How John Carter Made Me Young Again

By

When I walked into the theater on March 9th, I was a skeptic. I’d seen some really weird looking previews that I filed into the “what the heck was that” drawer and tried to forget about, until a friend pointed me to a few facts that the trailer failed to mention. First, the movie was directed by Oscar-winner Andrew Stanton of Wall-E and Finding Nemo. Second, the script was co-written by Pulitzer Prize and Hugo Award-winner Michael Chabon of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. Third, the film is an adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom series which was the direct inspiration for Star Wars, Flash Gordon, Dune, Avatar, and basically every space opera trope of the 20th (and 21st) century.

As weird as it looked, I had to give it a chance.

When I walked out of the theater on March 9th, I was teetering on the verge of conversion. I felt a little like I’d just seen a new Star Wars movie, with a dash of Indiana Jones thrown in, but I was bothered by some perceived second act clunkiness, some thinly written scenes, some general goofiness, and, oddly enough, a nagging suspicion of its “almost-greatness.” My reaction was ambiguous, but I couldn’t shake the film. I couldn’t shake the feeling that for two hours, I’d been a kid again, peering wide-eyed into a fantastic world just beyond the world I could see.

I went home that night and lay in bed, kept awake by visions of four-armed Tharks, warrior/scientist princesses, tall ships that sail on light, and the possibility that somewhere there was a world where I could be more than the broken man I am. I started to wonder if anyone else was feeling the same way. After all, the film hadn’t gotten very good reviews and the media was calling it the biggest flop since Ishtar (ouch).

To my great relief, I discovered I’m not the only one. A quick perusal of Twitter and a few internet haunts quickly revealed that the film was connecting with audiences on a worldwide scale. In fact, it was the biggest movie in the world, despite the fact that it opened with split reviews and a baffling marketing campaign. It took in over $100 million in three days. But you wouldn’t know that from what you see reported in the media, because American audiences didn’t know what to make of it. The film cost a whopping $250 million to make and it was being cast as a box office flop. Sadly, those headlines seem to have colored many peoples’ perception of the movie, even if they haven’t seen it. All the bad press got my hackles up because 1) John Carter, while imperfect, is a far cry from a bad movie, 2) I’m tired of seeing great tales like Serenity fall by the wayside because of poor marketing or the failure of studios to understand their own films, and 3) I’m a sucker for an underdog—especially an underdog that looks, sounds, and feels like a good old-fashioned Star Wars movie.

But during the past week, I began to doubt myself. I must have enjoyed it primarily because I wanted to enjoy it. Right? I decided to find out. So this weekend I went to see it again, and this time I took my wife. I intended to watch with a critical eye, to put it under the microscope, so to speak. And because I trust my wife’s judgment of such things, I wanted to pay attention to how she was reacting. She knows a good story when she sees one, and she knows a bad story when it’s falling apart. So off we went. And this time I was paying attention.

The result is that I’m now a wanton convert. What I found on the second viewing is that, once more, it turned back the clock and made me a kid again. I recall very clearly how I used to watch Star Wars over and over and over again and each time I’d pick up on some nuance or some missed mention of a race, or place, or character, or motivation. And each of those small things hinted at the vast world lurking beyond the story on the screen. I remember picking out the scant mentions of Alderaan and wondering what those clues hinted at, thinking that if Leia was a princess then surely that implied a king. I remember studying every scene on the Death Star and trying to puzzle out the rank insignia on the uniforms. I remember listening to every mention of Jabba the Hutt and trying to work out what might happen to Han in Return of the Jedi. I loved how much detail there was and how it drew me into the story and the world and the people who lived there without ever trying too hard to explain itself.

And so this weekend there I sat, paying rapt attention to hints of Thark history, to the use of the word “Jeddak,” to the cultural significance surrounding the river Is. I found myself wondering what sort of life Dejah Thoris had led as a scientist in the moments just before she appeared on screen. I geeked out a little when I realized that the airships, sailing on sunlight, were positioning themselves to cast an opponent in shadow in order to deny maneuverability, just like real ships on the sea cast one another in a wind-shadow for the same effect.

