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With: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, Willem Dafoe, Thomas Haden Church, Mark Strong, Ciar�n Hinds, Dominic West, James Purefoy, Bryan Cranston, Polly Walker, Daryl Sabara
Written by: Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews, Michael Chabon, based on a story by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Directed by: Andrew Stanton
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action
Running Time: 132
Date: 02/22/2012

John Carter (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Mars Gazing

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The name "John Carter" sounds like it could belong to anyone from a postal worker to a politician. But actually he's an intrepid explorer of other planets, born from the pen of Edgar Rice Burroughs, the late, great pulp writer that also created "Tarzan."

Carter first appeared in 1912 in a pulp magazine serial, which was later published in novel form as A Princess of Mars.

Tarzan debuted the same year to far greater success. The ape man quickly made the jump to movies, which ranged from Johnny Weissmuller adventures, to trashy Bo Derek movies, Oscar-nominated dramas and Disney cartoons.

But John Carter has never graced the big screen, until now.

What's most peculiar about the new 3D John Carter movie, however, is how much it resembles the recent Avatar -- and how much better it is.

The tale begins on earth, with John Carter (Taylor Kitsch of "Friday Night Lights") as a Civil War veteran-turned gold prospector.

He stumbles across a cave and finds himself whisked away to Mars (called "Barsoom" by its natives). The planet's different gravity allows John to jump great heights and distances.

This comes in handy, as John soon finds himself caught in a civil war between two tribes of red-skinned humanoid Martians as well as the neutral, nomadic green Martian creatures known as the Tharks.

A beautiful princess, Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), and a slimy villain, Sab Than (Dominic West), help him choose sides.

And thus follows much chasing, escaping, fighting, racing against time, and even some puzzle-solving.

Daryl Sabara plays Burroughs in a wraparound sequence, aimed at newcomers.

Director Andrew Stanton, a familiar name from the Pixar productions Finding Nemo and WALL-E, makes his live-action debut, keeping the same feel for fluidity, rhythm, and space as in those animated classics.

Likewise, co-screenwriter Michael Chabon is most definitely an ace-in-the-hole; that brilliant Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay -- and co-writer of Spider-Man 2 -- knows a thing or two about interpreting pulp and comics.

Only the movie's odd, minor-chord opening scene betrays the slightest bit of uncertainty from the filmmakers, and certainly the movie could have been a bit pulpier.

But no matter how big and expensive John Carter looks, it remains enthusiastically a pulp story at heart. Conversely, Avatar often wobbled between preaching and illiteracy, and fun wasn't even a factor.

John Carter practically celebrates the concept of adventure as it speeds along, and, as viewers, it's easy to join the celebration.

Disney has released a two-disc combo pack, with a DVD and a Blu-ray, which I hope people will catch up with. There's a "Disney second screen" feature, wherein viewers can access bonuses while watching the movie. There's a 34-minute making-of featurette, a short featurette on original author Edgar Rice Burroughs, deleted scenes, bloopers, and an audio commentary track by director Stanton and some of the producers.

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