The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

How John Carter could have been saved

with 30 comments

John Carter. How much didn’t I want to love you?

I watched it in the biggest theatre of my city, the one that is reserved for premier weeks, blockbusters and movies for children. This was the fifth night it was running and the theatre was shockingly empty, reminding me of the deserted restaurants I had seen in Athens in the weekend.

In Greece it was lack of money that kept people from going. Here there were other forces at play. Not many people in Sweden have ever heard of John Carter. And like elsewhere, the reviews have been less than favourable.

But here we were – a handful of enthusiasts who didn’t care. I had had enough of criticism and ridicule.

What did they know anyway? What did they expect? Pulp fiction from a hundred years ago is supposed to be a little bit corny, more imaginative than believable! That’s what makes it so charming. Those people were bashing on John Carter out of ignorance. They probably just didn’t understand. At least that’s what I told myself.

It was time for a reversed backlash for this movie. The tide was going to turn and I was going to stand in the frontline and make it happen.

My heart reached out to the director Andrew Stanton. After listening to two interviews with him, it stood clear to me that he was a true fan, a friend of John Carter’s. He was the geek who talked Disney into doing this. It was a dream coming true. He had spent his childhood making drawings inspired by the book series. Andrew Stanton wasn’t a clueless and greedy schmuck looking for stealing our money; he was one of us. A geek. Or at least that was what his answers in the interviews had led me to believe.

I went to see John Carter with the best possible intentions, a smile on my face, convinced that I was going to see something that all those critics didn’t see; that they were just ignorant and snobbish. I had read and loved the books in my youth. I had seen the light. And now I was going to bring it to the world.

I wanted to love John Carter, but I failed miserably.

The problems
I’m a little bit reluctant to talk about the problems with it, because so many others have done it already. But I guess I should give a few reasons for why I couldn’t take it to my heart.

One major issue is the script, which reminded me a bit of the adaptation of Tintin last year. It’s messy to say the least. There isn’t much of a story to engage in; apart from the parts that take place on Earth, it’s basically a bunch of battle scenes loosely glued together. And for all the action, it’s strangely boring. I caught myself several times being on the verge of falling asleep.

But the biggest problem isn’t the script. It’s the 3D.

When there is an option between 3D and normal, I always go for the normal format. This means that I’ve watched very few movies in 3D. In the case of John Carter there were no options. I had to watch it with glasses or not at all.

I was completely shocked at how bad the 3D was. Is this how it looks? Really?

I always imagined the idea was to make the movie feel more real and believable, but this was exactly the opposite.  The 3D made people look like old-fashioned paper dolls acting in front of a screen in the background.  It looked just as terrible and unrealistic as an inside shot from a car in a movie from the 60s. And it didn’t get better by the subtitles, huge rows of letters that hovered in the air in front of everything.

This made me quite worried, thinking about that the movie I’m looking forward to most this year, The Hobbit, will be shot in 3D. Please, please, tell me there are different 3Ds! If The Hobbit is going to look anything like this, it will break my heart.

There’s a lot more to say about the treatment they’ve given the source material. While the books obviously are dated, I find the efforts to update them quite misguided. I don’t think it’s a good idea to put a sword in the hands of Dejah Thoris to make her appear more like a modern woman. She isn’t anyway. She’s was always there to be desired, admired and rescued from various villains. And I don’t think it’s a good idea to bring in those aliens who look as if they’ve escaped from a Star Trek recording and to let John Carter do his space travelling with devices instead of with thought power. I’m a huge Star Trek fan but it just doesn’t fit.

90 years too late
I could go on and on but what’s the point of rubbing salt into the wounds?

I think John Carter was made about 90 years too late. But since time travelling isn’t possible, I have another idea.

Imagine if the makers of this movie accidentally had bumped into the makers of The Artist. Imagine if they’d gotten into a conversation and something had clicked.

“We think people are in the mood for nostalgia so we’re making a silent film.”

“We’re on the nostalgic line as well, so we’re making a movie about an action hero from a hundred years ago.”



“Why don’t we make a joint effort?”

“Yeah, why don’t we?”

John Carter in black and white, John Carter as a silent film. Wouldn’t that have been quite something?

John Carter (Andrew Stanton, US 2012) My rating: 2/5

Written by Jessica

March 15, 2012 at 7:53 am

30 Responses

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  1. I don’t think you need to worry about the 3D in The Hobbit. John Carter was not shot in 3D. It was post-converted against the wishes of the director. The Hobbit was shot in 3D on brand new cameras, with new systems specially built, and it was shot at 48fps with the intention of being projected that way, which will hopefully make the 3D effect much easier on the eyes.

