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John Carter

comes very very close to being insanely great, but then, I became a Burroughs freak at something like 12 years of age, 50 years ago.  It lasts.  Dipping into this film was inevitable for me, so I paid very little attention to who stepped up to make it.

Kitsch, Collins, Dafoe, Church, Hinds, West, Cranston, Schwimmer?, Favreau, and Malik.  I knew Tim Riggins had enormous chops, and Lynn Collins’ delivered a Quality of Mercy soliloquy as Portia that absolutely blew me away, and I have tremendous, amply-justified faith in Andrew Stanton — but I wasn’t expecting tons of celebrated talent submerged in tiny, even miniscule, roles.  The credits are littered with easter eggs, marking trails that lead in two dozen directions, trails I fully intend to follow.  Jewels from many crowns converged to make this one deceptively deep.

The Wire reminded us all to “follow the money”.  I’m glad I’ve learned, since Firefly, to follow the people.

Don’t get me wrong.  The plot of this film isn’t just bizarre, it’s Burroughs-bizarre.  That’s like Africa-hot.  Stuff happens because of speeches I failed to understand, action abounds for reasons that remain unclear, and I’ll have WAY too much time (to pore over subtitles and commentary, reread the novels, and pick over the bones of this remarkable film) while waiting for the next one in the series.  (It is fervently hoped!)

Cheese?  You bet!  Must have more!

27JUL2012 — Third pass.  I bought a 720p copy from iTunes because the full-boat refused to download to my Windows machine, and it’s $5 cheaper.  So here’s why I’m glad I made the purchase:

Beans.  The first item is beans!”  It’s an oversized, emphatic delivery that didn’t make much sense on the first couple of passes, but what if the journey to Mars is a beanstalk and Captain Jack Carter is Jack!  That would be an interesting transnarrative bridge into the realm of allusion that just sets my imagination tingling.  Hey!  Maybe there’s more going on in this story than a shitload of humor, action, plot twists, character development, scenic splendor, poetry, mythos, worldbuilding and buttkicking special effects.  Maybe there’s also a bottomless well of story-wonder into which one can endlessly dip.

Also, it’s clear that Carter’s fruitless search for the fabulous Spider Mine of Gold isn’t just common knowedge in them thar parts, it’s a source of infinite mirth for the local dickheads…but The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Deadwood led me to believe that a down-on-his-luck prospector’s very last idiotic choice would be to flap his jaws with regard to the location and value of his objective of quixotic quest, so how do the dickheads know so much?  Chatty therns?! or perhaps this first first film is an emergent kind of hybrid longform-blockbuster that invites the viewer to view it repeatedly, raising more questions than one film can answer  —  so it really ought not to be approached as though it were bristling with self-contained answers and explanations, but far more like an immensely-enjoyable pilot episode than a season’s-worth of deconstructible puzzle-fragments in a single box.  And Carter ends the grocery transaction by tossing a tinyl brick of refined gold (with an engraved spiderlike emblem) onto the shopkeeper’s counter; not ore or a nugget — but there’s really no time for anybody to think, “What the Fuck!” because the humor, action, plot twists, character devolopment, exposition, and all that other stuff I mentioned a moment ago) just keeps right on happening at a wonderfully-satisfying pace.  So therns are powerful, manipulative parasites, but are they lawyers, priests or derivatives traders?

“Populations rise, societies divide, wars spread, and all the while a neglected planet slowly fades.”   Why doesn’t that sound like “big, dumb fun”?  Dejah Q.

Colonel Powell of the 7th Cavalry in 1867 isn’t Captain Powell of the CSA, and he clearly isn’t Carter’s friend&fellow prospector, but I don’t mind.  The liberties this film takes with the details of the novel(s) aren’t cheap, exploitative nor careless.  I’m confident they matter.  Paraphrasing Powell, who’s attempting to recruit Carter into the 7th, “Folks are being attacked in their homes by Apaches!”.  It’s an interesting irony that Sherman invented Total War (waged against entire, noncombatant populations [and Virginia Carter’s family]) on his way through Georgia before Custer brought that terrorist stratagem agains the red people of Earth.  Carter, the war-weary cavalry officer responds by saying (in paraphrase), “Fuck you all.”  On the other hand, new departures from the literary identity of Carter simply enrich and deepen the novel’s central character, who says:

“I do not believe that I am made of the stuff which constitutes heroes, because, in all of the hundreds of instances that my voluntary acts have placed me face to face with death, I cannot recall a single one where any alternative step to that I took occured to me until many hours later.  My mind is evidently so constitued that I am subconsciously forced into the path of duty without the recourse to tiresome mental processes.  However that may be, I have never regretted that cowardice is not optional with me.”

The darker, torn, more-contemplative, even Hamlet-like Carter who appears in the film has fought his way (and lost his family) to a wonderfully-bitter, adult realization of grudgingly-obstinate pacifism, in spite of his reflexive impulses to answer heroically the immediate call of duty.  He’s more interesting and four-dimensional than Burroughs’ original character, and far more likely to say something cynical, like, “Stupid are the brave”, before bounding off reflexively to do the right thing without regard to tiresome mental processes.  Same guy, better darknesses, deeper pain.  And just when you expect the reversals to end in a cavalcade of trumpet fanfares, ticker tape and fluff; they don’t.  Stuff dovetails, gathers and ramps the resonance UP!

There are also historical allusions to The Battle of Five Forks and Carter’s nearly turning the tide of battle that resulted in the award of The Southern Cross for conspicuous gallantry…and stuff like that.  And Jack kills a nine foot Thark with a single blow.  And althugh Carter’s inert physical body is revealed to be back in a cave on Earth, the Ninth Ray medallion telegraphed a copy of him? to Barsoom in form of an emale.  Obviously, I don’t object to (my own) ridiculously-tortured interpretations, so long as they result in MORE of this exceptionally-delicious cheese.  And don’t forget, there’s dip.

Subtitles help with grasping exposition in the relatively-rare instances when knowing exactly why what-the-hell’s-happening actually matters, unlike one hell of a lot of movies (in which sound effects and score are ruinously-louder than dialogue).  Here, most of the humor and pith is VISUAL!

I no longer like this film (which, much like Casablanca, isn’t getting any older/staler with each successive pass, just richer and more flavorful, and more intriguing).  I love it!

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13 Jul 12 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment