Monthly Archives: January 2013

Movies: John Carter

I saw John Carter yesterday, and in short, I really enjoyed the movie. The movie, based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars (1912), balances action and world building better than most sci-fi/fantasy movies. With its sweeping vistas of Mars, this is one of those movies that must be seen on the big screen. It will lose a lot if viewed on even a large TV.

The best part of the movie, however, was the characters. John Carter is one of the rare movies in which the heroes are more interesting than the villains (this is a topic that deserves its own post). The title character is a haunted veteran of the Civil War who goes West seeking gold, and who has little use for other people or their causes. He fought for a cause, and in doing so, he lost everything. As the movie opens, it is clear he does not want to make that mistake again. Dejah Thoris, the Princess of the book’s title, is a scholar and warrior who flees her besieged city to escape a political marriage with an enemy ruler. Very quickly their paths cross, and it is their crossed purposes – his desire to get back to his gold in the Arizona Hills, and hers to find a way to save her city – that provides most the conflict and drama of the story.

As for the film’s villains, they could be best described as personifications of greed, violence, and entropy. In a way, they are the perfect 21st-Century villains. They are shadowy, faceless parasites, slowly sucking the life out of Mars, not unlike the evils Earth faces today: Climate change, terrorism, and the financial meltdown (with its arcane credit-default swaps and “securitization” of sub-prime mortgages). John Carter smartly, I think, leaves the villains as forces of nature (like the shark in Jaws), and focuses on the heroes, and how they face challenges that are bigger than any one person. This is a refreshing change from the revenge-motivated, I-can-kill-everything hero and the all-too-interesting villain so often found in recent action movies.

See John Carter in the theater. It is well worth the time and money.

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The studio released several trailers and clips for the movie. Below is my favorite. It was the first trailer released, and, ironically, I think it captures the film best. Especially nice is the use of Peter Gabriel’s cover of “My Body is a Cage.” If you are unfamiliar with the story, I won’t say any more – I don’t want to spoil anything. Just, watch (or watch again) this trailer after you’ve seen the movie. I think you’ll see what I mean.

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Happy Birthday Edgar!

Edar Allan Poe is one of my favorite writers. His use of first-person narration and lurid Gothic imagery gives him a unique voice. There’s nothing like reading “The Raven” on a cold, gray afternoon. Whenever I read Poe, the images in my mind’s eye possess almost no color. To use an analogy, I don’t see Poe’s stories as black and white films. Rather, I see them as color movies shot using a blue film stock. I’m not sure why – it’s just the picture that formed in my head when I first started reading Poe.

Detroit-born Roger Corman clearly visualized Poe’s work differently. Between 1959 and 1964, Corman made eight adaptations of Poe’s work (actually “The Haunted Palace” only takes its name from Poe – it’s actually based on H. P. Lovecraft’s The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward, but I’m willing it count it). These eight movies, sometimes called Corman’s Poe Cycle, were filmed in vivid color and often had few dark shadows.

While Corman’s bright palette is jarring for me, there’s something fun about his adaptations. Perhaps it’s Vincent Price chewing the scenery or perhaps it’s how he incorporated Poe’s “Hop-Frog” into “The Masque of the Red Death.”  Perhaps it’s that Corman hewed closely to Poe’s themes, if not his imagery.

Regardless, Poe’s birthday is a good excuse to watch one of Corman’s cult classics. And to whet your appetite here’s a trailer: From 1960, starring Vincent Price…”House of Usher”

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