    Corey Atad

    March 15, 2012 at 8:13 am

    • What a bummer for the director. After listening to him I really think he would have wanted to make a different movie. This is so full of company compromises and that’s what made it so dull and bloated.
      I’m glad to hear that there are different sorts of 3D and that The Hobbit might be way better in this aspect.


      March 15, 2012 at 9:15 am

  2. Despite actually being impressed by the 3D in the last pirates film I gave this a miss because it’s full of fast / big action and the format can’t keep up with that. Best use of 3D I’ve seen is in films like Jackass 3D and Piranha 3D, where it’s a pointy gimmick. I was disappointed by films like Avatar because they just cut things out and place them ‘on top’ of the background – what your description of this sounds like. Pirates 4 was really subtle, and had loads of depth, which I was surprised by.

    Your idea about John Carter being made to look like an old pic is fantastic, and would save a lot of the problems I had with the unexplained ‘science’ behind it all (given how much more is common knowledge today).

    I think the score was my favourite part of the movie, and that wouldn’t even need to change in the B&W version!

    Paragraph Film Reviews

    March 15, 2012 at 8:36 am

    • The score was very oldfashioned and something I took notice of a lot. I really wouldn’t have minded to keep it in my imagined black-and-white version. It would have fit perfectly.


      March 15, 2012 at 9:17 am

  3. ah well, I guess I am on my own for liking this film 😦

    • I’m afraid so. 😦
      I’m really a fan of John Carter and I did my best. I hope I brought some kind of nuance to the discussion.


      March 15, 2012 at 10:06 am

    • No, a lot of people do like it. They just don’t post at this forum. I enjoyed it a lot anyway, and so do the 5,600 some people on the “Take Me Back To Barsoom” Facebook group. I realize it wasn’t a perfect film. And I’ve seen it multiple times now, and I can see the plot holes. But I was never once bored or confused. I thought the acting was good, and Lynn Collins as Dejah captivated me.

      I could concede that it is not a masterpiece, but it is a far superior film to many of the blockbusters that have done well in the recent past. There was no reason it should have failed so badly at the box office.


      March 26, 2012 at 5:25 am

      • I’m glad to hear there is such a group. Again: I don’t want to pick on JC. I like the silliness and imagination of the story. I just think it’s a hard one to make a movie of in these days.


        March 26, 2012 at 7:40 am

  4. Still going to check this out, despite all the negativity and bad reviews. Would rather see it in 2D, but over here there is no option either to see it like that. Hopefully will be able to report soon what I thought of it 🙂


    March 15, 2012 at 10:15 am

    • You should definitely check it out for yourself. No bad review could have kept me from going.
      I was so bummed over the 3D. I actually tried to watch wtihout the glasses now and then. In some scenes you could do it (I have no idea about the tech side of it, but for some reason it worked). It was just the subtitles that looked blurred and I don’t need them anyway. And the film looked so much better! I’m pretty certain I would have given it a higher grade had it been in 2D.


      March 15, 2012 at 10:25 am

  5. Good review Jessica. Kitsch could have definitely been a little bit more charismatic but the flick still works due to amazing special effects and some really fun and exciting action. Sad thing is that this flick was made for $250 million and won’t make any of it back.


    March 15, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    • I tried not to go into the money side of it, following my promise from the other day. But I have to admit that the 3D really didn’t do any service to the special effect department. It made it look way cheaper than it was. I hope I didn’t come across as quite as negative as many of the reviews.


      March 15, 2012 at 3:59 pm

  6. A very good and nuanced review. Maybe that would have been too obvious, but it might have been better if they had gone in the other direction and given the whole movie a pulp-y look instead of going CGI- and 3D-bananas? As for the script, aren’t at least the first book (the only one I’ve read) just that: a bunch of battle scenes loosely glued together? I think it would have taken a quite talented writer to adapt it. I wonder what Sorkin would have done with it? 😉


    March 16, 2012 at 6:15 am

    • Thanks! Well I actually re-read A Princess of Mars shortly before watching the movie and it’s more than just fighting scenes glued on each other. For instance they’ve left out a lot of the culture shock, how he’s slowly adapting to the culture, learning the language etc. Sola’s story, which is quite touching in the book, is more or less left out and the revelation about her being daughter to Tars Tarkas is pretty pointless. I think they mixed in a few books to many in this soup. Sticking closer to the original story would have been a better choice imo – provided they had managed to make it feel old and pulpy, for instance by making it in black and white. But it’s a pretty different approach to the material than this was.


