‘John Carter’: A romantic story … actually

Sunday 31 March 2013, 3.54am HKT

2.57am local time, 19°C (66°F), few squally thunderstorms

MOVIE REVIEWS aren’t even a fixture on The Naked Listener’s Weblog, but once in a blue moon there’s a movie that I have to say something about.

All right, I’ll level with you 98% … the only ‘dedicated’ movie review I did here was on “Centurion” [FULL STORY HERE].

Sorry, I don’t do book reviews. Read books yourself.


John carter poster wikipedia

FIRST RELEASE 9 March 2012 by Walt Disney Pictures

DIRECTOR Andrew Stanton (“Finding Nemo,” “WALL-E”)

Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins (leads)
and featuring
Bryan Cranston, Willem Dafoe, Thomas Haden Church,
Ciarán Hinds, Samantha Morton, James Purefoy,
Daryl Sabara, Mark Strong, Polly Walker, Dominic West,
and all the favourites even for bit parts

ORIGINAL RUNNING TIME 2 hours 12 minutes

With a name like “John Carter,” you’d think it’s a British movie about some vicious London gangster in the Sixties (or the same MADE in the Sixties). It it were that, it most certainly had the right name for it. And it would probably star Alex Pettyfer or Daniel Craig instead — oh, sorry, Daniel Craig did that in “Layer Cake” (2004) already.

This movie’s story is 100 years old. Wikipedia has the plot down pat, so I shan’t be bothered here.

I get the impression most people don’t know how to watch this movie. It explains why so many reviewers knock it for umpteen different reasons. The movie is supposed to be a science-fiction epic that takes place on the world of Barsoom (or Mars, as we Earthlings call it). The operative words are “supposed to be” — many reviewers seem to think that, just because the story is set in Mars, it’s automatically SF.

Not to put too fine a point on things, whenever you see swordplay with old-fashioned body armour and broadswords (rather than high-tech Star Wars combat gear) even if set on another planet, it really isn’t a sci-fi movie, is it?

In fact, “John Carter” is one of the most romantic films I’ve ever watched. (Awwww….)

princess of mars wikipediaForget the other reviews — many are ‘too constructive’ — they don’t have a goddamn clue what they’re talking about.

“John Carter” is a visually exciting, well-put-together movie whose storyline goes straight into the meat of things — just like the breathtaking speed of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ prose in the original 1917 book (“A Princess of Mars,” the first book in the “Barsoom” series of novels). (ERB also wrote “Tarzan,” by the way.)

The movie is a fairly faithful rendering of the book — not a usual occurrence with most Hollywood (especially Disney’s) efforts. It’s also a testament to how well ERB’s writing has held up after 100 years — and how many of ERB’s spiritual successors have yet to surpass him.

At the highest level, it’s about how mankind is causing our planet to slowly fade away by overpopulation, disintegrating societies and spreading of wars under the banner of ‘our cause is more virtuous than yours.’

At the mundane level, it’s about a man sick and tired and lost in the aftermath of a vicious civil war, accidentally finds his way into surroundings and people that are new enough to make him give up his old life in the most worthwhile manner possible. I wished I could give up my past in such a way.

The short answer is this is in fact a great film for anyone who likes to see shapely heroines, tastefully muscular heroes, skimpy dresses done up in a non-erotic way, realistic dialogues, and nearly pitch-perfect British accents by American actors.

The longer answer is it’s highly suitable for boys and girls from 12 to 112, whatever the official rating it gets worldwide. It’s the good old-fashioned, down-to-earth, boys’ own and girls’ own adventure story from our grandparents’ days.

The ‘skin’ isn’t as much as you’d think (or prefer!) — there’s scarcely any. And any that does crop up have ZERO erotic, pornographic or salacious quality. If your kids don’t (or can’t) appreciate the skin, you have a seriously slim chance of becoming grandparents in future, to be perfectly honest.

dejah thorisAs a Brit-speaker myself, I find Lynn Collins’ accent for her character (Dejah Thoris) incredibly credible British — whenever she says out the name John Carter, I could’ve sworn she’s a posh Londoner from South Kensington, Fulham or Hampstead Heath areas. Only Renée Zellwiger and Gweneth Paltrow could do a better British accent.

