Book to movie review: “John Carter”

There’s no better way to get my butt planted on a theater seat than the promise of a half-naked man. And there’s also no better way to make me gloss over any faults your movie may have by having that man half-naked for almost two hours.

So yes, John Carter could have used a little more trimming and a little more exposition. But did I come out of the moviehouse entertained? Of course I did! Who wouldn’t be entertained watching Taylor Kitsch jump stratospheric heights while wearing a skirt. That’s cinematic gold right there.

But this review isn’t just about the movie. Running a little over two hours, did “John Carter” manage to retain most of Edgar Rice Burrough’s “A Princess of Mars”? Or is it going to be a painful two hours for Barsoom purists?

Spoilers ahoy!

As someone who literally finished the book minutes before the movie was about to begin, I went into it with the details of the book still fresh in my mind. I don’t think I’ve ever been so suited to write a book to movie review in my life than I was for this movie.

And right from the beginning of the film it seemed apparent that screenwriters Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews, and Michael Chabon are big time Burroughs fans as well. If you’ve included even the foreword in your adaptation, then I don’t think anyone can actually fault you for being unfaithful to the book.

And for the most part, that faithfulness to the source material is present in the movie. Not only are the major players like John Carter, Dejah Thoris, and Tars Tarkas there, but even minor characters like Tal Hajus and Sarkoja make it onto the big screen. Sure, some of their roles have been reversed, but for the most part the movie makes the characters hew as close to the book as it can.

Just like any adaptation, there were instances in the movie that deviated from the source text, but I thought that these deviations actually worked in favor of the movie. Giving John a family — that he loses during the Civil War — is a great move, as it gives his character some depth which was sorely lacking in the book.

The filmmakers also get plus points for turning Dejah Thoris into not just a scientist, but one who can also kick your ass. She is far from the naked damsel in distress that she was in the book, and is definitely a vast improvement.

The movie also did a spectacular job of jettisoning all the casual racism that permeated the books. John Carter doesn’t come to Barsoom as your conquering and civilizing white man, but instead learns to be a better person from the “savages” of Barsoom, as the book would call it.

Some of the added elements, however, didn’t work as smoothly as some of the deviations that the filmmakers decided to take. The introduction of the Therns — who first appear in  the second book “The Gods of Mars” — will confuse those who’ve only read the first book me, while all the ninth ray business will confuse those who haven’t read any of the books.

There were also parts of the movie that would have been better served by a little more unfaithfulness to the source material. The whole father-daughter subplot between Sola and Tars Tarkas, while exciting in the book, felt leaden in the movie, and could have been scrapped altogether.

Nevertheless, as far as adaptations go, “John Carter” remains one of the more faithful ones to hit the big screen, and not just to the book’s plot but to its sense of adventure and derring-do as well. I hope that it does well in the box office, because I want to see what else Stanton and co. have in store for me.

Also, I want to see more shirtless Taylor Kitsch. A sampling of which is provided below.

 

Taylor Kitsch had such pointy nipples in this movie, I swear.
Why do I love those veins in his arms? Hngngngngng
Pointy nipples. Veins in arms. Skirt. Unf.
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