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John Carter

Disney’s adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs tales of a veteran of the American Civil War being magically transported to Mars was judged (perhaps unfairly) to be a bit of a box office dud, but as we all know that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad film. So is this slice of retro sci-fi worth giving another chance on DVD?

In short, yes. The movie is an entertaining if not earth-shaking work of good, clean, old-fashioned science fiction fun. It has entertaining fights, great action scenes, strange alien monsters and scantily clad heroes (of both genders) in abundance. The opening is a bit slow as we are presented with a framing sequence set in late 19th century America followed by a flashback to the troubled John Carter seeking his place (and a big stack of gold) in a land traumatized by civil war, but once the action reaches Barsoom (or Mars as we Earthlings call it) the fun really kicks in.

Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins as John Carter and Martian princess Dejah Thoris are functional if uninspiring eye-candy leads, but an entertaining supporting cast including Mark Strong, Dominic West, Ciaran Hinds and a woefully underused James Purefoy more than makes up them. Perhaps unsurprisingly given director Andrew Stanton’s Pixar background and involvement with films such as Finding Nemo, the production design and special effects are for the most part excellent. I can’t say I was overly enamoured with the look of either of Carter’s CGI alien sidekicks, as both the green Martian Tars Tarkas and the multi-legged lion/dog creature Woola looked a bit too cartoony for my tastes, but pretty much everything else is a pleasure to behold. Delicate, solar-powered airships, the fearsome white-ape monsters and the Martian cityscapes all stand out as particularity fine examples.

Fans of the original books should be happy enough here. The film broadly follows the plot of A Princess Of Mars with some elements of later stories thrown into the mix, such as add the scheming Therns as shadowy, manipulative villains but on the whole everything is faithful to the spirit of the books. Some effort is made to expand on some of the fuzzier elements of the story, such as how John Carter gets to Mars in the first place. Similarly the dated sexism of Burroughs book is toned down bit too, with Dejah Thoris becoming more of a arse-kicking, intelligent character than a quivering damsel in distress. These tweaks are quite minor and well handled though, and are probably necessary to avoid pointed questions from a clued-up modern audience. Those viewers who hadn’t read the books needn’t worry too much as even without any background knowledge the film can still be enjoyed by any fan of the genre as a genuinely fun slice of retro science fiction sci-fi action.

Sadly it seems Disney didn’t want John Carter to be a success and so dressed it up as a failure in what appears to be some kind of act of creative accounting, which means we likely will never get to see the sequel promised by the end of the film (and by the lengthy series of books that could have been adapted). But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy this movie on its own. Don’t expect Oscar worthy performances, moving drama or heart-rending emotion, but rather an enjoyable old-school popcorn roller-coaster and you won’t be disappointed.

The Dread Kraken of Judgement raises 8 of its 10 hideous tentacles in salute to John Carter

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