Andrew Stanton has somehow managed to remember what George Lucas, Michael Bay, James Cameron, and countless others have forgotten in the last thirty years. He’s put into John Carter a sense of wonder, and pure-hearted adventure, and realness, not only of the world, but of the characters. They hint at things that the story brushes past, they imply relationships and histories that we can only guess at. Not everything is explained, and not because the story is incomplete, but because Stanton is trusting his audience to keep up. He doesn’t always succeed, but I’ll take that trust over the on-the-nose storytelling of Avatar or the Star Wars prequels any day.

I came away from that second viewing with the sense that I could watch it over and over again and each time catch something new, some fresh perspective, some previously unrecognized reference that can enlighten everything around it. And the ending left me breathless. It left me wanting nothing more than to be taken back to Barsoom as directly as possible. Och-ohem och-tay wyees—Barsoom (yep, I’m a nerd). And I was delighted to turn and find my wife with a similar grin on her face.

(I haven’t even mentioned the C. S. Lewis references!)

I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so refreshed by a movie. It’s good, clean fun. No sexual overtones. No gore. No pointless, stylized, slo-mo violence. No bathroom humor. Just good adventurous storytelling. Princess Deja Thoris is the best female lead this kind of movie has seen since Leia, or Marion Ravenwood and, as anyone who’s read my books knows, I’m a sucker for a strong female heroine. It’s the kind of movie that makes kids want to grow up and be storytellers themselves, and I can think of no higher compliment than that.

Let me leaven some of this praise by saying that, yes, it does have its problems. No, it’s not a perfect movie. It drags a bit in the middle. It’s full of strange, hard-to-pronounce names that are hard to tell apart from one another. It’s goofy to a fault sometimes (which was endearing on a second view). It makes no scientific sense. But all those things are true of Star Wars too, remember? I dearly hope Andrew Stanton gets a chance to address those issues and give us a proper Empire Strikes Back.

But despite the great word of mouth and great viewer ratings, and despite the fact that it’s made nearly $180 million dollars in ten days (still the number one movie in the world–outside of the U.S.), it’s being labeled a flop and it’s not getting nearly the attention it deserves by an entire generation of young boys and girls. We constantly rail against the Hollywood machine for churning out the same old sequels and tired action movies and morally bankrupt comedies, and yet here we’re presented with something that’s potentially timeless, and by virtue of dollars spent, Disney is being told that no, this isn’t what the public wants. What the public wants is Transformers IV, and Twilight, and Saw XI. That makes me sad.

If I had kids of my own, we’d be off to Mars—-no, Barsoom—-this weekend. And I’d spend half the movie watching them watching it, just to remind myself how great it was to be a child lost in an adventure. Thank you, Andrew Stanton, for making me young again, even if only for two exhilarating hours.

Here’s a fan-made trailer that does a much better job of encapsulating the movie than any of the official trailers did.

Profile photo of Pete Peterson

Pete Peterson is the author of the Revolutionary War adventure The Fiddler’s Gun and its sequel Fiddler’s Green. Among the many strange things he’s been in life are the following: U.S Marine air traffic controller, television editor, art teacher and boatwright at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch, and progenitor of the mysterious Budge-Nuzzard. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Jennifer, where he's the Executive Director of the Rabbit Room and Managing Editor of Rabbit Room Press.


81 Comments

  1. Jay

    That trailer is multiple times better than what Disney put out there to market this movie. I read all the books when I was younger and could not wait for this movie to come out and even I was taken back by the odd trailers. Maybe the lesson here is to hire people that love the material to create the trailers and not rely on people whose only qualification is an expert level of competence in Final Cut Pro. I am glad you went with your gut and I love that you are getting the word out.

  2. Khanada

    Lovely write up! Thanks for sharing and I agree about the sense of wonder and childlike glee the film fills you with! I didn’t think it dragged because I guess in that sense I’m more patient and not wired to need constant fast-paced scenes to hold my interest. Anyway, love this review and I do wish more people would give John Carter a try. I’ve yet to meet anyone who saw it and didn’t enjoy it. 🙂

  3. Lois

    The trailer looks definitely Star Wars and from your review I think I might like it a I am a Star Wars fan. However, the one thing I didn’t like just from seeing the trailer is that Princess Deja wears clothes so revealing. Not really necessary I am betting. Your thoughts on that?

