John Carter - quite good

Lowered expectations can be a good thing.

If you watch a film expecting very little it can often be a rewarding experience. It is always a nice surprise when a box office flop that was panned by critics turns out to be a very enjoyable film.

So, I finally caught up with John Carter last night. The advantage of a film bombing at the cinema is that it comes out on DVD in a matter of months.

And John Carter sank at the box office without much of a trace. I'm not even sure it made it out of the first week.

I didn't catch it at the cinema. That title, news it was over two hours long and a bit of a critical drubbing took the shine off it for me. I was wrong.

If you're not familiar with John Carter, it is an expansive, slightly cheesy space opera adapted from the pulp fiction of Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs. The first John Carter book was written in 1912 and the last in the 1940s.

The film follows Civil War veteran John Carter as he is inadvertently transported to Mars and caught up in the planet's politics and civil war. There are big green, four-armed Tharks, pug-faced, six-legged dogs that can run really fast, flying barges, walking cities and sweeping Western landscapes.

It is a film irmly planted in the traditions of pulp fiction. You know that strangely pleasing smell when you open a musty old secondhand book? This film smells like that.

A disadvantage of adapting a 100-year-old piece of pulp fiction is that it has been so thoroughly plundered by Hollywood for years that the ideas now seem ironically derivative of films like Dune, the 1970s Flash Gordon and Star Wars.

But this did not spoil my enjoyment. I think its a shame that John Carter didn't find a bigger audience. There is spectacle, action, humour, strong characters and a great cast.

Spectacle is perhaps the highest priority on that list. Mars, or Barsoom as it is known by its residents, is rendered in glorious photorealistic detail. The creatures, flying ships, cities and people of Mars are all part of the film's fun.

And the running time of two hours and 20 minutes wasn't much of a problem either. It never felt particularly bloated or boring. There was always plenty going on. There were not the long, boring dialogue scenes full of impossibly named characters and places that I was expecting. OK, maybe there were a couple.

The title, however, is still a problem. Who would want to see a film called John Carter? A movie title is supposed to create a little world in your head and make you want to know more. For example, Star Wars or Escape from New York. But John Carter just makes me think of Michael Clayton and that just makes me think: Boooooring.

And John Carter is far from boring. I can recommend it for a good DVD night.

Just don't expect too much.

Anyone else seen John Carter? I know there aren't many of us, but now it is out on DVD it is definitely worth a watch. What did you think?

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