Jeff watches John Carter. Not a review. More like a written commentary.


If I was reading my posts I think that Jeff loves everything about the John Carter movie. I really like it and I’ve seen it several times now. Maybe seven. I saw it first at a special screening on the Disney lot and I’m from Canada so I certainly had made an effort to be there.  I cried a lot through my first few viewings. Mostly from the emotional build up* of waiting a lifetime to see my favorite book on screen. (*Ok-  I’d also been drinking, meeting online friends in the real world and just plain squirrelled up.) The third viewing may have also been influenced by the time in the bar with friends before the the movie too. That was my most extreme case of loosing it. I seem to be past that stage now. I’ve always been kind of easygoing about adapting A Princess of Mars to the screen as I expect a lot of changes. I’m not uncritical of the text at all. Quit honestly, I think it goes way off track at about the 3/4 point. ( I’ve now done a bit of a second edit of my embarrassing typos ) Because of that I think any adaption needs a lot of work. My major concern was a lack of emotional resonance. I thought you could make a pretty good action adventure ‘so what’ kind of flick out the material. I’m very happy that John Carter has  heart. I will certainly be addressing things like story structure ( film and book ) as well as what I liked and what I didn’t.  Because of my stand that the book always was a challenge ( separate of the technology for the FX ) I am not surprised that film differs from the book. If I was making mine would. But maybe not so much. In terms of creating a trilogy I’m okay with the Therns as long term plot element. I’m not always okay with how they’re handled in the movie. That’s mostly early in the movie, I quite like John Carter’s conversation with Matai Shang in Zodanga and the old lady is charming. There is the medallion versus John Carter’s mystical journey to Barsoom too. I get the medallion as plot device and physical tool, but that underlying theme of John Carter being drawn to Barsoom is gone with it’s presence.  I think I might have played with both ideas…

On with the viewing.  I’m going to watch the movie in thirds or quarters, it depends on how my week goes. The version I’m watching is the iTunes version which is broken up into 16 chapters. I’m not breaking at any specific points other than when I’m hungry or my dogs need out. My intent with this isn’t really a movie review it so much as a chapter by chapter commentary mentioning what I like and what I don’t like. So many things in the movie is still pop up in my head on a daily basis that I feel I have to draw attention to to them.

Something I don’t think anybody has talked about with this movie is that in terms of character interactions it’s almost completely unique as a SF or fantasy film. The writing and performances make me think more of historical drama than a fantasy movie, and that’s a good thing. It’s also just so damn funny at times. Anyways on with the show.

CHAPTER 1 – I like the zoom in from space and acknowledging that Barsoom is Mars right off the bat .

I really don’t like that they felt the need a need for the narration about Zodanga and Helium thought. I would have skipped the shots of the cities and gone straight to the airship battle. You’ve got red flags and blue flag and the ship are different shapes, they are obviously from two different nations.


I love the airship battle. I for love the music, the sound of the ships going past and it all feels very Barsoomy to me. I love when the soldiers from the helium ship leap from their ship on the Zodangan ship. Then the holy trio of Therns arrives  and all of the the fun ends. I don’t know how we can go from so excellent to so awkward in moments. I hate the floating therns. I’d completely rewrite this. Sab Than’s dialogue and responses are terrible.


Then titles, which are gorgeous, the music swells wonderfully  and the graphics show Percival Lowell’s version of Mars. Total win. I love John Carter’s study and  the Two Moons Mining boxes. I have an  old crate of  my grandfathers in my studio so  I printed off a Two Moons  label for it.  I really like how deeply this scene is into the ERB mythology even if it’s been shifted around a bit it’s still pretty cool. The journal is there – there if they didn’t have I’d be sorely disappointed. I would pay good money for one those with the sketches in it


When Ed starts reading the Journal, that feels to me like the movie is really beginning, not saying I haven’t enjoyed elements up until this moment.

Now Carter’s come to buy some beans and it gets a bit of an info dump here. It gets better once fighting starts. “Beans. The first item is beans.” he he he….