  4. Profile photo of Pete Peterson

    Pete Peterson

    @pete

    She doesn’t wear anything worse than Leia did in Return of the Jedi, and to the movie’s great credit, it never sexualizes her. It’s simply what she wears and the film doesn’t draw attention to it. Anyone who’s seen a Transformers movie will appreciate how differently (and lasciviously) Michael Bay would have handled that sort of thing. Stanton doesn’t go there.

    I should also point out that, based on a few articles I’ve read, Stanton was in control of the marketing and insisted on his own way over advice from Disney to appeal to the audience in a wider fashion. So at least in some respect, he may have brought this on himself.

  5. Jonny

    This is a great summary of John Carter. When my brother heard this film was coming out, he got so excited he made me read the book, which – because it’s by Edgar Rice Burroughs – left me expecting a movie like the old Tarzan films from the 1930s. But the entire time I was in the Theater, I kept thinking the same thing: STAR WARS. I felt the same way I did watching the original Star Wars, the first time I saw it, when I was 14. I can’t wait to see John Carter again!

  6. Chris

    Everything you said. Yes. And, oh my gosh, when you said “Och-ohem och-tay wyees—Barsoom”, I geeked out. I was trying to figure out the spelling of that after I saw JC the second time, just so I could post it on Twitter.

  7. jon slone

    It didn’t look good to me….not a fan of CGI overkill. But now that you say that its ‘all that and a bag of chips’ i might have to see it.

    Pete – Will their be a third theatre viewing for you?

  8. Jud

    Hey Pete, I’m wondering if my daughters (7 & 5) would enjoy this. They’ve seen all the Star Wars flicks and enjoyed them quite a bit, but I wonder if this would be too much.

  9. Profile photo of Pete Peterson

    Pete Peterson

    @pete

    Jud, I’d suggest that you ought to see it first. There’s a little language of the “Dammit, man!” variety and some of the sword fighting comes off more violent than Star Wars’ bloodless lightsaber battles (though Martian blood is blue).

    Jon, undoubtedly (money permitting).

  10. Eowyn

    Hmm…well, I’m not an enormous sci-fi fan, so it probably wouldn’t attract me, but it does have several things in it’s favor: 1) Andrew Stanton is a Christian, 2) John Carter is from ’round here in Virginia, 3) Ciaran Hinds (he of the many faces, from Mr. Rochester to King Herod) is in it, 4) the hero uses “ma’am.” Don’t hear that much, anymore. Too bad.

  11. Abraham Sherman

    One of my favorite write-ups on the film! Thank you for “getting” it! I’ve been an Edgar Rice Burroughs and John Carter fan for twenty years.

    Guys, if you like that fan trailer by thejohncarterfiles, do a youtube search for their second trailer, with the title “Heritage”!

  12. jon slone

    Yeah, it was a great review Pete. While washing my car just now, I made the decision to see it tonight. And I’m a bit excited. I’ll be looking, as always, for entertainment and maybe a soupcon of inspiration. (Writers like that)

    Quick bit of curiousity Pete, seeing how it IS March Madness right now, please humor me but for a wispy second. Your wife, having been born in Kentucky, does she, on any measurable level, like or pull for the Wildcats?

  13. Lois

    Thanks. I can’t say I really liked what Princess Leia wore in The Return of the Jedi but if it isn’t worse then I suppose I can handle it. 🙂

  14. Tucker

    Thank you so much for putting to proper words the feeling I’ve had since watching the film. I haven’t yet gotten back to watch it a second time – making time this week to do so – but I couldn’t believe how much the film stayed with me after walking out of the theater. Even moreso, that it still has the effect over a week later. That sense of wonder and adventure has definitely lit my world on fire.

  15. Matt Conner

    Completely agree with Pete on this one. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Can’t believe the abysmal reviews in some places and the lack of general enthusiasm for a possible franchise so refreshing.

  16. jeremy

    pete, thanks so much for the review. i’m sold. by the way, i take your review so well b/c the fiddler’s gun and green have to be some of my favorite books in the past few years that i have read. in fact, i am reading them now with my daughter who is a voracious reader (9 years-old) and she loves them. i really want to know if you are working on something else…can you give any hints? i know that this is tangental to this article…

  17. Adam Cohen

    I just saw it for a second time tonight. I loved it even more. Pete, thanks for this review. I’m convinced John Carter will find its audience in time. I hope that it’s soon enough that we can get another film.

