john carter… although not initially of mars

One of the benefits of unemployment (and I’m always one to make lemonade out of life’s lemons) is that I have time to go do stuff in between volunteering at Oxfam (where I do quite a good line in selling things online) and applying for more rejection letters/abject silence. And what better way to go and fill up that time than going to see films? We’re now past the “dumping ground” part of the year where all those generic romantic comedies and visceral-but-dull B-grade action films are forced out, and into blockbuster season. Due to my otherwise unwanted freedom, I can go and see films free of annoying children and packed theaters full of irritating people who wish to talk loudly and fiddle with their mobiles. The cinema wants customers in its off day and offers cheap tickets, I want entertainment… I think we can come to some arrangement here.

I went to see The Woman In Black, the very satisfying horror film starring Daniel Radcliffe, who I felt didn’t quite manage to convince me that he wasn’t Harry Potter (and Daniel Radcliffe running around with CGI happening all over the place may have had something to do with this) but yet it was a competently told ghost story that I thoroughly enjoyed. The critics liked it and so did I. We were in agreement! Then we come to Disney’s most recent offering, John Carter, where I kind of think actually that a lot of the critics were rather unfair.

John Carter is based on Edgar Rice Burrough’s book A Princess of Mars, about a disillusioned Civil War veteran who finds himself teleported to Mars after fleeing into a strange cave from a clash between the US Army and Apache Indians. He finds that being from Earth gives him superior agility and strength on Mars, and finds himself swept up in an adventure involving the multi-armed Tharks, and the warring cities of Helium and Zodanga. He meets the Princess of Helium, and sides with them against Zodanga which appears to be run from behind the scenes by some blue priest types known as Thrells. If this sounds like entertaining nonsense, you’d be right. It’s not what I would call a stunningly original film as many who have read the books have obviously beat the official John Carter film to the punch by adapting little bits of it they liked to the screen. An arena scene where Carter finds himself facing off against monsters strongly reminded me of a similar scene in Attack of the Clones, for example.

For some reason though, a lot of film critics seem to have taken against it and have set it up to be “the next big box office bomb”, claiming that Disney will be lucky to make any money out of it at all and that they’re definitely going to have to write it off. It seems to have defied the critics, doing moderately well although not setting the box office alight, which I’m pleased about. When I went to see it, I did feel that it might end up sucking balls but it surprised me by being an entertaining two hours, and a film that was far better than any of the Star Wars prequels, which are an example of a poorly put together series of films that deserved to bomb at the box office and yet by virtue of the earlier films managed to survive.

Some of the critics, such as Roger Ebert, were of the opinion was that it was an entertaining but not outstanding film, and I’d think that’s fair. Some of the lines were clunkily delivered, and the male and female leads did have a few moments where he just stood around looking like an Abercrombie and Fitch model and she just pouted and didn’t do much, but those were few and far between. The CGI effects were well done, the 3D wasn’t vomit inducing or overly dark like many badly made 3D films can be, and after leaving the cinema I felt quite satisfied by the film rather than thinking “oh god, I’m glad that piece of shit is over” like with such cinematic abominations as One Day (yes, I went to see it, I initially read and liked the book before realizing how hackneyed and emotionally manipulative it is on a subsequent read). I’m glad it’s doing well… it’s a poke in the eye to critics who slag off fun, undemanding entertainment while praising boring and pretentious films that if I were reviewing, I would give a solid two thumbs down to…

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