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John Carter

March 19, 2012 3 comments

Edgar Rice Burrough’s Barsoom series were, for me, part of growing up. A bunch of weirdly fantastic, metaphysically strange adventure stories where a relatively two-dimensional1 dude is thrust into a world of princesses, monsters, mystics and double dealing. And all of this takes place on Mars.

So, being the sort of chap that I am, I was pretty excited by Disney’s John Carter2, and having come in with low expectations3, enjoyed it immensely. It’s pretty flawed; a lot of the charm from the original novels has gone in order to update it to modern tastes, but at its heart, the feature stays with the essence of original books; Mars is huge, strange and filled with the profoundly weird and exotic.

Brought to you by the man who invented Tarzan.

The four-armed, green skinned Tharks, on which much of the original story revolves, are interesting and likeable. The martian princess4, who is essentially the central character, is interesting and engaging. Sadly, the actress cast for the role is pretty rather than strange-looking, but the performance is powerful and the character is strong and independent, as it should be.

As for John Carter himself? Meh. He’s eye candy and carries the story forward the way he’s supposed to, by being a proxy for the viewer. This is a true fantasy movie, and the books that inspired it have been huge influence on more familar films; elements of the Barsoom books can be found in big chunks of American Fantasy and Sci-Fi stories from Superman to Flash Gordon, from Star Trek to Star Wars.

Does John Carter does its legacy justice? Yes, just about. The sad fact is that by making a movie that would appeal to a larger market, they’ve cut away the true strangeness of the original work (which is just under a 100-years old), and we are left with a movie that fails to excite the average non-geek and merely teases the truly nerdy amongst it with a vision of what was almost great.

Also, the White Apes looked brilliant.


1: Lot’s of pulp-action heroes are relatively simply drawn. Critics pan the Twilight novels for a rather flat female lead whilst conveniently forgetting the vast army of near-perfect male heroes in all sorts of fiction aimed for boys. Flat can be fun, if the rest of the world is vivid and interesting.

2: Much has been made of the fact that the movie is not called John Carter of Mars. Thing is, that would also be misleading, as the movie is broadly based on the first Barsoom book, Princess of Mars.

3: It’s worth pointing out that this isn’t the first time the book has been adapted. Asylum got there first.

4: Hey, this is a Disney movie? With a princess? I demand that Dejah Thoris be added to the list of Disney Princesses. With any luck, she’ll team up with Mulan and kick the arses of the rest of them, drilling some self-reliance, confidence and self respect into Ariel, Belle and the rest.

Categories: Geek, Movies

Runaways

March 5, 2012 Leave a comment

Marvel Comics has never been afraid to look for new ways to sell its tales of super powered hi-jinks, and quite often, these experiments yield interesting and enduring results.1 One rather nice example is Brian K Vaughan’s Runaways.

Original pitched at manga reading teenagers, the book found popularity amongst comic book fans of all ages; after all, a light sprinkling of teen angst can go a long way, especially if you add super powers.
The premise of Runaways is quite fun; a band of teenagers who have known each other through childhood stumble across their parents performing some sort of sinister and evil ritual. This being the Marvel Universe, the kids jump to the conclusion that their folks have to be some sort of super villain team. Convinced that their own lives are in mortal peril, they make a break for it and go on the run, uncovering amazing revelations about themselves and their families on the way.

Original, fun and refreshing, but still very Marvel.

Runaways is a rites-of-passage tale with a heavy focus on emotional journeys and personal revelation. The kids argue, make-up and inevitably bond, becoming not simply a team of heroes but a family2 . The Marvel Universe stands out when everyday problems (such as teenage homelessness) run smack-bang into impossible things (such as The Incredible Hulk).

The other nifty thing about Runaways is that all the super-powered elements are really, really cool. From intelligent uses of over-used super powers to novel gadgets and resources (including frog-shaped vehicles and pet dinosaurs), the book takes familiar comic book tropes and makes them young again.

The original series of Runaways is well worth your time, as is the Joss Whedon run, especially if you like a little soap-opera in your comic books.


1: Case it point, the Ultimate series of books began life as a way to explore old stories in new ways, with an eye to perhaps making Marvel Movies. So much so in fact, that the reimagined comic book version of Nick Fury looked like Samuel Jackson in the hope that they could convince him to play that character in the movies. (It worked.)

2: Family is a major theme of the Marvel Universe, from the Fantastic Four onwards.

Categories: Comic Books

Flash Gordon

March 2, 2012 5 comments

Thanks to the convenience of home cinema, these days we all tend to have movies that we can watch again and again. They are a non-fattening sort of comfort food, and tend to be as wide and as diverse as people are. The feature that happens to be my cinematic bowl of chocolate ice-cream is 1981 sci-fi flick Flash Gordon.

In case you’ve missed it, the plot is as simple as it is fun; Football1 player Flash Gordon stumbles upon an alien assault on the planet Earth. With the assistance of a crazy genius and a sassy New York City girl, Flash embarks on a quest to save the Earth, picking up a menagerie of strange and exotic allies along the way.

With lavish sets and frankly ridiculous costumes, the world of Flash Gordon is one of pulp adventure and comic book weirdness, and it’s the real star of the movie. Sam Jones, who plays Flash, suffers from a lack of acting skill. Luckily, everybody else in the feature overacts in order to make up for it. The glorious scenery is chewed into tiny bits, and the result is wonderfully over-the-top.

Instantly quotable, utterly unforgettable. Also features rocketships.

Max Von Sydow is glorious as the Emperor Ming, a combination of high-camp villain and fatherly monster. This is the movie that gave Brian Blessed some of his best known catch-phrases 2 and allows to see a well-loved children’s TV presenter die a slow and lingering death. It also features Italian national treasure Ornella Muti3 as the Emperor’s Daughter. Thanks to a series of skimpy, body hugging outfits, Flash Gordon is responsible for the stirrings of all sorts of feelings in many a teenage boy.

This is a movie without subtlety or subtext, with a tiny hint of dark humour for taste. It’s filled with beautiful people being energetic and exciting, often in various states of undress. The plot is as complicated enough as it needs to be, the twists and turns are there simply to keep you on your toes and the characters are just deep enough for you to forget how shallow they are. It also features a sound-track by the rock band Queen, artists who, in their time, were famed for being every bit as ridiculous and camp as Flash Gordon .


1: Well, American Football, a game in which there is not much kicking and the ball isn’t round. Though I suppose ‘Hand Egg’ is a silly name for a sport.
2: Say it with me “Dive my Hawkmen” or failing that, “Gordon’s Alive”.
3: Wikipedia tells me her breasts are insured for $350,000. I have no idea who handles things like this. Go Compare, maybe?

Categories: Uncategorized