  18. Bruce Hennigan

    That one scene in the middle when John Carter faces off against the rival Tharks, sends the Princess away and has flashbacks to his home and his wife and his child and his shovel was one of the MOST moving scenes in recent memory. I suddenly found myself gripped with incredible grief and pathos and at the same cheering on this man who had found a reason to LIVE again! I was shocked. I was stunned. I did not expect to be moved this way in THIS movie. After the scene, I had to wipe the tears from my cheeks.

    This movie may have flaws but it does NOT deserve the bad reputation it has received. It is a good movie; a moving movie; a wondrous movie filled with incredibly imagery and art. It has the subtleness of an evil that is barely seen and working behind the scenes much as Satan works in the shadows of our apathy.

    Thank you, Pete, for sounding the trumpet of triumph for this movie. I thought I was one of the few who really, really loved this movie. I hope that more and more people join us.

  19. Mark Noyszewski

    Lovely article and I am glad that finally some people who loved the movie are coming out in positive reviews. I have been a fan of ERB’s books since I was a teenager so many years ago and I looked forward to this movie. I was not disappointed and my enthusiasm was overflowing but my close friends were not warm to the idea of seeing the movie. But I dragged them anyways. By the time the movie ended and that sense of wonderment and adventure was alive again in their hearts. This movie has a heart that I seldom see in other Hollywood films and it’s gratifying to see so many other people feel the same way.

  20. John Barber

    Folks, my 12 year old son and I took in the 6:20 show of ‘John Carter’ tonight, and I couldn’t have been more pleased. Pete’s exactly right. It’s equal parts Star Wars and Stargate, and it has that quality – whatever it is – that turns me into a 12 year old while watching it. The same thing happened during ‘Super 8’ for me last year. And as a movie geek (I mean, CINEPHILE), not much makes me happier than being able to enjoy something like this with my son.

  21. Chris

    @Bruce Hennigan, I felt the same exact way about that scene both times I saw the film. I actually got a little choked up the second time. Totally blindsided me, in a good way.

  22. Dennis Lynch

    Tears in my eyes at the end both times. This is grand film making, in the best sense of the world. You’re right about everything. There’s so much detail put into constructing a consistent and believable world – it can’t be absorbed in just 2 screenings. It is the best SF epic Disney has made since 20,000 LEAGUES in 1954! Even the subtle things are left for the viewer to figure out. Remember when Carter spits to show his rejection of the Tark request to fight for them? This is a HUGE insult, because he is wasting water. They didn’t even explain the meaning of that detail, leaving it to the audience to bring their intelligence to help involve them in the story. This is a rare treat that MUST be seen in a theater. 2D or 3D is a less important distinction than seeing it on the biggest screen you can find.

  23. jon slone

    Just got back from seeing the late show….it’s 1:54am right now.

    Pete – All I can say is YES my friend. YES! The movie was wonderful. Entertaining. I got so lost in it I thought I was watching a Documentary. I think great movies are a sum of a big bunch of great parts or scenes. This was the case with JC. That opening in 1881, JC’s ‘cave of gold,’ his being able to leap and be stronger due to his bone density on Mars? Are you frickin’ kidding me? Uh YEAH!!!

    I thought in some ways it was Superman in reverse. People from earth are weak and here comes Superman. And because of it being a different planet, different sun…….Superman had powers untold. In JC, Virginia lands on Mars and because he’s on another planet, different whatever, he has powers. Real cool.

    Love the big dog with the quick get-up and the blue tongue.

    You had mentioned that it was goofy in parts and lulled in the middle. Maybe I see a little ‘lull’ but I didn’t find the goofy.

    All and all I liked it a lot!

    Just a musing for debate:

    When I left the movie the manger came over and talked to me non-stop about the movie. She is not a Christian and she thought that the movie was about science verses faith; that the green dudes with 20 fingers had faith and that the princess with her science back in Helium was the opposite. I didn’t feel that at all. That is to say I didn’t feel like they were forcing the kool-aide down my throat. I didn’t really see a God type unless the bald dude from ‘Stardust’ was suppose to represent that.

    your thoughts, anyone?

  24. Barbara Staton

    Please, pass this on. Let’s see if we can get our own grass roots support to build. The movie deserves it. We can’t complain about the dreck Hollywood puts out if we don’t support a really fun movie like this when it comes along.

