I’ve waited over 20 years to see a movie adaptation of A Princess of Mars, or John Carter (of Mars).  I dedicate a lot of my writing to the teacher who introduced me to Edgar Rice Burroughs, and so this tale holds a special sort of endearment for me.  Disney’s adaptation was less satisfying than I’d hoped.

Let me first say, generally, it looks spectacular.  I did not see the 3D version, on purpose.  The inhabitants of Barsoom and action sequences are handled beautifully.  The green Martians, with their four working arms, look organic, and possible.  It’s the sort of thing that animators have struggled with in other films, but the Disney anthropomorphysicists have it down.  The practical scenery, on the other hands, is less believably alien, and looks a lot like lower Utah (where it was filmed).  Mars in the late 1800’s is a vast desert, sure, but it should still look like Mars.

The problem of the film is not so much the plot of the story as the volume and speed of it.  There’s too much, even for a nearly 3 hour film, and emotional transitions happen too fast.

There are, essentially, 3 nations we have to become acquainted with.  Each has its own culture, intent, and internal political struggle.  We’re taken through all three, but not in a fashion which lets us know who anyone is.  On top of it all, there’s a fourth interest.  A group of semi-omnipotent beings are playing all the others in an effort to keep the secret of “the ninth ray.”  It leaves one not only wondering what their motivations are for getting directly involved in anything, but what the first 8 rays are.  There’s just too much going on, and time is not taken to adequately explain in anything more than the broadest of strokes.

Pacing is a problem.  John summons the memory of finding his wife and child dead in their Virginia cabin to give him the determination to single handedly fight off a legion of green Martians.  Later, he jumps on a flying skiff to lead his new Thrak army off to save all of Barsoom, explaining that they should fly despite their fears because he was, “late once before.”  That victory still in his throat, he proposes to the Princess he’s known for a couple of days.

Burroughs wrote a series of John Carter books.  It seems Disney, aware that they were never going to make a sequel, wanted to push the entire saga’s worth of adventure into one film.  I think the story without which much of modern science fiction would not exist, deserved to have that story told with a little less ambition to skip over it in order to get to another scene of Carter proving what a badass working in one sixth your normal gravity makes you.