I reviewed John Carter after seeing it for the first time a little more than 6 weeks ago. I saw it for the sixth time two nights ago — and the sixth was, surprisingly, the best viewing of all. I feel compelled to explain why, and to offer some closing thoughts on my theatrical journey with John Carter.
First, a true confession: I did not see it six times simply because I so loved it that I just had to see it six times. Had it just been for pleasure, I might have stopped at 3 viewings. But circumstances took me to it six times, and I’m glad for that, now that it’s complete, because the sixth was the best and I’m richer in spirit because of it.
The first viewing was an advance screening with Andrew Stanton answering a Q and A — something the film-maker and film student in me could not resist. The second was a special screening for Edgar Rice Burroughs fans on the lot at Disney, something the ERB fan in me could not resist. Viewings 3,4, and 5 were with family members who wouldn’t have seen it had I not dragged them to it. And finally, the sixth viewing was part of a “Last Trip to Barsoom” that JCF participated in alongside the Facebook John Carter Fan group.
Why was the sixth viewing the best?
I’ve pondered that. The actual cycle for me was — the first viewing I was impressed by the film in many ways, but didn’t quite get fully engaged with it the way I expected to. I faulted myself for this — my intimate knowledge of the books, my somewhat emotional reaction to seeing this story–which has been in the cinema of my mind for most of my life and which I have dreamed of seeing on screen–finally actually up there on the screen. It’s hard to describe the the emotion that washed over me — those of us who fell in love with these books as teenagers carry them with us in our heart in a peculiar and very personal way, and seeing it come to fruition was startlingly powerful.
The second viewing reassured me — many of the concerns I had felt not he first viewing were, it turned out, things that were there — but I had just missed them. The John Carter – Dejah Thoris relationship, for example, which seemed hurried and “missing beats” on a first viewing, felt much more complete a second time around due to sublties in their interaction that had slipped past me on the first viewing. Plot points that had been a little confusing were clear.
Between the second and third viewing I re-read A Princess of Mars and, quite frankly, that caused the third viewing to be my least favorite. With all of Burroughs choices fresh in my mind, I found myself questioning more acutely than I had previously the choices that the John Carter creative team had made. The fourth and fifth viewings were fairly bumpy as well — too many thoughts about too many choices that could have gone another way — too much analysis.
So on the sixth viewing I made a pledge. On this viewing, knowing that it would be my last, I told myself to leave all my critical analysis at the door; forget about all the things that I would have done differently; forget about the details of ERB’s treatment of the material — and just let Andrew Stanton take me on the journey that he wanted to take me on.
It was positively “Strangelovian” (as in — How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Therns).
On this viewing everything worked — and for the first time I really surrendered myself to the storytelling magic that Stanton has achieved with this film. There were people in the audience who had seen it 10, even 15 times, and perhaps that contributed to the spell.
This time — I teared up at least half a dozen times throughout the movie.
This time — the romance worked … every beat, every progression…perfection.
This time — John Carter and his choices at each step of the journey made sense….
This time — I had a full-on, 100% “ERB experience” and it was profoundly satisfying.
What am it to make of this?
I’m not quite sure. There is an alchemy in Stanton’s work that is elusive and intriguing. He has constructed something here that appears to have flaws, but the flaws diminish on repeated viewings and a deeper beauty is revealed. There is a poetic quality to the complex structures that he has brought together that only reveals itself when you get fully in synch with what he has given us. If you resist its charms — you find yourself unengaged. But if you submit — the submission is blissful and the reward surprisingly sublime.
I wrote “I have been to Barsoom” the first time …. but maybe not. Maybe it was only this last trip that really took me there. At last, finally, I got that exhilarating high I have been seeking.
On another day I will write about my theories about how John Carter could have been even better — about choices that may not have been the best. But I will do so with a profound respect for what Andrew Stanton created for us. Right now I just want to say thank you to Andrew Stanton. This all happened because you reached out to Dick Ross and told him you wanted to do this. And you delivered. And yes — thank you to Disney. Even though you blew the marketing of this film in a way that is beyond tragic — you also brought it to the screen when no one else did, and for that I’m truly grateful.
A sequel is, I realize, a remote possibility — but not an impossible dream. Andrew Stanton’s version of ERB’s John Carter is already generating a loyal and extremely motivated group of followers who include people who knew the material beforehand — and (even more beautifully) people who only discovered it now. I hesitate to use the word “cult”, but “cult classic” for sure can describe where John Carter is headed. Will that be enough to get a sequel in my lifetime? If I live a Barsoomian span of a thousand years – then for sure it will happen. An earthly span — not so sure.
But of this I am certain.
This is a film that will grow in stature as time passes.
This is a film that burnishes and re-ignites the legacy of the grandmaster, Edgar Rice Burroughs.
This is a film will win adherents and fans for decades to come.
I will close by including two videos that sing the song of John Carter that’s resonating within me as I close this chapter.
The first — our fan trailer “Heritage” which embodies how I so wish this film had been presented by Disney.
And secondly — I had all but forgotten, but on the day that I created the John Carter Files, I made a video celebrating 100 Years of John Carter. At the end of this journey, it’s nice to come back to it, and contemplate the gift that ERB gave us — and the gift that all the artists who were inspired by him gave us as well.