  25. Adam Cohen

    I’ve already sold 5 co-workers on seeing it. I honestly believe this film will find its audience and it’s not the epic flop people in the industry press are shaping it to be.

  26. Barbara Staton

    Lee and I went to see it, loved it and then took our eighteen year old niece to see it a couple of nights later. Who loved it, too!

  27. JT

    Pete, I saw the film two days ago and loved it, but I missed the CS Lewis references. Could you point them out?

  28. KFM

    Thank you! I was seriously hoping I wasn’t the only person who thought this movie was excellent.

    I’m usually really anal about things changing from the book, but trying to explain things like Tharks, Warhoons, the eighth and ninth rays, Jeds, Jeddaks, telepathy, etc. to an audience who’s probably thinking “lol wut” would have definitely alienated the audience.

    However, the attention to subtle details such as the yellow moss covering the planet and the Thark incubators was really neat to see realized on the screen before me. Also, I was really anxious to see how Woola was going to look.

    I thought they did an excellent job on it, and I was glad to see it in live action, and the CG was done really well.

    Jon, if you see toward the end, all of the ______ was actually composed of nanomachines, and you learn about how Issus and the Therns are not really all they’re cracked up to be.

  29. jon slone

    I’m taking my Mother and we’re seeing it again. Soon. Once again, thanks Pete: I wouldn’t have watched it had I not read your radiant review.

  30. Oshramkino

    This was just an absolutely brilliant article — I too was reminded of the first Star Wars film when I saw John Carter the first time. Simply a brilliant summation.

  31. Profile photo of Pete Peterson

    Pete Peterson

    @pete

    JT: Several times in the film, Dejah tells Carter he must either be a madman or a liar, because she doesn’t believe he is who he claims to be. One of Lewis’s famous arguments was that Christ must either be a lunatic (madman), a liar, or exactly who he claimed to be: Lord.

    I wouldn’t push the John Carter / Jesus Christ analogy far at all. I don’t think that’s the intent. But I’d say it’s certainly a clear nod to Lewis.

  32. David Knapp

    Hi,

    I really love the Rabbit Room and would like to be apart of this community but I keep getting thrown into your spam bucket.

    I think it is because I am adding david-knapp after mosaicmercy.org for my website.

    It is a subdirectory. I was wondering if you could please approve my comment that landed in spam.

    Thanks!

  33. mike bates

    I read all the Barsoomian books in the mid sixties and named my dog Dejah Thoris. She lived up to the name and I waited 45 years to see this film and I was not disappointed! Thanks Pete for a good and honest review. Any movie which features action, adventure, suspense, romance, loyalty and Tharks has my vote!

  34. Adam Cohen

    There’s one scene in the film that I keep replaying in my head- not to spoil it for those who haven’t seen it, but where John Carter takes on the charging Tharks with Woola. It is probably the most emotionally effective scene I recall from an action movie in recent years, of not decades. The sound work on that scene was also excellent- lowering the action noise and “going inside” Carter’s head with the pounding of the shovel. All of Carter’s turmoil and heroism came out in that minute of film. Brilliant.

  35. Gary

    Thanks Pete. My son took me to see John Carter on my birthday, March 9th. We left the theater and I told my son Stephen that the movie had an Avatar feel. Little did I know that, after doing some research, James Cameron credited the Barsoom stories as inspiration for Avatar. I had not heard of these books before nor that ERB wrote 11 Barsoom books (that I now will be reading). But I too came away from the movie feeling like a kid again, with a sense of wonder; and that’s a very good thing for this beat up, broken 53-yr-old. And, I think I’ll be taking my 12-yr-old daughter to Mars very soon…

  36. Richie

    I couldn’t agree with this review any more. Finally I see people really do appreciate the work of art this film really is. What saddens me is that I’m 18, and probably one of the only 18 year olds I know that both saw and genuinely liked the movie. Most of the kids in my generation are too ignorant to see a real film with a good adventurous story, they want to see some ridiculous horror movie that makes no sense or a plot-less action driven movie. The reviewers have done this film a disservice, focusing only on the budget of the production and the flaws of the film, practically neglecting the entire movie itself…I thought the point of a film review was to weigh the pros and cons and reach a decision, which in this case, the pros far outweigh the cons of this film, like by a ton. Now all I can do is read the books (which are still really good despite the first book being 100 years old) and hope that somehow this movie will get the recognition it deserves and get a sequel, because I’d see that film the day of release.

