Meet 'John Carter': Taylor Kitsch travels to Mars and back in new Disney film
Published: Monday, March 12, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 16:08
When John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) first encounters the tall, green Martians, leader Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe, disguised under the wonders of GCI technology) attempts to state that he means no harm.
They exchange names. When Carter mentions he is from Virginia, the warrior mistakes his name for ‘Virginia.' He is introduced to his tribe, Thark, as the state. "This is Virginia," he declares. (This instantly reminds me of the song "Meet Virginia" from Train.) Right afterwards, he is ordered to jump and the natives are attacked by the red Martians, led by Sab Than (Dominic West).
Based on the short-story "A Princess of Mars," written by Edgar Rice Burroughs (who also created and wrote the Tarzan stories), John Carter is a Civil War veteran searching for gold and solidarity. He gets neither when Captain Powell (Bryan Cranston) summons him to his fort in Arizona. Powell wants the man for a post. Carter refuses, spitting in his face and attempting to escape. During a battle with Native Americans, Carter and Powell enter a cave. It is here where our hero is transported to Mars, which is tens of millions of miles away.
Side note: Mars and Earth are actually very close to one another at the moment. It is possible to catch the red planet on a clear night for the next couple of weeks.
While on Mars (called ‘Barsoom' by the natives) civil war is destroying lives as well as the planet. Dejah Thoris (Collins) surrenders to the Tharks as her city-state, Helium, is about to be taken over by Sab Than. The only way to save her people is to subject herself to a marriage with the conqueror, who has been granted supernatural powers from a group of mysterious over-lookers (similar to the agents in "The Adjustment Bureau"), who are supposed to make sure all pre-determined events occur, regardless of how grim they are (war, genocide, death, they are essentially playing god). As the hero, Carter must stop this.
Carter initially wants to return home, stating that he has a goldmine to discover. But he needs Dejah's help to get there. And Dejah needs him to defeat Sab Than. Neither fully trusts the other. Yet between these struggles, they fall for each other. But for Carter, she is more of a replacement for the life he had back home.
Chicago-native Burroughs' tale is directed by Andrew Stanton. Best known for his work in Pixar's "Finding Nemo" and "WALL-E," this is first live-action feature. "John Carter" was originally going to be titled "John Carter of Mars," until executives decided that it would alienate female audiences. Since Kitsch, who is best known for "Friday Night Lights"— a show that appealed to plenty of female viewers — is the star, this move does not make sense. The man is shirtless for a grand majority of the movie and falls into a sort-of-complex romance with a princess (Lynn Collins). But the studio seems to be obsessed with gender-superficiality, so Mars was omitted from the title. After all, this movie has cost a reported $250 million, a big risk for a project that has never been adapted on such a wide scale.
Regardless of gender, this is an incredibly fascinating movie. The special effects are top-notch, including the effects of the Thark tribe. The scenery is breath-taking, from the city-state Helium to the landscapes that occupy the red planet.
In addition to Dafoe, Oscar nominees Samantha Morton (Solas, daughter of Tar Tarkas) and Thomas Haden Church (Tal Hajus) are among the cast who are digitalized as the tall warriors. Morton is impressive, even if you don't technically see her. Best known stateside for her Oscar-nominated role in Jim Sheridan's "In America" and the animated children's show "Max and Ruby" (Ruby), as well as art-house roles in "Morvern Callar," "Control" and "Longford," she gives it her all as the tortured Solas, who risks her life for Carter.
Kitsch delivers a better-than-expected performance as Carter. There are only a couple of scenes that stand out. (Mentioning them would spoil the movie but they involve flashbacks back on Earth). With the big-screen version of the "Battleship" board game out in May and Oliver Stone's "Savages" out later this year, this could be a big year for the 30-year British Columbia native.
Burroughs' "A Princess of Mars" is the first in a series of stories and novels that he wrote about Barsoom, which were written and published between 1912 and 1941. This was a breakthrough in fiction and short story writing, inspiring the science-fiction genre that would become popular by the middle of the 20th century. If "John Carter" succeeds, then this would become Disney's (and Kitsch's) next goldmine.