Friday, July 15, 2011

What I'm Seeing in the "John Carter" Trailer

Al at "Warriors of the Red Planet" isn't very happy with the trailer for "John Carter." He suggests an equivalence with this trailer for "Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time."

I'm not seeing it.

Yes, there is a similarity in pallet and action beats. Both sport sleeveless Caucasian heroes wearing lots of brown leather and scraggly hair cut at jaw-length. The Prince of Persia trailer also promises an epic good time. The music is, in fact, epic, with full orchestra and moaning choir throbbing beneath a narrator whose first words are "Legends tell..." which I'm thinking is the new "In a world…” only a bit more specific to genre flicks. What follows is a mix of high-flying adventure with lots of acrobatics and humor based on a sultry beauty with a mischievous grin teasing a clumsy-tongued hero. If you've seen the movie (I did and thought it was fun) then you'll note it is a great trailer; it tells you exactly what to expect in the movie.

The John Carter trailer is a different beast entirely. It's a much more somber affair with its pulsing piano riff that creates a musical backbone that runs through the entire trailer. It begins not with epic vistas, but with gray, rainy streets and the announcement of a death. Even when the scenery does become epic and the music swells, it grows more discordant, uncertain, even broken. There is not a single moment of comedy in this trailer; John Carter's princess never smiles, and when she speaks, she speaks of death. All of the action beats are fraught with peril. They are not our hero triumphing, but moments of tension: burning hulks, shadowy figures stepping into a gloomy room, our hero outnumbered on the edge of a precipice, our hero being chased by seven riders, the Princess armed with a sword facing down a thark with a rifle. Danger, tension, and impending disaster. No rollicking good time here.

Maybe I'm reading too much into the music and the pacing of this trailer, but there is an undercurrent of pathos here. Yes, that does work with the books in which Barsoom is a dying world. But I'm also getting a sense of brokenness from John Carter. I suspect his history as a veteran of the Civil War is going to be more than simple backstory explanation for his skills as a rider, swordsman, and soldier.

I have been impressed again and again by the writing skills of the Pixar crew. It's one of the things that gives me hope for this movie. However, they do seem to fall into a pattern of creating empathy through pain. There is something broken about all Pixar protagonists, whether you're talking about toy cowboys, retired superheroes, junkyard robots, or geriatric dreamers. I suspect we'll see the same from John Carter.


kesher said...

That was a spot-on analysis. Exactly how I felt!

Timothy Paul Schaefer said...

I try not to be to critical of movie adaptations. I used to get frustrated at comic book movies.
But I had to give that attitude up or else I was going to go nuts.
When a book or comic gets translated into another medium, it usually involves whole teams of other creators putting their spin on things. Not to mentions the fact that when each person reads the story they are imagining things in their own way.
When I think of John Carter, I see a Frank Frazetta painting. Not everyone would agree.
I think the best way to adapt a story to film is to have the original creator involved.
Look at the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, or 300. Out of the growing number of comic book movies, they are the closest to the original vision because the creators were involved.

Welcome to Dungeon! said...

In an interview Andrew Stanton talks about his casting the actor Taylor Kitsch in part on the basis of how he could convey the damaged quality he seeins in JC, so I think you're not mistaken in picking up on that idea. I don't know if the movie will end up being good, but the trailer suggests to me that it might be, which really is more than I can say that often recently.

trollsmyth said...

Kesher: Thanks!

Nemo235: I'm afraid I see Michael Whelan and his super-saturated colors. This clearly isn't that, but I know my view is heavily tinged by what I saw in my high school library.

I'm thinking there are going to be a lot of changes in this from the book. We'll see, of course, but I never really got a sense of brokenness in JC from the books. I did get a bit of him being adrift until he meets the princess, but that's a completely different vibe, I think.

I'm pretty chill about such adaptations these days, so I'm looking forward to it. But I'm not expecting to see what I saw in my mind as I read those books reproduced up there on the screen. My expectations are an engaging story with lots of action and imaginative ideas, many of which will be lifted from books I loved back when.

WtD!: You know, I must have read that interview as well, because I'm certain it's tinging my view of this trailer. Otherwise, yeah, I'm reading an awful lot into it. ;p

faoladh said...

I think that you have a good analysis here. I also noticed that the Theosophical concepts on which Burroughs based the stories are pretty strongly highlighted in this trailer, from the statement about what Carter's coming is a "sign" of to the lyrics of the song playing. It really does seem, at the moment, as though the people making it care about the story and want to do it right. Certainly a big step up from the atrocious treatment that Robert E. Howard gets.

Anonymous said...

All I know is that I've been looking at the Gutenburg's Projects copy of Princess of Mars for a little while, and if nothing else, this is probably going to get me to get to reading it before the film gets out...

I optimistically feel hopeful for the film, if for no reason than to introduce that Pulp Sci-Fi feel (and it seems that it will accomplish that) to a new generation, for I myself never really had that opportunity to really grock it.

Maybe Space 1899 will also make a comeback. Who knows?

Anonymous said...

I'm worried about any classic/pulp style character (like Conan) being adapted to film, because men of action are just not well represented by movie writers today.. they are always softened/weakened somehow and given motivations not in line with the original stories. This probably has the best chance of being a good movie though, given the talent involved and the fact that Carter actually was motivated by feelings/emotions once he met Dejah.

Tzimiscedracul said...

Great analysis! Specially about the Pixar approach to protagonists. I'm still hopeful that we'll get a good movie (maybe not a faithful one).