  37. TY WYNN

    Thank you for your wonderful write up. I totally feel the same way. The movie is amazing and a joy to watch. Hopefully Disney will someday make a better attempt to market it and relaunch it as a director’s cut. We must all hope they perhaps find the wisdom to do another John Carter.

  38. jon slone

    Does anyone know if the books are great? Does the first book and the movie line up pretty well? In the book, could he jump and stuff?

  39. Profile photo of Pete Peterson

    Pete Peterson

    @pete

    Yes, his character in the book is able to jump due to the lower gravity on Mars. John Carter was the inspiration for Superman–who originally could only jump really far.

  40. Adam Cohen

    Im reading the first book now- very similar but some different directions in details. I’m really enjoying it so far, I car recommend it if you enjoyed the movie as well- briskly paced!

  41. jon slone

    Thanks Adam.

    Thanks Pete.

    I just got back from taking my Mother. She loved it. For me, it certainly passed the critical, “second viewing” test.

    For me, I’m not bothered by anything in the movie. But on the second viewing, it got me thinking; the under current is that there is no god, that the Therns watch over the inevitable destruction of one planet here and one planet there. The main Thern’s speech at the end is real depressing and hopeless. Then Miss Thoris says, all that stuff about machines and science and all that.

    This doesn’t sway me or make me not like the movie. I did like it. But I wonder if it sends the wrong message to someone else, someone looking for hope or the meaning of life or whatever.

    I, being a Christian see Jesus everywhere. When John is fighting all of those guys and thinking of his slain wife and child, I saw Samson with the jaw bone of an ass.

    I just wonder, what does someone who is lost see?

    Was E.R.B a Christian?

  42. Feel Young Again. | wiredyarn

    […] I mentioned these things to my sons in the far-off lands of Texas, I was presented with this. “How John Carter Made Me Young Again.”  Yes, yes, yes. This is exactly how I felt about the movie. It’s a heroic tale. It’s a […]

  43. EmmaJ

    Thanks for this review, Pete – I totally missed any hype, positive or negative, but now I think this is a movie I must see. Now to locate a fellow geek to share the experience…

  44. Melissa

    First, let me say, this blog entry captivated me. From the first viewing of the John Carter trailer I was intrigued, all the while a little leary, simply because I didn’t understand where the story came from. It is true that I often grumble over “Hollywood” creating the same manifactured crud to feed the masses. I didn’t realize how quickly I had fallen into that sullen rut. I figured it would not be a success, so why bother. However, everytime I watched the trailer my heart would skip a beat & my interest would peek. So, with all that said, I am convinced to giving this film a chance. I hope it is still in theaters. 🙂

  45. Jen

    Melissa, I saw it today… so there’s still a chance! 🙂

    And yes, such a great, fun movie! I guess I can see why people don’t know what to do with it. To me, it seemed like a mash-up of every old-school adventure genre: Arabian nights deserts, sci-fi tech and creatures, Civil War/Old West, and a little bit of magic too. But I loved it for that! Maybe this is the kind of movie Avatar could’ve been if it weren’t trying so hard.

    So yeah, great movie. I’m a believer… thanks Pete!

  46. Loren Warnemuende

    Thanks so much for posting this, Pete. I hadn’t heard about the movie at all before reading your post earlier this week, and it intrigued me enough that when my hubby and I were given the gift of free babysitting today we headed straight out to see John Carter–and it was totally worth it! (It was also fun to go against the flow and not see the movie that everyone and his brother seems to be going to this weekend 🙂 ).

    And yeah, we both cried in the one scene, and had great theological discussions after. Okay, maybe not great theology, but it did lead to an interesting discussion of how good and evil play out in stories. Jon Slone, is may go along with some of what you’re talking about. We noticed how in a movie like this, or Stargate, you have a superior evil race who is exploiting another race, and can continue to do so by keeping that race fighting among themselves. At first it might seem anti-biblical, since we believe God is over all and is all good. But then we thought of how Satan works in this world. He stirs up anger and strife and subjection, mainly to keep people from turning to Christ. Most humanity is caught in that, even believers. Yet it’s really a lie, because in Christ we are not bound by the rules Satan has put down.