      March 16, 2012 at 7:37 am

      • Ah, point taken. Since I thought the whole cultural thing became way too descriptive in the book, I have apparently managed to erase taht from my memory 😉


        March 19, 2012 at 8:41 pm

        • After reading about half of the book, I can agree in that it feels pretty strange to see Deja Thoris hefting a sword. Especially since they have so thoroughly retained all her other…assets 😉


          June 10, 2012 at 11:33 am

          • I look forward to see what you make of it when you’re through.


            June 10, 2012 at 12:09 pm

  7. The books story line and characters were completely different, from Tars Tarkas to John Carter. This could have been a great movie like Lord of the Rings if they would of stuck to the original story and developed those characters over a couple movies. Disappointed in the movie.

    Love ERB

    March 18, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    • Yes, frankly I can’t see the need to mess it up the way they did. Alright, I can see that you might not want to take the first novel straight off and make a movie that followed it slavishly. But I think staying a bit closer, not bringing in so many elements, focusing more on his getting to know the culture, language and persons, would have been better. But again: I’m not a screenwriter, just a fan. I probably don’t know what works as a screenplay…


      March 18, 2012 at 6:18 pm

  8. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to put a sword in the hands of Dejah Thoris to make her appear more like a modern woman.”

    What an odd complaint. How many modern women do you see running around with swords?

    The Dejah Thoris of the novels was not averse to taking up arms if the need arose, fully capable of defining herself.

    Phillip Lozano

    March 18, 2012 at 8:55 pm

    • *defending herself*, ahem.

      Phillip Lozano

      March 18, 2012 at 8:55 pm

      • Actually I run around with swords! Admittedly not in the streets though. (I’m a practitioner of iaido, Japanese swords art). As far as Dejah Thoris is concerned my memory might trick me, but I don’t remember her as particularly much of a fighter. Not to the extent that she was in the movie. But of course it might be something going on in later novels (I think I read about five or so). Just before watching the movie I revisited the first one, A Princess of Mars. And in this one she’s certainly nothing but an object to be admired, desired and rescueued. For me Pulp fiction isn’t to be taken seriously. It’s oldfashioned and charming. When you start to modernize it you get into trouble because it only is halfhearted anyway. I’m the first one to ask for more strong female characters! I nag about it all the time. It’s just that it felt a bit misplaced here.


        March 18, 2012 at 10:54 pm

        • Larissa, the warrior princess.


          May 18, 2012 at 1:20 am

          • yup. I always had a sword hidden in the bar kitchen. You just never noticed. 🙂


            May 18, 2012 at 7:27 am

  9. […] Duke & The MoviesMovie Reviews by Tom Clift The Movie EncyclopediaAndy Buckle’s Film EmporiumThe Velvet Café […]

  10. I’ve just seen it and it was entertaining but not very good.

    I quickly started asking the questions like “mmm, mars gravity is about half that of earth, I should be able to jump euh, 2 meters? 4 meters if I’m an Olympic athlete? Not the ten meters or more that he’s jumping. Or, she has blue blood, he has red. How can that relationship work? Or if you have super fast dogs, why not use them to chase our running heros down? In short, the movie does not stick to its internal logic.

    And the story is a bit too simple. You can tell the bad guy from his scars like a bond villain and you immediately see that she is there as love interest. Of course the bad villains are colored red and the good ones in blue, how star wars.

    Still, even with all that it was entertaining, it didn’t have me looking at my watch every ten minutes.


    May 18, 2012 at 1:18 am

    • The jumping part is a bit weird in the movie, honestly. For sure, in the book he does do some mighty jumping there at Mars, that’s sort of the main concept of his immediate success over there. That and the fact that he’s a man of honor. But his jumps aren’t anywhere near as huge as the ones pictured on the film, at least as not as far as I recall it. On screen he looks like a different kind of superhero. More like Superman than John Carter.


      May 18, 2012 at 7:30 am

      • Yeah but I’m geeky enough to calculate that you can’t jump that high on Mars, maybe on the moon. I feel like the comic book guy from the Simpsons now 🙂


        May 18, 2012 at 2:49 pm

  11. […] years ago I gave John Carter a two star rating. Compared to other reviewers I was kind – many gave it a 1/5. It had been appointed to be the […]

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