Friday, July 15, 2011
John Carter, or "Dude, where's my Mars?"
"I opened my eyes upon a strange and weird landscape. I knew that I was on Mars; not once did I question either my sanity or my wakefulness." A Princess of Mars
10 years ago, when I went to see the Peter Jackson directed Fellowship of the Rings, I was amazed by what I was seeing: almost everything was exactly as I imagined it! Even as the films veered in and out of Tolkien's actual story, from a strictly visual standpoint, Jackson's films took the idea of bringing a book to life to an unprecedented level of detail and faithfulness to the source material. It took me several viewings to get pissed off about elves showing up at the Battle of Helms deep, because I was so entranced by just seeing Helms Deep itself, up on there on the giant screen, along with Orthanc, Ents, Nazgul, and everything else I had read been reading about for decades.
In other words, "I knew that I was in Middle Earth".
Seeing the trailer for John Carter yesterday was a bit... deflating?
As John Carter opens his eyes in the first couple of seconds, he did not look upon a strange and weird landscape. I certainly did not know that he was on Mars - my first thought was that this was part of the Apache chase scene from the beginning of the book. Because John is obviously in an earthly desert, wearing earthly clothes.
"The building was low, but covered an enormous area. It was constructed of gleaming white marble inlaid with gold and brilliant stones which sparkled and scintillated in the sunlight." A Princess of Mars
The trailer then goes to some aerial shots of various desert buttes, cliffs, and ridges. It was only after my fourth or fifth viewing of the trailer that I noticed faint traces of windows and balconies and realized, with growing horror, what these are likely supposed to be - the ruined cities of Barsoom! Wait, isn't that where Eegah! was filmed?
Now, I'm all for artistic expression. I get it - film directors have big egos, its almost necessary, it goes hand in hand with the drive necessary to finish projects of such mind-boggling proportions. But I am left wondering exactly what is going on here?
It was a bit dismaying to many of the hard-core fans when the word "Mars" was removed from the title of the film. Unless you've read the books, who the hell knows who "John Carter" is? If a movie came out titled "Joe Harris", I would have no idea whatsoever what the hell that movie would be about. Do you know what "Joe Harris" is about? I don't.
Fortunately, I am a fan and have read the books, so I can live with Mars being removed from the title. What I can't live with, is Mars being removed from the film. I was hoping to see this preview and, like with the LotR films, gasp to myself, "holy crap that looks just like I always imagined it would look! I feel like a 10-yr-old again! This is friggin awesome!".
Nope. No sense of wonder, of magic. No sense of Mars.
Then I started reading other bloggers reactions to the trailer, which were overwhelmingly positive. Okay, maybe I'm just being too negative. Maybe I'm viewing it with too much of a cynical eye, and it doesn't actually look that much like Conan with flying pontoon boats.
So I asked my 10-year-old son (the movie buff of the household) to take a look at the trailer (incidentally, he watches every new sci-fi/fantasy/superhero genre trailer immediately when it comes out, but had no idea "John Carter" was anything like that), and he gladly obliged. His first words were "Prince of Persia?". Now, he does not have a derisive or ironic bone in his body. If he said it looked like Prince of Persia, it was because he genuinely thought it looked like that. I never saw this movie, so I checked out the trailer for it.
Now, I'm going to need to you go take a look at this (please make sure you're sitting down for this).
WTF!? Its almost a scene-by-scene duplicate! Except the cities look more like how I envisioned a ruined martian city would look.
My 10-year-old could see this immediately. Why can't Andrew Stanton?
I could go on and nit-pick more, but I guess I've belabored the point enough. I'm just not getting that "Barsoom" feeling. Like I do with this, for instance.
There's still a year of post-production to be done. Maybe I'm overreacting, and in the theater this will all look a lot more like Mars and a lot less like what I saw out the window during my last flight to Vegas. Maybe I've built this up too much in my own mind. Admittedly, if the story sticks closely enough to the book, I should be able to overlook the cosmetic issues. Stanton has expressed an interest in bringing the next two books of ERBs martian tales to the big screen as well. If that's really his intention, I hope there's a lot more Mars in this movie that is readily apparent in the trailer.
Lest anyone think the trailer was a complete disappointment, there are some things I liked too:
- John Carter's martian harness.
- pretty much everything from earth, especially ERB and John's diary and tomb.
- I like the lean look of the Thark, though many facial details are different from the book
- Dejah is pretty, with a world-weary quality I like. I don't mind if she picks up a sword now and then either.
- Whatever the crystal chamber thingy is looks cool. I'm guessing this is maybe the Atmosphere Plant? There's no telepathy in the film, so maybe some other way was needed to unlock the place?
- The ships are pretty cool. I was hoping for a more retro-pulpy look, but these are growing on me.
- The two moons