    Anyway, that’s just the surface of the idea we were playing with tonight. I love a movie that gets me thinking!

  47. John R. Murnan II

    Thanks for this article. I’ve now seen John Carter twice, both times in 3-D, and each time I enjoyed the hell out of it! The first time I went with friends, and I had already heard a review in which the reviewer said it was a very good movie, but would probably suffer due to the lasck of a star or stars. Huh? Frankly I could care less who stars in a movie, as long as he/she does a good job of it. Did John Carter have to be someone with a big name to make the movie work? Not a chance. In fact, I sometimes think we get too caught up in who is in a movie rather than if it is a good movie or not. After all, how many bad movies has Jen Aniston made, for instance (not picking on Jen, who I like a lot)? A movie is great, or good, or whatever, based on the story and direction and acting, not on who plays what part.

    Anyway, after enjoying it so much the first time, I tool my wife and son, another couple and their son, and a buddy, his son and his son’s buddy. Each and every one of them remarked after seeing the movie how much they had enjoyed it. I even heard the one guy (who is a bit older) say it was like a movie he might have seen when he was younger, so yes, it seems this movie can do that for people.

    So, were there holes? Sure, a few. Not having read the Edgar Rice Burroughs stories (yet!), I don’t know if they were more due to the complexity of the story or to the limitation of time any movie has to tell the story. In any case, whatever holes there may have been did not in any way ruin the movie, or even affect it all that much, for me.

    I’m glad you wrote this review, and I agree wholeheartedly. I hope that people continue to see John Carter and make it so it earns enough so they can make the next story in the series.

  48. mark morris

    Your enthusiastic reactions echo mine– and those of almost everyone else I know who have seen the movie!

    As a professional shooting films for the last thirty years, I can say it is very good!

    In times to come, it will be considered a huge fan success! I just hope that the tragic marketing campaign and the misguided critics will not prevent film makers of equal talent from giving us the next two sequels.

  49. JR

    Thanks Pete! I was so excited about there being a film adaptation of John Carter of Mars (and I’d never even read the books…shameful, I know). Then the reveiws came out and I was disappointed that it was allegedly not very good. Shame on me again, I believed them and didn’t bother going to see it. I now want to see it once again. 🙂

  50. Rambling Review: John Carter

    […] piqued my interest all the more.  (Although I did not read this until after seeing the movie,  Pete Peterson’s review over on The Rabbit Room is definitely worth the time, and makes the point far better than I will here as to why you should […]

  51. Kerry Nietz

    Absolutely agree with what you’ve written here, Pete. In my case, I read and loved the books as an early teen. I’d finish one and couldn’t wait to get to the bookstore to buy the next. (11 in all, I think. Remember when it was harder to get books?) So for me, the movie was a way to revisit a world I’d almost forgotten. I was worried going in–especially after hearing it was a flop. I waited expectantly for it to get corny, or for the plot to fall off the rails, but it never did. And after awhile I found myself right there, leaping along the surface of Mars with John Carter, fighting side-by-side with a green martian (and sometimes against them) and flying a flier over a dead sea. Then I left the theater with a mixture of anger and sadness. Anger because the marketing was handled so poorly, and sadness because I probably wouldn’t get to see another installment. Anyway, thanks for so eloquently giving voice to my feelings as well. Well said!

  52. Tony

    Peter, this was an excellent review and absolutely captured my emotions on watching this movie. As for the non-existent marketing and public awareness campaign: I can’t believe we weren’t inundated with adverts for Happy Meal toys and action figures in the weeks leading up to the release; and it’s no consolation if Stanton’s to blame for the marketing failure. Simply put: Having “of Mars” on the posters might have gone a long way toward letting people know that “John Carter” was about more than some guy walking in a desert.

  53. Melissa O

    I am so happy someone did this!! I have even found myself wondered if Disney’s terrible marketing of this very good film (which incidentally reminds me of the terrible marketing of Star Wars) was somehow a personal vendetta against Andrew Stanton. I had just been thinking over the weekend what scenes I would have put into a trailer to draw an audience. They had a good film with an amazing legacy and the blew it so big it almost feels like they did it on purpose!!!

