Archive for March 24th, 2012

I was more than a little dismayed at the buildup to this.  There seemed to be no cohesion to the promotional campaign, no connection to the source material.  Still, I had to check it out, hoping that the movie would not be as bad as the marketing portended.  I inhaled all of ERB when I was a kid — Tarzan, Pellucidar, even the forgettable Venus books.  But my favorite of the whole hackneyed, stilted, racist Burroughs catalog was the John Carter adventures on Barsoom. Their delerious abandonment of logic and focused devotion to spectacle  formed the core of how I experience genre and how I view tropes in my own writing.  They were lame and dumb in many ways, but they had a coherent center, a grammar of images, a freakish integrity that few series have equaled.

I was relieved to find that John Carter of Hollywood didn’t suck much.  Plenty of gosh-wow eye candy, a clear fondness for the source material that wasn’t entirely killed by Disnification, and a nice performance by Kitsch.  I wish I could say his name without a snide chuckle. You’d think the Powers in charge of a quarter-billion dollar budget for a glam-sodden fantasy epic would find a leading dude with a name other than Kitsch. Convenient for the merchandising, I suppose — item and category!  But why do The Onion’s heavy lifting for them? And I couldn’t look at the guy without picturing some newly unemployed studio exec mumbling into his beer: “We wanted Depp but we blew out our budget on SFX.”  Still, he did a fine job and he looks pretty good in weird, skimpy Mars gear. More than good, actually — he looks like he walked right out of a Frazetta painting.  Not that Dejah Thoris seemed to notice or care.  Carter had more onscreen chemistry with his Mars-dog than he did with the Princess.

It’s really easy to snark out at this movie — there is plenty of low-hanging fruit.  But, bottom line, I had a pretty good time. It did resonate, albeit weakly, with the many hours I spent as a kid geeking out with the Ballantine paperbacks with the cheesy lurid covers while normal kids were out playing baseball.  So what if it bore an uncomfortable resemblance at times to The Phantom Menace? At least it didn’t have that horrible child; Carter’s worst moments were better than Phantom’s best.

Maybe it’s time to let the Burroughs catalog slide into the dustbin of history. Kids coming up today have their own escapist destinations, and unlike some older folks, I don’t think mine are any better than theirs.  They’re just mine. Barsoom is mine.  I lived there, for a time, in three hour chunks on weekend afternoons and late nights after the rest of my family was sound asleep.  It’s part of who I am, and doomed, bloated, and goofy as this movie was, it knew me.

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