Archive for John Carter

Children of a Messier God

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 4, 2012 by dcairns

It’s Prometheus! Hello, Prometheus! (From MACISTE IN HELL)

I’m going to avoid spoilers as much as possible while discussing PROMETHEUS, but if you want to see the film with totally fresh eyes, you’re better off not reading anything about it until afterwards, aren’t you?

Although, once you’ve seen it, you’ll be struck by how it’s largely a remake of the original ALIEN — the same story beats, but with interesting / horrific variations. The whole thing is put over with great style, and is very exciting and icky and everything you’d want it to be. Really, it not only acts as if the last two ALIENS films didn’t happen, it mainly ignores James Cameron’s highly-regarded sequel also, and certainly there’s no loose talk of the PREDATOR crossovers. This is, essentially, a prequel/replay of Scott’s original monster movie.

I like Marc Steitenfeld’s music, which continues the fine tradition of terror honking exemplified by SHUTTER ISLAND, but does so much more — including presenting a nice sombre religious grandeur theme, which plays in all sorts of unexpected scenarios.

The best way to talk about it, giving teasers rather than spoilers — might be in the form of a broken radio transmission –

KRRZZZT!

– Begins in Scotland! (where BATTLESHIP ends!) –

– very ALIENS-like spacecraft design –

– very 2001 interiors, continuing the ALIEN series’ odd conceit that as we get further into the future, everything gets danker and rattier –

– “Weyland” — mythic reference, but can’t work out signif –

– Skull Island sphinx statue –

– for once, Fassbender’s penis not largest serpentine organ on view –

– not only watching LAWRENCE OF ARABIA in 3D, but dying his hair to look like O’Toole –

– in old age make-up FOR NO REASON –

– BRRZT! –

– guy getting all Crocodile Hunter with newly discovered alien species. Not smart –

– actors hitting their character’s single dimensions as HARD as they can: “Stupidity with confidence” –

–can’t believed they showed this IN THE TRAILER –

– kzzt!

One of the film’s strangest pleasures for me was the appearance of Kate Dickie, a Scots actress of some standing, who seems rather out of place — not because we can’t accept Scots on a spaceship — there’s Scottie, after all — but because I think she’s struggling with the American dialogue, which is very clipped and snappy, while her delivery is very emphatic and precise (while still in a very broad accent) — this might not be an issue for non-Scots, but I can assure you I’ve never heard anybody talk like this, ever. I suspect the idea was to keep the authentic accent but ensure clarity by stressing everything quite hard and leaving clear spaces between each word — whereas everybody knows that Scots communicate in a succession of continuous vowels. This is like a cross between Scots and morse code.

There’s also the fact that Noomi Rapace is delightfully Swedish, but in a dream-flashback she has an English accent as a child, which fits her character name, Elizabeth Shaw (deep space chocolatier!) but is a little puzzling. Couldn’t they have changed the character name and hired a Swedish child?

This is obviously Erich Von Daniken year — the comparative mythology Was God an Astronaut? stuff here (which serves the same role as the distress signal/warning in ALIEN) also turns up in JOHN CARTER — and would’ve been central to Del Toro’s AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS if that had happened.

What might frustrate some fans is the fact that the film doesn’t really set out to provide answers to the new questions it poses, though it does give information about the nature of the “Space Jockey” species found dead in ALIEN, and the origins of the titular creature itself. Those are questions that nobody really needed answers to, so the new mysteries we’re left with are much more intriguing. And I kind of hope they remain unanswered, but I guess there’s little chance of that — there’ll be a 2010-style sequel along sooner or later to explain everything to death.

We went with our friends Kim and Egg, and Egg was freaked to see that the geologist character looks exactly like the first geologist he ever met (and it’s quite a distinctive look: shaved ginger tattooed head and goatee). Do all geologists look like this?

King Lear in space” was how Fiona described one set of characters, who introduce a theme of age and succession. “Rupert Murdoch in space,” was how I described it. I can’t think why else they cast an Australian and then covered him in old age makeup. Given that this is a Fox film, it does suggest that old Rupert is losing touch with his empire…

I enjoyed this movie and may write more on it when there’s less fear of spoilers.

Hopefully that wasn’t too spoilery, but I make no promises about the comments section. Though it’d be nice if folks keep it misty re major plot points.

The Face on the Barsoom Floor

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 16, 2012 by dcairns

I was trying to recall what the poster reminded me of…

JOHN CARTER in 3D and Imax — I never actually saw an Imax feature before. When our local hydraplex first got an Imax screen, all they had to show was a couple documentaries. I saw the one about Everest. When the snowslide hit the camera lens, as rendered on a screen the size of Burt Lancaster’s grin, I jumped — something 3D pretty much never makes me do (except in Joe Dante’s THE HOLE)… I didn’t experience such an extreme reaction this time, maybe because we sat further back, in deference to Fiona’s nerves. Excessive scale can be alarming to her — for instance, she has a morbid fear of the Eiffel Tower.

