Movie: John Carter… Why Make People Dumber?


I saw the movie “John Carter”, which has an origin more interesting than the film itself. It was fine eye-candy but I was struck by how unimaginative the story is on the big screen as well as how badly written.

The original story was written by Edgar Rice Burroughs (the author of the “Tarzan” books) in 1912. The Disney big screen adaptation marks the story’s hundredth birthday, and it’s interesting to note the character has endured among sci-fi fans almost since its birth, and in works by other authors.

The movie had blockbuster computer-generated effects and stale action-movie acting–which was expected and fine, but the story was so formulaic and predictable (as was the dialogue) that it was hard to bear in parts. I could deal with all of that–I even liked Battle LA (an equally implausible story, but told better). My main disappointment in the movie was in knowing that people already have a fundamentally uneducated view of Astronomy, Physics, and Mysticism, and this movie exacerbates the ignorance already out there.

The planet Mars, which is further away from the sun than Earth, is depicted as a hot desert planet requiring every race to romp around shirtless or in wispy strands of clothing. In reality, Mars is a much colder planet than Earth–with temperatures of (on a balmy summer day) around 50 degrees Fahrenheit to minus 60 degrees at night. Probably not fashionable to wear loincloths there. Of note, the advanced technology used in John Carter (ships that float on light, laser weapons, teleportation) also seems incompatible with Roman armor and sword-fighting swash-buckling armies.

The first violation of science, though, happens when John Carter arrives on Mars. He can breathe. With no help. Just normal breathing. In an atmosphere that has virtually no oxygen (it’s 95% carbon dioxide–deadly to humans). Really. Better than that, though, he is able to understand Martian dialect by drinking water from the planet. I’m not sure how we are supposed to buy that, but the good news is, you only have to believe that part if you can get past there being an alien race on Mars that is human (but not human?), has technology we can only dream of, and has built vast cities and flying ships on the planet never seen by earthlings with even rudimentary telescopes.

Apparently, there is a special laser power derived from the gods, that is somehow related to the nine planets in the solar system (of which there are only 8–Pluto was decidedly down-graded from its planet status in 2006 and was not yet discovered when the original John Carter story was written). It is never explained how this power works, what it is, how it came to be, or why the alien race that created it did not realize there are only 8 planets in our solar system.

There is also a super-speed creature that looks like a giant green salamander with a face like a frog that has mated with a bulldog and the Incredible Hulk, and it barks like a golden retriever. It is supposed to be for comic relief, but it is really just a creepy… thing. The dog-frog is minor, though, compared to the idea John Carter, who is only familiar with Earth technology from 1886, is not only able to master alien technology and defeat an invasion on another planet, but also has the political and moral fortitude to understand why there is a war on Mars (that has allegedly waged for a thousand years, unnoticed) and is able to navigate all the social and sociopolitical quagmires and choose whose side is correct within a day of his arriving there. A day. Even Gandhi wasn’t that good.

There is nothing in the film that could not have been corrected with even just sort-of decent writing, but it is so boring and stupid (the writing, I mean; the movie is still fun eye-candy) and filled with so much Altruism and mysticism it is hard to stomach (“Until you fight for others… {dramatic pause} …you will always be alone”–or something like that).

I am sure most people will like the movie and it will do well enough for an equally intelligence-sucking sequel, but I really hope it doesn’t. Rent Iron Man again instead, or Gladiator. They fill the same niche, but are unbelievable stories told well enough that they don’t offend you or ask you to believe in things that are not only impossible… but just plain dumb.




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