Lynn Collins was Portia in “The Merchant of Venice” with Al Pacino back in 2004, and as Kayla Silverfox in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (2009). She was practically invisible in those two — but now “John Carter” is giving her (what I call) ‘eye-candy pin-up’ness.’

(See photo for proof of concept.)

(Indeed, I once had a French-/English-raised Iranian girlfriend who sounded EXACTLY like Lynn Collins doing a British accent — so sexy — but that’s another story for another day.)

Not being a Barsoomia fan myself, I like many others do happen to find—

“… Dejah Thoris is the most beautiful name for any SF/fantasy character ever. […] with its lilting, lyrical, musical quality hints that you’re going to see a beautiful, ethereal character even before she is described.

“[…] But, seriously, don’t you sort of get that idea from just her name alone? It’s that effective. […] Think of ‘Dejah Thoris’ and you think of a woman who is worth literally crisscrossing a planet and fighting any number of hideous perils to win.

“[…] ERB tried, but he never created another name that equaled the mellifluous Dejah Thoris. Valla Dia, from ‘The Master Mind of Mars,’ is close, but not quite there, while Phaidor and Thuvia simply don’t roll off the tongue quite as sweetly.”

Joe Diliberto, “Dejah Thoris is My Cellar Door,” Read at Joe’s, 14 Feb 2012

No wonder John Carter was friggin’ desperate to get back to Barsoom.

“Ak ohum oktay weez Barsoom” — voice command to return to Mars

Every other sci-fi movie now seems to have been inspired by ‘The Big Four’ of live-action sci-fi (Star Wars, Star Trek, Aliens, and Terminator) — oddly, not “2001: A Space Odyssey” or “Solaris” (the 1971 Soviet Union version). Even more oddly, never by “Silent Running” (1972) — remember that one? If you insist on regarding “John Carter” as a sci-fi movie, then it’s a different kettle of sci-fi fish altogether.

gif dejah thoris

The best and most memorable bit in the whole movie
Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium

(click for full animation in a new tab if that’s necessary)

If there had to be a defect with “John Carter,” then it would be that it requires sequels to get the whole thing moving — just as ERB had originally meant the book series to be from the outset. But because of the money the movie DIDN’T make because of the stupid reviews, it’s our loss ultimately.

John Carter with Dejah Thoris by Frank Frazetta

John Carter of Virginia (a.k.a. Dotar Sojat) with Dejah Thoris
through the eyes of American artist Frank Frazetta
(via Encyclopedia Barsoomia)


It’s like in the British BA Honours degree classification system. A “2:1” (‘two-one’) is Upper Second Class degree and “2:2” (‘two-two’) is Lower Second Class degree.

Storyline: 16 out of 25 (64% — “2:1”)

Acting/characterisation: 15 out of 25 (60% — “2:1”)

Direction: 15 out of 25 (60% — “2:1”)

Art direction: 17 out of 25 (68% — “2:1”)

Overall rating: 15 out of 25 (60% — a “2:1” degree)

On a related note:—

Professional reviews of this movie: 10 out of 25 (40% — “Ordinary Pass” degree)

Non-professional reviews of this movie: 13 out of 25 (52% — “2:2” — good and solid)


Position in the world-renowned “The Naked Listener’s Fluctuating Ranking of Nice Movies To Watch Endlessly with Red Wine and Crisps With Total Disregard for Other People’s Irrelevant Silly-Arsed Misinformed Opinions”:—

