Tag Archives: a princess of mars

John Carter (2012) – Michael Giacchino

Note: This review is a short version of a more detailed look conducted in a post on my companion site, ChadTalksMovies, titled “My Adventures on Barsoom.” Check it out!
John Carter

I’ve made it clear in the past that Michael Giacchino is one of my favorite composers, and I might have even called him the best composer out there today; his ability to so effortlessly switch between genres is impressive, with him composing excellent scores for such contrasting films as Star Trek (my review), Up, and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (my review). My recent obsession with all things John Carter/Barsoom-related has introduced me to Giacchino’s score for the 2012 Disney film for the first time. As expected, it’s wonderful.

The soundtrack opens with Giacchino’s beautiful, sweeping theme representing the world of Barsoom; after listening to it for the first time, I walked away whistling it. In the theme, he has managed to capture the majesty and splendor of the planet, both as described by Edgar Rice Burroughs in the original A Princess of Mars novel (my review) and as shown in the film adaptation, but it also embodies both the adventure at hand and the romance between Carter and Dejah Thoris. This quickly fades into something more ethereal and otherworldly, led by a solo voice and eerie strings, serving as a backdrop to the opening scene that describes the plight of the dying planet.

There is a lot of diversity found in this score, with Giacchino switching between a larger, more triumphant sound (“Carter They Come, Carter They Fall,” “The Prize is Barsoom”) and something that is more mysterious and appropriately unearthly (“The Temple of Issus,” “A Thern Warning”). He also makes heavy use of voice, with either the choir or a single voice making an appearance in just about every track. The dexterity of the human voice gives it the ability to fit right in with the “unearthly” style of music mentioned as well as with the more tender, intimate moments of the score, such as at the start of the track “A Change of Heart.” They even fit in perfectly during the more aggressive, war-like bits of music, such as in the latter half of the track “The Prize is Barsoom.”

The Tharks are an indigenous species on Barsoom, not human-like in appearance, and they are represented well here by heavy percussion with a sort of tribal, primitive sound to it. It’s appropriately aggressive, just like the Tharks themselves. Giacchino uses strings to great effect, with the bowed instruments often acting as the driving force beneath the rest of the orchestra, usually playing an ostinato eighth note line, occasionally interjecting with a quieter version of theme heard in the other instruments. The strings also have many beautiful moments on their own, playing soft, warm melodies that emphasize the beauty of the world and the tenderness shown between Carter and Dejah Thoris.

The original John Carter stories as written by Edgar Rice Burroughs inspired many generations of scientists, writers, and even filmmakers. Among those was George Lucas, whose Star Wars saga borrows many elements of story and character from Burroughs’ work. It’s an ironic twist, then, for me to point out that there are parts of Giacchino’s score here that are reminiscent of John Williams’ score to Star Wars. No, nothing is ripped off, but there are certain points in the score when I can definitely hear the nod to Williams’ work, which is a nice touch that familiarizes the film a bit. You can even hear some of Giacchino’s Star Trek in here, though there’s nothing blatant enough to upset me. These three films all take place on foreign planets/in space, so the feel of them is similar (though Star Trek is definitely more sci-fi than the other two) and the music shares common elements of the genre.

Despite the fact that the film was not received very well, Giacchino’s score has received universal acclaim because, well, he’s awesome. With his score to John Carter, Giacchino has ventured into yet another new territory for him – that is, the territory of space fantasy – and has emerged victorious. His interpretation of John Carter’s Barsoom is on as grand a scale as the original book, but he also captures the more personal moments between our hero and Dejah Thoris. His ability to switch styles so quickly, from a majestic main theme to an aggressive percussion rhythm for the Tharks to ethereal strings/voices for the planet of Barsoom itself, makes the soundtrack just as epic as the film itself.

