3 Stars — Wholesome
One hundred years ago, Edgar Rice Burroughs created the character John Carter for his 11-volume novel titled Barsoom. As a decorated Confederate officer of the Civil War, Carter began an extraterrestrial life on this fourth planet from the sun and later adapted to the visual world of Marvel comic books.
But in this first version of the tale, the film begins as he is being entombed and his estate is given to his nephew (Daryl Sabara as Edgar Burroughs) along with a handwritten diary describing his life. It is this history that is the focus of the film.
Adapted for the screen by Mark Andrews, Michael Chabon and director Andrew Stanton, the stories were made popular in the 1970s by Marv Wolfman and Gil Kane of Marvel Comics. But the film has a richer feel than just a comic tale as the depth of storytelling plays on major moral and archetypal themes.
A troubled man, Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is haunted by the futility of war and has become a treasure hunter. Seeking a reputed cave of gold within the Arizona wilderness, he happens upon his prize at the same moment when a man suddenly appears before him.
In the struggle that ensues, he kills him and takes a glowing medallion from his hand. This medallion provides a portal that takes him to Barsoom, or in Earth’s language, Mars. It is there that he meets “The Princess of Mars” Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), the original title of the book on which this film is based.
Along with Martian creatures twice his size, Barsoom has two human tribes who are at war. It is a clear battle between good and evil with malevolent creatures controlling a special power they provide to the more immoral of the tribes. Meddling in a way that is intended to cause the humans to destroy themselves and their planet, the story is clearly an analogy of the warring madness of life on Earth. But when Carter comes into this fray, he is a man with not only super strength because of his alien power, but with a heart of compassion that quickly calls him to offer his life for the underdogs.
The simple message is a well-known Christian belief, that the power of love causes us to courageously be willing to die to set people free. Although unlike Christ in that Carter killed his enemies instead of loving them, it is out of love that he fights.
Although John Carter is more of the western genre rather than that of science fiction, the hero is identifiable and the love he grieves and achieves are believable. The evil is devious and the vulnerability of humanity to such machinations true. The film works at the human level in layers of identifiable if predictable ways. That makes this a worthy film, and perhaps more of the John Carter tales will come.
» Do you believe there is a malevolent evil that is increasing human propensity to destroy ourselves? Why or why not?
» The brutal cultures that are a part of the Martian landscape were created by Burroughs as the first of the World Wars was on his earthly horizon. Do you believe he was attempting to warn us about the destructive nature of war or simply reflecting what his creative talents observed?
» It is difficult to underestimate the power of love to bring peace. Have you found this to be true in your own life?
— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.