John Carter is shaping up to be the mega-flop movie of the year, if not of the decade. That's a huge shame, because while I think the movie is well short of perfect, it's still very, very good.
I'm a huge fan of planetary/lost world romances in general and of the Barsoom stories in particular, so I walked into the theater with a positive bias. I had high hopes but low expectations. That wasn't because I disliked the trailers but because I have so much scar tissue from earlier incidents of Hollywood digging its cheese-stained fingernails into cherished novels.
As expected, the film diverged from the original. That used to anger me, but it doesn't anymore. Films and books need to tell stories differently. I'm now willing to give filmmakers a lot of leeway, as long as they preserve the heart and feel of the characters and their story. In that, I think John Carter succeeds admirably--with one glaring, gut-wrenching, near fatal exception.
Most of the changes were positive. Elements from later books were brought in so the world would make a bit more sense. The therns became an interesting menace. For a modern audience, the thern medallion was a better deus ex machina for transporting Carter to Barsoom than Burroughs's mummified witch. The filmmakers added some equality between the sexes; men and women seemed to be mixed about 50/50 in the Red Martian armies. Barsoom seemed even more alien from sexually partitioned Victorian America thanks to this change.
The ending was excellent. I won't spoil the details for anyone who hasn't seen it, but it was just right.
Other changes were OK but hardly necessary. There's no reason, for example, why the city of Zodanga should walk around. The walking served no purpose, other than to confuse the audience for a while.
What of the nearly unforgivable change? It was the addition of John Carter's tortured past and murdered family. Why oh why must Hollywood torment every male hero with the ghosts of slain wives and lovers? We've been swirling up to our eyeballs in this melodramatic by-the-numbers claptrap for years, and I'm sick of it.
What's worse is that here, this cliche utterly misses the point of John Carter, especially when it's placed front and center during his battle against the warhoons.
By making that fight about Carter's dead wife and child--going so far as to clumsily intercut shots of them between slashing swords and gnashing tusks--the film completely, utterly drops the point. I nearly wrote it off in disgust as a total loss during that scene.
But I didn't. Ultimately, the good in the movie was so good that I swallowed that lump of thoat dung and carried on. And I'm glad I did.
I'm sure that I'll go back for a second and maybe even a third viewing. I'll buy the DVD when it comes out, too, and I don't buy many DVDs. If I could edit out Carter's wife and child and pretend they never existed, I would. Sadly, I can't, and my only other option is to live with them. If John Carter can do it, I suppose I can, too.