Originally published January 20th, 2012 on Battleship Pretension, here.
Cheerleading a film has never been part of my film reviews or writing. I see it often as a website or writer buying into the marketing of a massive film and doing the studio’s job for them. There are exceptions, of course, and times when it is appropriate. If the feeling of excitement is genuine, or the film is a small release in need of exposure, cheerleading is more than beneficial. With that, it may seem hypocritical of me to cheerlead a 300-million dollar epic, but in this case, Andrew Stanton’s John Carter seems to need all the help it can get.
The dismissal of this Disney blockbuster seems to have begun from day one, and excitement has yet to grow. Based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic A Princess of Mars, this film has a history dating back a century and the longest case of development hell in film history. That being said, this current iteration of the Burroughs classic has arguably the best possible team working on it. While it began at Pixar, the film was shifted to the Disney label as the material was not seen as family friendly enough. However, much Pixar talent and filmmaking theory was still employed in this production.
The obvious Pixar representative on this film is Oscar-winning filmmaker Andrew Stanton of Wall-E and Finding Nemo fame. Beyond Stanton, the film is also co-written by Mark Andrews, an Oscar-nominated Pixar filmmaker, and Michael Chabon, a Pulitzer Prize winning author. It is also produced by several Pixar producers who worked with Stanton on Wall-E. Even ignoring the filmmaking talent, the cast is exceptional, filled with great talent such as Willem Dafoe and Bryan Cranston. While it may star an up-and-comer, Taylor Kitsch, the young Canadian has proven he is more than just a pretty face on Friday Night Lights.
And while simply listing the talent is certainly not enough to convince audiences that this film may surprise them, it is important to note that this is not just another hack job. It is a passion project for Stanton, Andrews and Chabon, and they have all been lifelong fans of this century old property. The fact this film is an adaptation of a novel as influential and old as A Princess of Mars is very important, considering how many may view this as an Avatar or Star Wars clone.
Disney has a major problem on its hands, considering that so much of popular sci-fi is inspired directly by Burroughs’ Mars, and the marketing needs to be selling this point. What makes the original novels so great is the adventure aspect of it, no matter how old it is, and how much is has been ripped off since, the source material is still fresh. It is a grand adventure film that we so rarely get nowadays and it seems Stanton has captured this. It is from a different time, and yet it is possibly exactly what we need now. People crave escapism, and it is rare we get escapism by filmmakers this talented.
I feel an excitement for this film that is entirely rare to me, and even I am surprised. When I first picked up A Princess of Mars, I was shocked by how engrossed I was by it. Everything from the characters to the world itself captured me, and I sincerely believe this film will be everything it should be.
As I mentioned before, this may no longer be a legitimate Pixar film, but the mentality of perfection is there. Stanton himself was not happy with a rough cut of the film and convinced Disney for 18 days of intense reshoots. While this may scare some off, it is common practice at Pixar, and it is part of its winning recipe. They do not allow for weakness in storytelling, and will rework a film until it is perfect.
The widespread dismissal of this film is almost bewildering to me, as the first live-action film from one of our great storytellers should be an exciting moment for film fans. As March approaches, it is my hope Disney gets the marketing right and starts to turn people onto this film. If not, they may have a massive flop on their hands. Beyond that, however, is my hope that people will share some of the excitement I feel for this film. I may not cheerlead for films often, but I sincerely believe this is one film that deserves my excitement.