John Carter: Old-Fashioned Sci-Fi Leaps to Life
Like a steampunk Jules Verne novel with a $250 million budget.
March 17, 2012 - 12:28 am
On Mars (or Barsoom, as the people call it), Carter discovers that the difference between Earth’s gravity and Mars’s allows him to leap great distances. He encounters the Tharks, a race of tall, lanky green creatures with four arms and tusks growing out of their faces. The Tharks treat him as half prisoner and half freak show.
After they witness a battle between the human-like citizens of two city-states, Helium and Zodanga, the Tharks learn of Carter’s ability to jump high and to fight, and they bestow on him the honor of being their “right hands.” Carter rescues Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), the princess of Helium, and she convinces him to help the people of Helium battle Sab Than, the ruler of Zodanga (Dominic West), as well as the shape-shifting, mystical Therns. They fall in love, and Carter convinces the Tharks to unite with the people of Helium to defeat Sab Than and the Therns.
John Carter conveys a different vibe from most films of its kind. There’s an old-fashioned sensibility about it — the
owner of the company I work for said the movie has sort of a Jules Verne feel to it, and that’s an apt description. Many of the battle scenes and costumes resemble Spartacus or Ben Hur more than Star Wars, while the machinery and Barsoomian transports have a steampunk style. The mythology of Barsoom also brings to mind classical lore.
At the same time, John Carter contains modern elements. Dejah Thoris is a one-of-a-kind heroine — not only is she a warrior princess, but she’s also an unabashed science nerd.
The film surprises with its humor. Carter’s quick-witted one liners contrast to the dour portraits we often see of Civil War heroes, and the scene where he learns to master-jump in Mars’s gravity produces belly laughs. And, one of my favorite jokes, a Thern studying Carter identifies him as a Southerner after hearing him say, “Yes sir.”