MANILA, Philippines – It is interesting to tackle not just the new, deliberate science-fiction blockbuster John Carter per se but also some issues surrounding it, with lead star Taylor Kitsch giving us a big talking point just days before the flick opened worldwide last Friday.
1) In the ’Nesia, not in the Philippines. In case you’ve missed the hoopla, the Canadian actor was on Late Show with David Letterman in its February 29 episode to promote John Carter. A good chunk of his appearance was devoted to recalling a bad brush supposedly with our airport personnel, whereby he got blocked from leaving and even got subjected to an iPhone bribe. As our Bureau of Customs itself found out, the mishap actually occurred in Indonesia, where Kitsch had been shooting the new Oliver Stone film Savages.
While it was Letterman who did utter the word “Philippines,” Kitsch went on to narrate his ordeal without correcting the bespectacled host. Calls for Kitsch and Letterman to apologize to us mounted online, with Malacañang throwing its weight as well. (To make things worse, the YouTube post of that interview uploaded by CBS, the Late Show’s network, still cites the Philippines in the caption.)
Even if his camp would defend Kitsch, that it was not he who mentioned our country and that he was simply caught up in his recollection (ah, the Pontius Pilate defense, and at Lent at that), it is rather ironic that he has not been a gentleman enough—heck, not been a hero enough a la John Carter—to provide closure to the matter and be the one utter the word “Sorry.” C’mon, man.
2) Latest American hero. As it happens, John Carter is also about a man who’s in the wrong place. Kitsch’s titular character is a Confederate soldier turned smart-ass gold hunter of late 1800s Virginia, USA, who, through a cosmic twist of fate, finds himself on Mars. But as esteemed author Edgar Rice Burroughs imagined it 100 years ago when he penned the novel A Princess of Mars, the earthling discovers that our neighboring planet is inhabited and in fact has at least two types of species across its arid vastness.
He may be away from Earth and its own people’s frictions, but Carter soon realizes that Mars’ populace is just as riddled with conflict and equipped with firepower and, whoa, birdlike airships.
In the end, the audience gets a classic boys’ movie that comes with aerial battles between wide aircraft, swordfights (though not without a lass slashing away among the lads), gunfights and explosions, with cocky Carter as the outsider turned unlikely hero.
(So, wow, not only is America a “hero” on Earth, John Carter’s Mars gets its own American hero, too.)
3) New movie, old story. John Carter the character, via A Princess of Mars’ initial release in 1912, actually predates Superman and all other comic book superheroes, and any movie that has shown epic battles with a brash hero at its core. Yet for moviegoers who have seen the likes of Star Wars and the Indiana Jones movies, John Carter would come off as all-too-familiar fare, and so would find raves mostly among, let’s face it, anyone born just 12 or so years ago.
Director Andrew Stanton, who marks his live-action debut following his animated goodies Finding Nemo and WALL-E, is able to dish out a serviceable enough movie, one that is at least less insufferable than George Lucas’ The Phantom Menace (to which Stanton’s JC has been critically compared). Yet Stanton could have been a bit bold as to veer from his source material and come up with a John Carter that is both respectful to Burroughs creation while also sidestepping expected points of comparison to his motion picture’s predecessors. (Stanley Kubrick, you are missed.)
Perhaps more curiously, this seems to point to a looming trend. With movies based on fairly dated material like John Carter and, say, Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tin-Tin getting made, is Hollywood prepping the world for the renaissance of classical, old-fashioned entertainment?
4) Kitsch present, kitsch absent. Okay, even the average adult viewer might derive some pleasure from John Carter’s straightforward way of engaging audiences. But more discriminating viewers, those who would long for a fresh moviegoing kick, more bang for their buck (a great deal more if watched in 3D or in Imax 3D), more edge to their entertainment, would wish for some provocative kitsch to go with Mr Kitsch—something along the superficial yet campy delight of Flash Gordon, itself about a human hero engaged in epic battles outside of Earth.
John Carter does have refreshing bits of wit, such as in an early, Earth-bound interrogation scene featuring an unrecognizable Bryan Cranston. (The veteran, Emmy-awarded actor deserves his own lead-starring movie.) And given the plethora of Roman empire-like wardrobe adorning the Martian residents, led by the princess played by Lynn Collins (who’s an eyeful in a Linda Carter-Wonder Woman way), John Carter is at least a minefield of costume ideas for drag queens.
5) Jump, brother. A neat thing about John Carter is the special effects—not so much with the busy battle scenes but more with the rendition of the “Tharks,” lanky, 10-foot tall Martian beings with four arms, two tusks and not much clothing. (Three Tharks are voiced by superb humans: Finding Nemo’s Willem Dafoe, Spider-Man 3’s Thomas Haden Church and Minority Report’s Samantha Morton.) Thanks to advanced motion capture technology, these Tharks are replete with life-like detail, right down to their shadows.
Another major element in John Carter is Carter’s ability to leap tall bounds while on Mars (goodbye, earthly gravity). In one of the movie’s better moments, we see Carter realizing that walking is optional while on the so-called red planet, soon grasping that jumping is a faster way to travel. He even learns the Thark word for jump, courtesy of Dafoe as the Tharks’ jeddak (or emperor).
Here’s a thought: If aliens do visit our blue planet someday and get to view movies like John Carter, Jumper, The Matrix and Spider-Man, they just might, as Terrence “General Zod” Stamp did in Superman 2, scoff at our mortal fascination with flight.
And upon viewing John Carter, dormant Star Wars creator George Lucas just might get jeddak envy and jumpstart the last sci-fi hurrah his fanboys are still hoping for. – Rappler.com
(Photos by Walt Disney Pictures)
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