  54. Bruce Hennigan

    One of the theories regarding the marketing of this film had to do with the fact it was approved by the previous head of Disney Studios, a holdover from the Michael Eisner days. The head of the movie division had several failures at the box office (Prince of Persia, Mars Needs Moms, etc.) and he was fired in 2010 and replaced with a younger, “hipper” head of the movie division. For that reason, the marketing department didn’t put a whole lot of effort into marketing these holdover films. Maybe they wanted them to fail, to have a write off, and then be able to can the franchise. Think about Disney buying Avatar for a new land in the Animal Kindgom! What a great franchise “John Carter of Mars” would have been for a “land” at a Disney park! They had to make a decision. Pour money into John Carter and then hope the sequels made money (they got burned on Prince Caspian) or just let it die at the box office and move on to the new stuff.
    I hope we can prove them wrong!

  55. Patrick

    This is exactly how I felt as well, like a little kid watching this movie! Great review! Thank you…I hope that there is a sequel, it deserves one!

  56. Dennis Wilcutt

    I have seen John Carter twice just to take it all in. It is a shame critics have put their claws in this movie. This is an excellent movie, so good that even my son, who is not a fan of this kind of movie, said it was a 8.5 out of ten. My wife loved it as well and she is not an ERB fan. I am hoping this thing can get turned around and be enough of a success to do two more sequels.
    Dennis

  57. Brian

    Thanks for the terrific review! Like many here I discovered the ERB books when I was around ten, and was blown away by “Star Wars” a couple of years later.

    I’m also one of those with nothing terribly original to say about Andrew Stanton’s ability to make me feel like that ten year-old all over again, there in the theatre. Seen it twice. Got some off-time coming up, and if it’s still in the theatre, I’m going to see it again, and once look down through the eyes of a ten year-old to see dead sea bottom hurtling past beneath my one-man flier while Clouros and Thuria fly past overhead, on my way do battle with Thern and White Ape, Warhoon and Zodangan alike.

    Here’s hoping there’ll one day be a sequel. Burroughs wrote ten Mars books (the eleventh, “John Carter of Mars” is actually a collection of two novellas; “John Carter and the Giant of Mars,” and “Skeleton Men of Jupiter”), so there’s plenty of material for the mining there for Stanton and his co-writers (loved Chabon’s “Gentlemen of the Road” and “The Yiddish Policeman’s Union,” by the way).

    Thanks again, Peter!

    Brian

  58. Evan

    I’m late to the game. I’ve been following the reviews and conversation about this movie. Pete has seen it I think three times. I saw this last week and loved every moment. I havent seen a movie in the theater for 2 years because I hate the theater but I really wanted to see it. I’m glad I went. Waiting to buy it.

  59. pascalahad

    Your experience mirrors my own in more than a few ways, but you wrote it better than I would ever be able to. Congratulations, and I can’t wait ti read your impressions of John Carter 2. 🙂

  60. Maegan

    Thank you for this wonderful review. I couldn’t agree with you more. I loved this movie becaue it felt new and familiar at the same time. I have since started reading the books and I’m loving those as well. Let’s hope Disney realizes that there IS indeed an ever-growing audience for a John Carter of Mars franchise. I want to go back to Barsoom! http://www.johncartertwo.com

  61. Profile photo of Pete Peterson

    Pete Peterson

    @pete

    The underdog arises. Looks like John Carter is #1 in DVD/Blueray sales, basically selling out nationwide. I’m tempted to finally upgrade to a Blueray player just for the special features. Still, it’s a darn shame so many people missed it at the theater.

  62. yankeegospelgirl

    I watched a little of _John Carter_, and it seemed average, but I did get some of the “I’m 7 years old all over again” feeling Pete’s talking about with _The Avengers_. You’re sitting there with a cheesy grin on your face and you absolutely don’t care, because it’s so awesome.

  63. Profile photo of Jennifer Bast

    Jennifer Bast

    @jbfullyalive

    As I was building my watchlist on Letterboxd last year I marked John Carter, having a foggy memory that it was highly recommended by someone on The Rabbit Room. As my husband and I prepared for a retreat vacation without wi-fi, we consulted my list and stocked up on dvds from the library. I hadn’t actually read this post and knew very little about the movie. We loved it! We agree with this post, both your enjoyment of the film and disappointment at the poor marketing and box office performance. We could absolutely watch it again and may have to do so with some of our nieces and nephews. We are so glad you wrote this review and recommendation. Thank you!

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