Sinister Cinema: John Carter of Mars

Keeping my Memorial March theme going, I caught John Carter yesterday so I could review it today — for the sixty-second anniversary of the death of Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1950. Brilliant adaptation of the source material, fast-paced, funny (I’m amazed by the reviews that call it “humorless” — come on, maybe you’re watching too many movies and are losing perspective, like poor, poor Pauline Kael when she lamented the tragic death of Indy’s monkey in Raiders — how Spielberg’s camera lingered coldly over the scene — Kael just lost it in the theatre, not understanding that it was a Nazi monkey, one of the coolest bits of all time). Anyway, I’ll echo the review Bill Crider gave it and say don’t trust the establishment critics, trust us genre fans and catch it on the big screen. If you like ERB, they nailed it.

Yeah, for whatever reason — the ad campaign, not calling it John Carter of Mars — the movie isn’t performing up to expectations, and the worst fallout from that may be that they never make the next one, Gods of Mars, the most relentlessly paced novel I’ve ever read — like buckling yourself into a rocket sled and disengaging the brake. Fritz Leiber did a magnificent homage to that adventure in his Hugo-winning novel The Wanderer, which starts off slow — the first thirty or forty pages have you worried it’ll never get going — then he slams on the gas in a wild tribute to ERB and John Carter.

If you need a quick thumbnail to judge my opinions by, I didn’t think Cowboys and Aliens was that good (it was okay, but for me “okay” isn’t a real plug). I think Aliens is one of the best action movies ever done (and I’m not the only one). I saw the first Star Wars films as they came out, felt they hit the peak with Empire, hated the Ewoks, and reluctantly went to Phantom Menace in the theatre — yeah, it had some okay scenes, but what a dog, I didn’t go see the next two and only watched a few minutes of them on TV years later.

John Carter, great movie. Maybe it’ll take some time for people to recognise it, but not me. I was on it.

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