  1. Tied: Metropolis (1927), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
  2. Star Wars: IV. A New Hope (1977) and everything in the mega franchise
  3. Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)
  4. Dirty Harry (1971)
  5. Terminator (1984) and everything in that franchise
  6. Tied: Alien (1979), Aliens (1986)
  7. John Carter logo smallTied: Predator (1987), Predator 2 (1990) (but not Alien vs. Predator, etc)
  8. Zardoz (1974)
  9. Tied: Cleopatra (1963), TRON: Legacy (2011)
  10. Magnum Force (1973)
  11. Tied: A Bridge Too Far (1977), Waterloo (1970)
  12. The Thomas Crowne Affair (1968)
  13. Easy Rider (1969)
  14. Casablanca (1942)
  15. Quadrophenia (1979)
  16. Solaris (1972, the Soviet Union version)
  17. John Carter (2012)
  18. The International (2009)
  19. Barry Lyndon (1975)
  20. A Knight’s Tale (2001)
  21. The Time Machine (1960)
  22. Ben-Hur (1959)
  23. No Blade of Grass (1970)
  24. The Guns of Navarone (1961)
  25. 633 Squadron (1964)

You’d definitely have to wonder about me when “Jesus Christ Superstar” is higher than “Dirty Harry,” when “Zardoz” is tied with “Cleopatra,” and “633 Squadron” actually makes it to the list, woudntcha?

[That’s enough rankings. You’re fired for having too many tieds.—Editor.]



© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2013. (B13103)
Updated 02 Apr 2013 (added more tag)

Images: JOHN CARTER MOVIE POSTER via Wikipedia ♦ PRINCESS OF MARS DUSTJACKET via Wikipedia ♦ LYNN COLLINS via picture.fm ♦ DEJAH THORIS ANIMATION via m4f ♦ JOHN CARTER WITH DEJAH THORIS by Frank Frazetta via Encyclopedia Barsoomia ♦ JOHN CARTER INSIGNIA by John Massey via Warlord of Mars.

13 Responses to “‘John Carter’: A romantic story … actually”

  1. Ed Hurst said

    I recall buying the Superstar album when it first came out; I lived in Anchorage, AK then. For all the hoopla and evangelical angst, I still say some parts of the lyrics are better theology than many of the books I read in my ministerial training. I generally hate movies but I like your list.


  2. I really enjoyed John Carter. That fact that the story had really only begun by the end of the movie and I STILL liked it, to me, speaks volumes. The books, unfortunately, are still languishing in my “to read” pile. *Facepalm* I’ll definitely get there, though!

    Jesus Christ Superstar, on the other hand? One of my favorite movies of all time! It was a brilliant handling, and a frequently viewed film in our home. Some of my best memories growing up involved pulling out that album and blaring it through the household. :)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. James said

    I liked the John Carter, but I can’t stand the first entry on your list – 2001: A Space Odyssey.

    I read the book, then watched the movie years later, and I shut it off about 45 minutes into it, and reread the book. The book was good, the movie was awful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can relate to that, but “2001” was good when it first came out, and that was when I first saw it. Anyone not from that generation are less likely to like the movie. “Metropolis” was far, far better and they’re tied mainly because, if both came up (say, on TV) at the same time, then I’d be in a jam deciding which to see.


  4. Great review. Saw the film just yesterday and concur with everything you’ve written, my only disappointment was to find out that the gorgeous Miss Collins is actually American, (not that I’ve got anything against American’s) her accent was, as you say, pretty impeccable. So, thanks for that ..luv!

    PS ‘633 Squadron’ on the list? Excellent, good choice!
    But ‘Tron Legacy’ instead of the original ‘Tron’? tsk tsk! ;) :D

    Liked by 1 person

  5. gridsleep said

    I didn’t see John Carter because I was afraid it would not be like the book. If it is like the book, as you say, it should be worth seeing. Review success.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Kagi said

    Loved this movie. Lots of action, lots of the hot girl, good representation of the book, lots of fun. I’m something of an ERB fan, for a millenial I’ve probably read more of his books than anyone in my generation, and as a linguist I got hooked in (of course) by the Barsoomian language, which ERB went to some pains to create – not perfectly a conlang, but moreso than many modern SFF novels that like to sprinkle in a few random words to spice things up but don’t bother to make it coherent and logical as a language.

    I was very disappointed by the reviews the movie got, and the fact that Disney did barely anything to promote it – of course it tanked. It shouldn’t have – it should have kicked ASS. Everyone I know, including my father who is about your age and very choosy about his movies, enjoyed it. So THANK YOU for your very excellent and correctional review, telling it like it is. My hat is off to you, sir. Or would be, if I wore hats.


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