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Posts Tagged ‘John Carter’

As I work on my inevitable list of best films of 2012 I started thinking about Argo. Not the Ben Affleck film that we saw, but the un-filmed Star Wars rip-off Sci-Fi movie that featured in it. For as long as I can remember Star Wars has been essential Christmas viewing, but why? Probably because as an action adventure fantasy film it is yet to be surpassed. It is often stated that Star Wars changed films for ever, it certainly built on the idea of the summer blockbuster that began with Jaws two years before. All this is most probably true, but surprisingly Star Wars has never inspired a successful and credible action adventure set within a alien universe. The greatest failing of most of them is an unnecessary attempt to ground the plot in the reality or to earth, this is true from The Last Starfighter (1984) through to Avatar (2009). It worked for Star Trek as the idea of humanity exploring space was central to the premise. After its cancellation in 1969, it gained cult status, around the time of Star Wars a plan to resurrect the television series as Star Trek: Phase II.  It was a planned and quickly abandoned, ideas from the pilot were however saved and became Star Trek (1979). The  highlights of the film series that followed are: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), Star Trek: First Contact (1996) and the reboot Star Trek (2009). 1977 star wars

The latest failed attempt of the genre was John Carter (2012) based on A Princess of Mars by (Tarzan author) Edgar Rice Burroughs. So uncomfortable in its own skin the producers dropped the Sci-Fi “of Mars” title from the movie shortly before it hit cinema screens. Telling the story of a civil war era gent who is transported to Mars that is going through its own Civil War. A lot of the story involves the fish out of water scenarios as Carter adapts to the culture of the society and then imports his own sensibility. Going back to the time of Star Wars, the biggest of the early attempts to cash in on the Star Wars was unsurprisingly by Disney. The Black Hole (1979) had a budget of around $20million, around double that of Star Wars but only grossed around the same as Star Wars took in its first weekend. There is a good reason, for all its technical accomplishments, the movie is just plain dull. I have seen it at least twice and remember very little about it. With a budget of around $4million Starcrash (1978) is certainly low budget but isn’t quite the Z Movie it is often claimed to be. Poorly acted with terrible effects and unintentionally funny moments it isn’t very good. However it does deserve a certain amount of praise as a low budget movie that has grander ambitions than many of its contempt competitors, it is also good silly fun at times.

Starcrash

The one success of the genre (artistically if not financially) was Flash Gordon (1980). The plot is a rehash of the original thirteen part film serial starring Buster Crabbe from 1936. One of the reasons the movie looks so good and worked so well is the retro design including long shiny almost phallic spaceships that were inspired by the original 1930’s comic books. The result is utter camp, the characters and the performances are totally bonkers and over the top in the vein of Barbarella (1968). All this was held together by a an equally camp and over the top score by Queen.

Flash Gordon

The story goes that David Lynch turned down Return of the Jedi instead opting to replace Ridley Scott as the director of Dune (1984). Unlike most people, I am glad he did. I first saw Dune on video in 1985 and loved it. A few years later I read the first three or four of Frank Herbert’s novels. It was the first David Lynch film I saw, I have seen and loved everything he has made since. The movie shares producer Dino De Laurentiis with Flash Gordon, that is where the similarity ends. While Flash Gordon is fun and camp, Dune is sombre serious but when you strip away all the religious symbolism, mythology and the ideas of loyalty and betrayal it is simply a story of trade and politics, possibly an allegory for the fight for the control of the worlds supply. The TV mini series is heralded as a superior adaptation, it may be but it is painfully dull, something the movie can not be accused of even in its three hour cut.Dune

Star Wars often plays like a western set in space.  This is where the genre has found the most sucess.  A film that took this idea a stage further was the Roger Corman produced Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) that took its plot from Magnificent Seven/Seven Samurai. It has a certain degree of pedigree with a screenplay by John Sayles, a score composed by James Horner, and the special effects directed by a young James Cameron. A similar idea had been attempted in the “High Noon in space” Outland (1981) with Sean Connery in the Gary Cooper role. Not a classic, but far better than its reputation. The best space western is probably Serenity (2005) based on the too short-lived TV show Firefly (2002-2003). It is still rooted in the reality of humanity but unlike the movies that suffer for this, Serenity plays its hand perfectly.Battle Beyond the Stars

The Star Wars prequels failed to live up to their billing, will the new Disney produced movies be more successful or will we have to wait for someone else to create a new Space Opera in a believable alien universe? Star Wars: Episode VII is expected in 2015.

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Its that time of the month again to look back at my past months cinema viewing and pick the best.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: A fantastic cast of veteran British actors and rising star Dev Patel make this light comedy drama both charming and engaging.

Safe House: Enjoyable but unoriginal action thriller. Denzel Washington is as good as ever but completely unchallenged. I could have done without the overused and unoriginal grainy photography and shaky camera.