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

1. “A Thern for the Worse” 7:38
2. “Get Carter” 4:25
3. “Gravity of the Situation” 1:20
4. “Thark Side of Barsoom” 2:55
5. “Sab Than Pursues Princess” 5:33
6. “The Temple of Issus” 3:24
7. “Zodanga Happened” 4:01
8. “The Blue Light Special” 4:11
9. “Carter They Come, Carter They Fall” 3:55
10. “A Change of Heart” 3:04
11. “A Thern Warning” 4:04
12. “The Second Biggest Apes I’ve Seen This Month” 2:35
13. “The Right of Challenge” 2:22
14. “The Prize Is Barsoom” 4:29
15. “The Fight for Helium” 4:22
16. “Not Quite Finished” 2:06
17. “Thernabout” 1:18
18. “Ten Bitter Years” 3:12
19. “John Carter of Mars” 8:53

Total Length: app. 75 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad

P.S. – Read my review of the film here!


John Carter (2012)

Note: This review is a short version of a more detailed look conducted in a post on my companion site, ChadTalksMovies, titled “My Adventures on Barsoom.” Check it out!
John Carter

Directed by Andrew Stanton (of Pixar fame) and released by Disney, I became quite excited to see this film upon seeing the trailers, but I faltered when it was received poorly by critics and didn’t do well at the box office. Recently, however, I read Michael D. Sellers’ book John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood (my review), which talks about why the film failed the way it did, getting me re-interested in John Carter and leading me to read author Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original book, A Princess of Mars (my review). All the while, I became more and more excited to see the film despite its negative reception – I wanted to see this world come to life! –  and, now that I’ve seen it…what’s wrong with everyone? What is there to dislike about this film?

Here is Disney’s official plot synopsis:

The film tells the story of war-weary, former military captain John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), who is inexplicably transported to Mars where he becomes reluctantly embroiled in a conflict of epic proportions amongst the inhabitants of the planet, including Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) and the captivating Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins).

In a world on the brink of collapse, Carter rediscovers his humanity when he realizes that the survival of Barsoom and its people rests in his hands.

For the first half hour or so of the film, I was pretty skeptical. A confusing, not-from-the-book opening scene raises many questions right off the bat, and the first few minutes of the actual film are not much better. I began writing out a mental list of complaints, but I shoved that aside the farther I got into the film. Does it have its problems? Well, yeah, but every movie does. Does it deserve all of the negativity that it has received? Not by any stretch of the imagination.

Stanton takes plenty of liberties with Burroughs’ world and characters, but, looking back, I understand the reasoning behind every single one of them. While the John Carter of A Princess of Mars is a good guy just because he is a good guy and there’s no questioning it (it works great in the book), the John Carter of the film has issues; he’s stubborn, he’s selfish, and even disrespectful at times. However, all of this builds and builds to give Carter the opportunity to be the good guy, bringing a character arc that is needed for film. It is a pleasure to watch Taylor Kitsch as John Carter of Earth discover the part of him that is actually John Carter of Mars, willing to fight and die for the good beings of Barsoom. The Dejah Thoris of the book is not a warrior, nor is she a scientist, but she is both in the film, giving her a more active role in the story and letting her be more than just the romantic damsel in distress (which, again, worked really well in the book). Lynn Collins plays the character with an appropriate amount of spirit and energy, capturing both the romantic side of the character that would be required of a Princess of Mars, but she also brings the new feisty side of the character necessitated by the script. The addition of the mysterious Therns to the film is a bit confusing at first, and certain story elements and characters are removed, but all of it comes out okay, working for the film’s good.

The scope of the film is just as large as that of the book, with the choice of filming in real locations rather than using a green screen being something that I think humanizes it a bit, making it more accessible to the viewers. Sure, the original story is meant to be “out there,” but it’s more the characters who inhabit the world and how they interact with each other that create the scope of the story, not the world itself. That being said, the visuals in the film are fantastic, from the look of the Tharks to the design of the airships to the wide expanses of desert mountains. Composer Michael Giacchino’s score to the film is appropriately reminiscent of John Williams’ original score to Star Wars without being a copy, and you can even hear a bit of his score to Star Trek (my review) every now and again, though I’m not holding that against him by any means. Giacchino keeps a perfect balance between bringing out the largeness and epicness of the adventure and capturing the intimate moments between characters, and his main theme is one of my favorites by him.

