JOHN CARTER – Review by Susan Granger

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You’ve already seen this sci-fi thriller – many times before. Based on “Tarzan” creator Edgar Rice Burroughs’ first installment of his 1912 pulpy adventure series about a Civil War veteran who winds up battling evil forces on Mars, it combines recognizable elements of “Star Wars,” “Indiana Jones,” “Conan the Barbarian,” “Dune,” “Flash Gordon” and, above all, “Avatar.”

When battle-scarred Confederate officer John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) suddenly finds himself on Mars, that desert-like planet – called Barsoom by locals – is being ravaged by a tribal war between the kingdom of Helium and the airborne Zodangans, manipulated by malevolent, shape-shifting Matai Shang (Mark Strong). To put an end to the fighting, Helium’s Tardos Mors (Ciaran Hinds) agrees to the betrothal of his daughter, Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), to evil Zodangan Prince Sab Than (Dominic West).

After discovering his astonishing physical prowess due to Mars’ weaker gravity, jumping John Carter befriends toweringly thin, four-armed, spear-throwing Thanks, whose leaders (Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton) function as Noble Savages, like James Cameron’s Na’vi. Then the Earthling meets henna-tattooed Princess Dejah Thoris and becomes her intergalactic champion, so the action-packed mythology goes.

Making his live-action debut, Pixar writer/director Andrew Stanton (“Finding Nemo,” “WALL-E”) was able to indulge his production design perfectionism with an astronomical $250 million budget, incorporating more than 2,000 visual effects shots created by four companies. As for Canada’s Taylor Kitsch (TV’s “Friday Night Lights”), knowing he was a former Abercrombie & Fitch model tells you everything: he postures, poses and growls, not unlike a Calot, Mars’ lumbering, dog-like creature.

Long on the planning boards, this potential franchise had a myriad of false starts since the 1980s, when Disney acquired movie rights from the Burroughs estate. Inexplicably, the company angered devoted fans by deciding not to preview at Comic-Con International and removing the word “Mars” from the title, out of fear of alienating women and evoking memories of “Mars Needs Moms.”

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “John Carter” is a surprisingly humorless, unevenly jumbled, fantasy 5. Blame it on solar flares.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.