It's been 100 years in the making and before "Avatar," "Star Wars," or even "Star Trek," "John Carter From Mars" was the ultimate in sci-fi fantasy. The character and story by Edgar Rice Burroughs made its debut in the pages of All-Story magazine as a serial adventure in 1912; the following year, Burroughs became known for another hero named Tarzan.
Now "John Carter" hits the big screen in a film that Disney is calling The Most Epic Action Film of 2012, and even if you're not a fan of sci-fi, "John Carter" may make you change your mind. Virginia-born, Civil War veteran and war weary cavalry captain John Carter (Taylor "Friday Night Lights" Kitsch) gets transported to Barsoom (Mars to Earthlings) where he is thrust into a conflict among inhabitants of a planet that is on the brink of collapse. Most of the storyline for this film is actually from "A Princess of Mars," the first in Burroughs' 12 book series.
While the story may have been novel then, it's been beaten to death by so many thieves in the past century. Carter's quest throughout is to find his way back to the familiar, and return to Earth, but his journey, of course, ends up helping him discover his own humanity.
Shades of "Avatar"? Definitely. Are the four-armed Tharks that Carter becomes aligned with "Star Trekkian"? Most certainly. But let us not forget that it was Burroughs' "John Carter" that traipsed this land before James Cameron or Gene Roddenberry, which makes this film all the more satisfying.
Kitsch ends up being the perfect choice for Carter. When there was a possibility of the film getting off the ground in the 1990s, Tom Cruise was the choice for Carter. But Kitsch brings a "Conan the Barbarian" sensibility to the character, dynamically making "Conan" and "sensibility" easily able to co-exist with one another. When he discovers that his body density can allow him to leap through the air, he trials and errors the exercise, and ends up eating dirt with true honesty. And when he has to play the strong leading man to beloved princess, Dejah Thoris (a captivating Lynn Collins), he can do that with panache just as well.
But the most scene stealing character belongs to the green Martian with a heart of gold, Thark leader Tars Tarkas. Actor Willem Dafoe is behind the voice and character of Tarkas. Dafoe will go to any lengths for a role and proves it here. The character was created using something called performance capture and Dafoe and the other actors playing the Tharks had to perform on three-foot tall stilts in order to get the correct eye-line for the dialogue. Plus, Dafoe had to become fluent in "Tharkian."
Despite plenty of CGI necessary to bring John Carter's Mars to vivid color, director Andrew Stanton, a Pixar genius ("Wall-E" and "Finding Nemo"), uses real landscape (shot in the United Kingdom and Utah in the U.S.) to great effect. And while creating the film was certainly complex, the more than two-hour epic has a dreamy, floating-on-air quality to it, breezing by with a feeling of wanting more when it comes to its climactic end.
Fans that have waited decades for their hero to appear on screen will be more than satisfied with the treatment of "John Carter." The film is as big as Tars Tarkas's heart, as bold as Dejah Thoris's courage, and as brawny as Carter himself.