There are certainly aspects from the book that I think would have worked well for the film, namely the story being told from Carter’s perspective or the more episodic style of storytelling, but the absence of these elements didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the film. In fact, the absence of these and other characters or story elements seen in the book helped to set the film apart as its own entity to be enjoyed. The important thing about this film is that it captures the heart of the source material without photocopying it from page to screen, and it does it in a way that is incredibly fun; the last half of the film, especially the few minutes just before the credits roll, are definitely my favorites. I should also mention that I liked Kitsch and Collins in the lead roles, but I also really liked Tars Tarkas as played by Willem Dafoe; he plays the character with a resolve that fits a character of his authority, but the compassionate side of the character also rings through, making him one of the best characters of the film. John Carter is not a perfect piece of cinema, but it’s good, old-fashioned storytelling at its best, with plenty of good humor, great action scenes, incredible special effects, and likable characters…and it’s certainly not deserving of all the negative criticism heaped upon it. If you haven’t seen it, give it a chance! I beg you!

-Chad

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for intense sequences of violence and action

P.S. – Read my review of this film’s score, composed by Michael Giacchino, here!


A Princess of Mars (1917) – Edgar Rice Burroughs

Note: This review is a short version of a more detailed look conducted in a post on my companion site, ChadTalksMovies, titled “My Adventures on Barsoom.” Check it out!
Princess of Mars

I was unfamiliar with Edgar Rice Burroughs or his character John Carter until the property came to my attention when Disney adapted the character for the big screen in the 2012 film John Carter. From the looks of the trailers, I was pretty darn excited for the film, but I never went and saw it, possibly due to the less-than-stellar reputation it was accruing at the box office, becoming Disney’s biggest flop ever. I gradually lost interest, but when Amazon offered the book John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood, by Michael D. Sellers, for free on my Kindle, I read through it feverishly, fascinated by the history of the film and its source material. Halfway through that book, I decided that I had to give John Carter and the people of Barsoom a chance…and, good gosh, am I glad I did!

A Princess of Mars is the first in an 11-book series about Civil War veteran John Carter, who is suddenly and inexplicably spirited to the planet of Mars, called “Barsoom” by its inhabitants. Carter soon realizes that the lesser gravity on Barsoom allows him to leap great distances and greatly multiplies his strength. However, he is soon captured by Tharks, Martians who have green skin, four arms, stand fifteen feet tall, and are known for being fierce warriors. His strength allows him to climb ranks among the Tharks and befriend Tars Tarkas, one of the Thark chiefs. Soon, an attack on the flying ships of Helium, a city-state populated by Red Martians who look identical to humans except for their red skin, introduces Carter to Dejah Thoris, princess of Helium and the most beautiful woman he has ever laid eyes on. Carter plans an escape with Dejah Thoris in order to return her to her people, but many obstacles stand in their way. Accompanied by Dejah Thoris and an ugly but faithful companion named Woola, John Carter faces friends, foes, and everything in between in his first adventure on Barsoom.

The first thing I noticed about this book while reading is the way Burroughs writes. His sentence structure, choice of words, and descriptive prowess all join together beautifully to form sentences that are almost romantic in their presentation; that is to say, not “lovey-dovey” romantic but expressive and artistic. All of these wonderfully composed sentences build into a story that carries with it the largeness of the world and the larger-than-life qualities of the characters within it. The story is more episodic than plot-based, with each chapter bringing Carter to a new place or introducing him to a new task or character, which makes sense since the story was originally published in monthly serials before being compiled into a book. These vignettes from Carter’s time on Barsoom aren’t disjointed, however, with everything flowing and connecting rather nicely.

There is a lot of appeal in this book, from the desire to be a hero like John Carter to the swashbuckling swordplay to the fantastical descriptions of Barsoom/Mars to the romance between Carter and Dejah Thoris. It’s a novel that transcends genres, with elements of science fantasy, romance, and Westerns all coming into play. A Princess of Mars gave me what is possibly the most fun experience I’ve had while reading in quite a long time, increasing my interest in the following ten sequels, the film (my review), and in Burroughs in general. If you want to have a great time reading, go read this. Now!

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

-Chad