I have never been one to go for the universal fallback criticism of a movie “its not as good as the book”, neither do I believe a movie should slavishly follow the plot of its sauce material. However, my biggest problem with John Carter is how much it differs from the book. Let me reconcile my contradiction, the plot or structure of a book may not lend itself to a movie, the script writers may have better ideas than the author, or in the case of previously filmed novels they may just want to do something new. None of these is true of John Carter. Now a century old having been first serialised as Under the Moons of Mars in a pulp magazine in 1912 and then later published as A Princess of Mars by Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs has never been seen on the big screen (there was a direct to video version a couple of years ago, I suspect a chance to cash in on this movie). As mentioned in a previous article I read A Princess of Mars when I was at school and enjoyed it without being enthralled by it. The plot is relatively solid if a little disjointed in places.
The movie uses most (possibly all) of the main characters from the book, however the changes in plot drastically changes their actions and motivation. The character who suffers most is Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), the movie gives her little to do and less screen time than you would expect. Far more criminal than this is the complete lack of chemistry with John Carter (Taylor Kitsch). How the pair suddenly declare their love for each other could be written off as love at first sight if they had just a little chemistry. The same is true of the “bromance” between Carter and Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) that isn’t given any time to develop (despite the long running time). The movie also introduces characters not present in the book, most notably the Therns, a group of self-proclaimed gods who are actually introduced in the second book Gods of Mars. There introduction changes the whole dynamic of plot, this in itself wouldn’t be a problem and viewers who haven’t read the book would never notice, however the simpler plot of the book involving wars and conflicts between the Martians natives is a far better one.
On a positive note the acting isn’t too bad despite the appalling dialogue (that makes George Lucas sound like William Shakespeare). The film also often looks sumptuous and has some imaginative production design that seems to combine some original ideas with Flash Gordon and ideas from the book. 3D is a pointless gimmick that almost never works, true to form, it doesn’t work here. So poor is its use here that more often than not I actually forgot I was watching a 3D movie. The plot is simplified too far then drawn out to over two hours making it dull and tedious. At least it doesn’t use found footage. How could it have been better? According to IMDB Robert Rodriguez was attached as director with a reported budget of $100 million (the actual budget of the movie is believed to be somewhere near £300million. In the hands of Rodriguez it could have been what it should have been, a movie, a high budget B movie.
Lets hope The Hunger Games, the nest of the “2012 Movies Based on Novels I Have Read” is better.