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Film Review: John Carter

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Life on Mars

Disney’s white elephant (or should that be gorilla?) closes with a dedication to mercurial boss and Pixar saviour, Steve Jobs – “an inspiration to us all.” It’s a fitting tribute. John Carter has been created with an emphasis on grand design, it’s eye-wateringly expensive and it doesn’t quite work. Jobs would be proud.

Vultures were circling long before opening weekend. This was cinema’s biggest babe, boasting a 79 year gestation. A painful birth was a given (imagine the tearing!) but long after it had been delivered, the blood and feculence wiped from the print, Disney’s marketing supremoes made a terrible discovery; they didn’t know how to sell it. This is a failure of imagination, rather than the movie’s failure – it’s eminently marketable, as a classic story, as a precursor to Flash Gordon and Star Wars: at last ready to bust blocks thanks to modern technology, but watching it gives you pause; the finished product is grand but anonymous. Could this be what defeated the mad men?

Edgar Rice Burrough’s 1917 novel, A Princess of Mars, a title that had no chance of surviving adaption thanks to Hollywood’s phallocentric bent, is part-western, part-science fiction myth-making spectacular, all adventure. On paper, its blend of fantasy, romance and alien warfare is manna from box office heaven; after all it’s not a formula that did George Lucas any harm; but Stanton’s film doesn’t have the innocence, or indeed the spirit of Lucas’ imitation. How’s that for half a pint of bitter irony?

John Carter’s mythology, though dense, never quite hangs together; it lacks definition. It struggles to cohere, suggesting the ambition defeated the editors as well as the ad men. There’s the sense they’ve hacked away at it, trying to give it a pleasing shape; an impression reinforced by a fleeting appearance from Art Malik, who one assumes did not sign on for a sixty second cameo. If what remains still engages, the leads do not: they’re lunks; soulless archetypes.

Andrew Stanton, a Pixar alumnus, deftly handles the story’s technical challenges, as you’d expect from a man used to big band digital orchestration. This is impressively mounted. His casting choices, however, infer a lack of understanding about the demands of live action characterisation.

Pages: 1 2

Directed by: Andrew Stanton

Country: US

Year: 2012

Running Time: 132 mins

Certificate: 12A for sustained Taylor Kitsch.


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