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SALT LAKE CITY — Am I the only person, at least on this planet, who has not read "A Princess of Mars" by Edgar Rice Burroughs? I innocently walked into the screening of the new film "John Carter," that is based on the tale, completely clueless. Thus, I spent most of the first half of this rather lengthy movie trying to figure out what in the world — or should that be what in the worlds — is going on?
If I had written this review at "John Carter" halftime, I would have only given it two stars, but eventually persistence paid off and the stars began to align. The heavens, at least as far as Mars, began to open. I started to figure out who these guys with four arms were and I began to get the drift on the rift between the more human-like societies vying for dominance of the red planet.
For those, like me, unfamiliar with the basics, here's the deal. John Carter is a tortured adventurer determined to find a lost lode of gold. The post Civil War Union Army is determined to tap into the skills of this former rebel captain but he keeps thwarting them. Just when Carter, played by Taylor Kitsch, has his gold at hand, he's mysteriously transported to a totally unfamiliar land where he has unearthly abilities like being able to leap great distances.
His first encounter is with the Tharks, the previously mentioned four-armed green guys. Without going into too much detail, John really impresses the Tharks. But eventually, well, let's put it this way, he leaves their custody only to find himself in the middle of another civil war. This war is being waged between Helium and Zodanga, two great cities populated by the Mars equivalent of humans. Here, John encounters Dejah, Princess of Helium.
Lynn Collins stars as the stunningly beautiful princess who also happens to be a brilliant mathematician and scientist. Well, of course the inter-planetary sparks begin to fly and it's Dejah who finally discovers that John is from Earth.
Meanwhile, the war rages and Dejah's father arranges her marriage to an enemy warrior as the only way to save his city. Add to all of this the fact that the war is being manipulated by shadowy interplanetary predators caring nothing for the well being of the planet or any of its peoples or creatures.
Believe it or not, this is a very simplistic description of the plot so don't plan on a trip to the concession stand mid-movie. Oh, and I haven't even mentioned the bizarre things going on back on Earth as John's will is being read to his nephew, Edgar.
Since I stuck it out to the end, pieces finally started to fall into place and I ended up enjoying this film.
Since I did stick it out to the end, pieces finally started to fall into place and I ended up enjoying this film. The special effects are breathtaking. The collision of Iron Age technology in futuristic devices all amid pageantry reminiscent of the old Biblical epics delivers an ethereal setting. We are treated to loads of creatures worthy of the Star Wars cantina scene. My favorite is a little dog-like blob devoted to Carter. Collins is mesmerizing and Kitsch instills just the right amount of anti-hero into a fairly complex character.
While "John Carter" spares the audience of sex and language, in true Edgar Rice Burroughs tradition, it earns the PG-13 rating by dishing up violence with little restraint. Overall, I'm giving this movie 3 stars.