Friday, March 9, 2012

John Carter - The Death of a Thousand Lines

The tides of the thousand year Martian war shift when an earth man lands Mars in the western space fantasy John Carter. Gorgeous, but daft and rambling, John Carter can only hope to satisfy the most shallow and vapid of audiences.

Former Confederate soldier John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) accidentally comes across a portal to Mars while looking for a cave of gold. Once in Mars, the effects of the gravity and atmosphere differences on him make him extremely valuable to the warring factions on the planet. There is a pretty girl who captures his interest, there are priest-like characters called Therns who try to keep the people of Mars down using religion, and evil bad guys who do bad things in the name of religion.

I suspect the story was kept fast-moving and puddle-deep because the themes are potentially offensive to theists and other people who reject rational thought. The story is moved primarily by what the Therns allow or force to occur and what the people of Mars allow to happen because of submission to mythical thinking instead of critical thought.

It could have been a powerful and important commentary on the crises caused by religion and a refusal to employ reason on our own planet. Today a refusal to critically examine beliefs has lead to the justification of the coverup and systematic rape of children all over the world, global warming deniers, those who would deny women access to contraceptives, conspiracy theories, vaccine hysteria, the spread of HIV/AIDS because of intentional misinformation about condoms, the oppression in women, the hunting of albinos, killing people for being witches, necklacing, non-consensual genital mutilation of children, and slowed advances in stem cell research to name a few. Actually, pointing this stuff out literally does not seem to be working, we need a movie that can stab at the heart of irrational thinking. John Carter is not that movie.

Even though it is obvious the writers were trying to cover that ground, they breeze by it so quickly, it has no chance to sink in. It is basically a side note to a war movie. In fact, everything that is not blowing up or killing something is basically a paper cut on the film – insignificant irritation. There are so many themes that the film breezes through that by the end it feels like no part of the film is free to watch without fear of injury.

The heroine and love interest Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) is beautiful, bad-ass, and brilliant. She could be considered a role model for girls, but every other line of her dialogue made me want to kill myself. One second she is capable of making an unprecedented scientific discovery, the next second she speaks like a thirteen year old cheerleader who was just waking up to Justin Beiber giving her CPR after having a jar of chloroform dumped over her head. It was not limited to Dejah though. All of the characters seem utterly incapable of going five minutes without speaking a line that made the audience laugh.

The actors are not to blame for the cringe-inducing moments. There were no award winning performances but the actors were convincing enough that to make the film a comfortable watch had the writing not been so awful.

The writers were not the only ones guilty of crimes against cinema, the director, Andrew Stanton, needs to brought up on charges too. Much of the film is a direct rip off of other film sources, including the sounds that some of the ships make.

I think most of the budget for John Carter went to the special effects and wow – the sparkle. It was not flawless, but there was something magical about the way John Carter looked. The costumes were captivating and interesting; except for the Dejah’s jewelery, which looked cheap and I am convinced was assembled by 3rd graders. The war scenes were fun to watch. Oh how I wish it were a silent film.

John Carter lacks heart, depth, feeling, and meaning. What it provides in abundance are stunning visuals, undeveloped themes, intellectually insulting dialogue, pointless fight scenes, killing, plot points that must be accepted without question or explanation, and opportunities to place the back of one’s hand on the forehead and tilt the head back without a smidgen of irony.

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