…and then I remembered this Tim White paperback cover, BUT…

So, JOHN CARTER, a movie which is underperforming ENTIRELY, I submit, because some halfwit at Disney decided to omit the words “OF MARS” from their $250 million epic, thereby making it sound like MICHAEL CLAYTON or JACKIE BROWN. Low-key, in other words. The decision reeks of stupidity not just because it miss-sells the product (I guess the ads made most of us aware what kind of film this really was) but because it gave off a whiff of panic, and the press bloodhounds were all over that. So the movie emerged sheened in flop sweat, before a skeptical rather than an enthused populace.

But I think they should have thrown subtlety to the winds, like Frazetta.

What’s the movie like? Imperfect, but fun. It had me almost convinced that the improbably-named Taylor Kitsch is a leading man, and slightly more convinced by Lynn Collins. Then, a long way in, James Purefoy comes in with a better-drawn character and breathes so much life into his moments of screen time that you realize what’s been missing. There are some very good actors in this — Mark Strong seizes his moments too, and Ciaran Hinds does his angst-ridden gravitas thing that earns him the big bucks. Dominic West is almost positioned as the main bad guy, but his character is so outclassed by Strong’s that he can’t register. Also, he doesn’t get to do anything really nasty. I mean, he kills lots of people, but so does everybody in this film. You can’t judge the characters by the same standards you’d apply to the people at your local Tesco. I mean, that’d be ridiculous. What West, a thoughtful actor, does, is play his character for all he’s worth as a man promoted hopelessly beyond his range of competence. That’s all the script has given him, so he just goes for it. I think it’s the only choice of any integrity available to him, but it doesn’t help the film the way some good bad-guy business would.

“My name isn’t a problem as I shall appear only in the most classy. high-toned works.”

I’ve read a lot of reviews saying the movie is badly designed, which I don’t wholly agree with. The earthly stuff looks great. Everything involving the four-armed tharks looks beautiful: the tharks, the thark city (Tharksville?), the thark animals like the bullfrogdog, Woola, even the thark bunting in the thark arena is quite lovely.

Meanwhile, in Zodanga and Helium (I know! But still better than Taylor Kitsch, right?) people wear ridiculous tufts of fake fur on their shoulders, elaborate fretwork lattices, and the kind of fantasy fiction garb that tends to look better in a Frank Frazetta painting than on a moving human being with the ability to convey embarrassment. Busy, busy, busy, as Bette Davis says in WHALES OF AUGUST. *I* say, if you’re going the Frazetta route, you probably want to show more skin just to distract from what they’re actually almost wearing. But it’s a Disney film. Is that why it doesn’t have a Traci Lords cameo, which it so clearly REQUIRES? Is there some crazy Disney ruling against employing former porn stars? But Traci is a born-again B-movie queen, and this movie could use her services.

The impractically  incomplete, but fetishistically pleasing suits of armour reminded me of Just Jaeckin’s GWENDOLINE, but they just needed to go that extra mile, or few inches.

Action: mostly clear and impressive, sometimes too frenetic and ugly.

Dialogue: some funny lines, some “How does a pharaoh talk?” awkwardness.

Emotion: Andrew Stanton’s films thrive on sentiment, and here the main source is Willem Dafoe and Samantha Morton’s relationship, which is a distant second in importance and screen time to the leads’. I still enjoyed it though — just wanted more.

Structure: the framing device REALLY pays off — a clever bit of writing, and I don’t automatically expect smarts in films of this kind. Some damage has been done, however, by an inane decision to open on Mars, rather than forcing the audience to wait and be rewarded. In early interviews Stanton seems to hint that he’s going to unfold his plot in a patient and carefully planned manner. Some Disney exec has forced him to splurge. The good news is, if it’s the same guy who changed the title, they only need to fire one person. It’s not Stanton.

Originality: is this movie massively preempted by all the films and shows influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ books over the years? Well, I never felt I was watching something rendered redundant by STAR WARS. I *did* feel that the spirit of FLASH GORDON was very much in the air, and the race to interrupt a wedding at the end, while familiar from many shows from THE PRINCESS BRIDE to THE GRADUATE, seemed particularly reminiscent of Mike Hodges’ camp FXtravaganza. That comparison shows two things — that JOHN CARTER could and should have pushed things further, made itself more outrageous and distinctive — and that Taylor Kitsch, even if he doesn’t quite dominate the film as he should, still has the edge on poor old Sam J. Jones.

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