Film Review: John Carter

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Life on Mars

Audiences readily accept archetypal characters in animated movies because the entire spectacle has an inhuman dimension. In the cartoon world the look and movement of the character papers over practical deficiencies, for example, the limitations imposed on a protagonist effectively constituted by vocal performance alone, the difficulty in replicating the nuances of human facial expression, the fact that many animated characters are anthropomorphised animals or inanimate objects; in other words, toons are imbued with characteristics that act as shorthand for the whole; there’s no expectation that a piece of talking furniture or an animated Aladdin should be fully rounded. In live action cinema however, audiences expect human actors to bring something extra; a second and third dimension. The casting of Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins, seen in this light, is a self-inflicted wound.

The relationship between Kitsch and Collins is the heart of the film, but it’s beyond us to invest anything in a rasping hero with no personality. Like, it seems, attracts like. Collin’s princess insists on speaking in stilted, fantasy movie clichés, including an irritating propensity toward addressing our hero by his full name. Who could root for these two? They’re dead from the neck up.

One could forgive the backstory’s occasional impenetrability and the paucity of action (less than you might imagine in a film of this length and scope), if it were possible to care about those leads, but Stanton asks the impossible; an audience doesn’t project as easily onto live action characters, they expect them to have an inner life, or at the very least a hint of the same.

Despite that handicap, it’s not a total write off, at least not creatively. The action flits between the machinations of the green and red Martian tribes without getting mired in exposition, while the Barsoom landscapes and the creatures that populate them are sumptuously realised; enough to fuck the eye, even if the brain sometimes has to struggle to forge connections between characters and events. Consequently it’s a better movie than any of Lucas’ execrable Star Wars prequels or Cameron’s stick-thin Avatar, but its Michael Giacchino’s score that ultimately tells John Carter’s story. His orchestral stylings evoke the blockbusters of yesteryear, while lacking definition and discernible melody; he fails to transcend the generic. Film and soundtrack are harmonious.

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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