying planet. John Carter arrives as a fish out of water who becomes a hero to these people, in the process regaining his humanity and a cause to fight for.

When I finally got a chance to watch this film, I knew that it was something special. This isn’t just two hours of entertainment; it’s a blessing. Unpretentious, charming, full of genuine thrills and sympathetic characters, and timeless in the best way possible. Only Jurassic Park and The Lord of the Rings have had a similar effect on me. Having only read partway through Burroughs’s first novel (A Princess of Mars), I can’t yet say how it stacks up against the source material, but this is one movie I know will stick with me for the rest of my life.

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