Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

John Carter


We liked it well enough, without getting wild about it. From what I know of the books, which I’ve never read, it seemed fairly faithful. Much of it, particularly Dejah Thoris, looked nicely like those old Frazetta covers that were on the reissues which really brought Edgar Rice Burroughs back into public consciousness.

It was a huge bomb, and I think their problem making money off of it was twofold. One, they simply spent way too much money on it. A quarter of a billion dollars, and another couple hundred million on marketing … it’s almost impossible to make a profit with a budget like that unless you bring in Avatar numbers. But it did do well overseas, to the point that Disney will only (only!) lose about $150 million. And two, the movie-going generation of today has never heard of ERB, or JC. Tarzan they’ve probably heard of. If it was BATMAN MEETS JOHN CARTER, it might have been different.

They obviously planned for a sequel—a trilogy, I think—and Wiki says there’s still a possibility, if they can keep the budget down to sane numbers. And there were those puzzling quick cuts to scenes that looked very much like present-day. Have no idea what that was about, and there was nothing in this movie to explain it, that I saw. I assume it would make sense in the second installment.

There was a blooper reel (I love blooper reels, always watch them) on the DVD that was revealing. Aside from the set in the colonel’s office in Arizona, and some scenes shot on Lake Powell with the reed boats, everything else was more green screen than real. Virtually all of it was shot on sound stages, and small ones at that. Maybe as many as a dozen extras sword-fighting, and all the backgrounds matted in digitally. That is the nature of epic movie-making these days. It must be weird for the actors. And that level of detail with CGI is still fiendishly expensive … though of course not one millionth as expensive as it would have been to build even one of those sets and make up and costume those hundred thousand digital extras.

And even weirder for the actors, it wasn’t until the credits that I realized Samantha Morton, Willem Defoe, and Thomas Hayden Church were even IN the fucking picture. It was like Zoe Saldana in Avatar. You never see her face. The actors playing Tharks were wearing motion-capture suits and walking around on stilts! (Blooper: someone falling off and being caught by grips who were hovering around him.) I’m not sure that, as an actor, I’d be eager to take a part where I have to give up my face! Unless I was Andy Serkis, who has made a career of it.