I enjoyed his multiple escapes and that think that they did really good job showing how inventive and relentless Carter can be.

On the first viewing I did get thing with the rings, I did get that Carter is very independent and a fighter and that he wants nothing to do with this crap. His statement that he has paid in full told me all.

I love the fact he steals the horse ,  the music and the chase. Big wild West stuff – the fun is on .

When Carter grabs Powell and Powell questions his motives we see the real John Carter under his disenchantment. It’s an anchor character moment.

Having read maybe six John Carter screenplays over the years The cave is pretty much what I expected with exotic markings on the walls .

A rather dorky Thern arrives and they’ve already established the that Carter’s fighter now we get to see how fast and capable he really is. This isn’t anything new and his life.

POOF ! Now we’re on Barsoom. I do like using the ballet music for Carter’s pratfall scramble with the gravity. I understand his throwing a rock in frustration but I’m not totally sure the connection between that and the low gravity really works. It doesn’t make him sense for him think “oh, I’m somewhere with low gravity.” He’s never seen men on the moon. Granted, I understand a film shortcut for an idea. It still doesn’t work though.

It’s quite a bit later in the movie before Carter really learns that he’s on Mars. Of course in the book he’s in Arizona looking at Mars and wishing he wasn’t there so he accepts Mars and the idea is already in his head. In the movie, with him sent to Mars against his violation I can understand him not knowing where he is but I would give him more “where the hell I’m I ?” dialogue and  more “what is this place ?” There’s actually  more of that written into the storyboards that I’ve seen. In those he  points at Sola and asks Dejah “what the hell is she ?” That works for me. I do understand the idea of being thrust into a new environment with lots of events happening and  even though you are questioning where you are, you still have to deal with the moments as they come.

When Carter does start enjoying the low gravity and bounces across the plain, I think he’s at the “hell, I’ll will just enjoy whatever this is” which is rather like the book Carter,  and he’s obviously curious as he checks out the egg incubator.


I guess the container is as close as we get what I think of those quartz outcroppings. I do wish there had been tad more set dressing to the landscapes. Not a lot, just a bit.

The Baby tharks are hysterical.

And the Tharks ( I’m actually recording my spoken notes onto my iPhone it constantly turns Tharks into Farts )  have arrived.  I think they’re brilliant I love them – excellent design and the dusty cinematography makes them feel very real and tangible.


When avatar came out and they had multi-legged horses I thought of ‘crap that’s got to make things difficult for John Carter. But I really like these weird buffalo horned thoats that they came up with. You can see standard looking thoats in the early preproduction art. I do wonder if somewhere along the way in the production they made the change in response to avatar, or if it they were going there anyways.

Finally Carter says “where on earth am I ?!”  I can except that in the world he lives in the 18th century, he thinks he’s somewhere else on earth as weird as it is- Reading about how people saw the world at that time I can almost see him excepting the Tharks as just a new weird version of people. The world was much bigger and weirder then. Maybe in his mind he’s in farthest reaches of of Africa  or something.

Okay, done for today – Jeff


6 responses

  1. This is great, Jeff!! I’ve had many of the same thoughts myself when watching. 😀

    December 11, 2012 at 1:11 pm

  2. Great commentary. I definitely agree with a lot of it. Thanks for posting this!

    December 11, 2012 at 2:17 pm

  3. Enjoying your commentary.

    December 11, 2012 at 2:56 pm

  4. Looking forward to the rest.

    December 11, 2012 at 2:57 pm

  5. Oh, and there are a few details about the Mars gravity that kinda irk me whenever I watch. JC can hardly move without flying into the air, but when he reaches the incubator, he’s “carefully” ascending as he approaches and does a couple of little jumps. I always cringe, because judging by his struggles only moments before, those little jumps would have sent him soaring, or at least stumbling to compensate.

    December 12, 2012 at 10:40 am

  6. Pingback: Barsoom by Three | barsoomia

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