Hunky Dory: Uneven and lightweight British high school movie that isn’t without its charms. I actually enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would.

The Raven: A fictionalised account of the last days of Edgar Allan Poe. Its all a bit silly and more Sherlock Homes than Hammer Horror but John Cusack is good as Poe.

John Carter: A hundred years in the making and frankly not worth the wait. An unnecessarily convoluted plot, overlong runtime, lacklustre action scenes and pointless use of 3D make for a huge disappointment. The only positive, it does look good.

21 Jump Street: Buddy cop movie and high school comedy in equal parts. It works as both a homage and a pastiche of the original TV show on which it is based. The real revelation is how funny Channing Tatum is.

Contraband: Routine but enjoyable action/drama/thriller, a remake of the Icelandic Reykjavik-Rotterdam. The big problem, Mark Wahlberg is a far less interesting performer to watch than the supporting actors: Ben Foster, Lukas Haas, Diego Luna and Giovanni Ribisi.

In Darkness: The true story of a man who hides a dozen Jewish refugees in the sewers of a Nazi-occupied polish town. It seems less manipulative and more honest than bigger profile holocaust movies, this is enhanced by the claustrophobic environment end the more intimate story.

The Hunger Games: A perfectly cast and well balanced adaptation of the phenomenally successful book. It handles the difficult subject matter and the potential wide audience demographic perfectly but the greatest achievement is that it works for both fans of the books and people with no prior knowledge. Already a hit, parts two and three are sure to follow.

Wild Bill: Being a farther to his two sons is the last thing on Bill’s mind, but when he returns home after being released from prison on licence after eight years, but he is forced to make a choice when he finds them abandoned by their mother and fending for themselves. A great directorial debut by actor Dexter Fletcher.

I am pleased to report that I haven’t seen a bad movie all month and half of what I have seen are contenders for movie of the month. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and 21 Jump Street were both far better than expected. In Darkness came very close and The Hunger Games looks like a clear winner, however the last movie I saw Wild Bill just edges it. Not only is it at least as good as the other contenders but it came out of nowhere, I had never heard of it until a day before I saw it. Although not totally original it does avoid may of the pitfalls and clichés of your typical London gangster movie. It also manages to be a funny and engaging story of dysfunctional family without being saccharine sweet. Less an urban western than the title hints at, but the final showdown doesn’t disappoint.

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What follows is more a selection of rambling thoughts on how John Carter fails as an adaptation of a book rather than a review. It does however contain plot spoilers:

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.

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I read the book A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs many years ago when I was at school although I enjoyed it at the time hadn’t given it a second thought until the trailers for the movie John Carter appeared a few months ago. Judging from the trailer it is a lose adaptation at best taking characters and ideas but not the plot from the novel originally published nearly a century ago (1917). Given the number of versions Edgar Rice Burroughs other creation, Tarzan it surprising to learn this is the first big screen outing for John Carter and “Barsoom” series of novels. Tomorrows releases got me thinking about other books I have read that will be hitting the cinema this year:

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: From a novel I read a long time ago to one I have only just read. I saw the box set of the three Hunger Games novels while Christmas shopping last year, having seen the movie trailer I purchased the books and read them over Christmas. Although it loses its way in the third book and isn’t as good as Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale with which it will be forever compared (despite Suzanne Collins insistence that she was unaware of the Japanese novel) it is still worth reading. The casting looks to be perfect most notably Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, a character with clear parallels with Ree Dolly, her Oscar nominated role in Winter’s Bone. Release date: 23rd March.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac: The adaptation of this seminal novel of the Beat Generation is a bittersweet one for me, I have often thought it could make an excellent movie but my anticipation is tempered by fear that it will never live up to the book. It is in short, one of my all time favourite novels. Fortunately producer Francis Ford Coppola (who has owned the rights for many years) has chosen a perfect director in the shape of Walter Salles who did a fantastic job with The Motorcycle Diaries (2004) and has assembled a talented young cast. Release date: 21st September. 

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2: The startling revelation, I have read the Twilight books. As for the movies, the first and third actually aren’t bad. Depending on your point of view, spitting Breaking Dawn into two movies is the only way to do justice to the epic final novel or a cynical attempt to extort the maximum amount of cash from the franchises loyal following. I’m going for the latter. Still as with the final part of Harry potter, Part two promises to better than the dull part one. Release date: 16th November

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: With four adaptations to date do we need another? The 1974 version staring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow is a good film but is somehow lacking, it fails to capture the mood and the magic of the novel that is as important to “The Lost Generation” as On the Road is to the “Beat Generation“. I was a little dubious of the casting of Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire but actually think it could work. It is a novel that deserves a great adaptation, Baz Luhrmann could be the visionary director to give it to us, but why does he have to make it in 3D? UK release TBA, USA: 25th December

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