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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Asylum has done it again. Instead of waiting for the actual film
they are going to be making a mockbuster of to come out, they have
decided to cash in on the buzz surrounding it and beat them to the
to an extent. Completely scooping Pixar and Disney (yeah, right),
The Asylum moved forward and made the first movie adaptation of Edgar
Rice Burroughs's John Carter of Mars. Instead of actually having the
audacity to tread on thin ice by calling the film John Carter of Mars,
they opted for Princess of Mars. As an average uneducated sci-fi
B-movie watcher, you'd never know the film was based on an Edgar Rice
Burroughs's story or creation as they give him credit nowhere in the
main titles. I don't know what that's all about. You'd think they would
want to use everything at their disposal to promote and exploit this
thing. It's their very nature to do so.
Once again, this feels like it was done on the fly, which is what gives these movies their charm. The film editing and direction suits it just fine and operates to keep the lowest amount of special effects shot possible to still make it remotely entertaining. You know the drill by now. Shoot all the action sequences very close as to not have to spend too much time on wide shots or digital scene editing. Show the actors lurch up to jump, cut to a far away shot of them flying through the air, and then cut back to them landing in a crouch. Its genius and The Asylum team does it best! I've got to tell you that the special effects are nowhere near as bad as you would think they'd be. The Princess of Mars' transport ship does look dangerously like the model crew broke into Skywalker Ranch and stole Jabba's Land Barge from Return of the Jedi. They even have these speeder bike looking things they ride. Coincidence or someone on the Asylum "special effects" crew having a weird fixation on Lucas' Ewok-tainted third film in the original Star Wars trilogy? You decide.
The actors. Ah, the actors. We've got Antonio Sabato, Jr hamming it up half-naked as John Carter with some of the worst badly placed tattoos I've ever seen. What male has a lower back tattoo? It feels like they actually paid him to be onset more than a couple of days. Then there's the cream of the crop Traci Lords - using her same brand of acting she's come to be known for in flicks and TV shows like The Tommyknockers and Hercules. Strangely enough for a B-movie nerd extravaganza, she has more clothes on throughout the movie than Sabato, Jr. She suits the part of the Princess of Mars well, though. You can't help but feel a little stab of nostalgia for 80's movies like Red Sonja, Conan, The Destroyer, and Beastmaster. It does almost feel like they only paid her enough to be onset one day, however.
The Asylum should do great with this release. All the John Carter of Mars fans that have been eagerly awaiting some kind of movie adaptation of the source material will no doubt rent or buy it. SyFy Channel is guaranteed to get good ratings when it's aired in the token Saturday prime time slot they show these types of films in. Now I'm not saying Carter fans won't be disappointed, but they'll see it nonetheless and it really isn't THAT bad.
Well. This is by no means the worst movie I've ever seen. I've seen (if
you can call it that) one or two Asylum movies before, and some of them
are physically painful to watch. 2012: Supernova? Arrrgh!! AVH: Alien
vs. Hunter? I nearly gnawed off a limb in an effort to dull the
excruciating experience. The Asylum exist to produce unbearably cheap
knock-offs of well-known sci-fi and horror movies, and they survive
purely by tricking the ignorant into watching their deliberately and
deviously diluted versions by mistake. Someone should give these guys a
good spanking and ground them for life on a deserted island.
Anyway. You can understand that my expectations for "Princess of Mars" were very low indeed. But I wanted to check it out, just in case they had actually read the original book. And I was surprised: they had. But in a characteristic fit of plagiarism (and, probably, because filming in the desert is cheap) they'd also decided to fuse the concept with Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. Even so, I was actually mildly entertained by Princess of Mars (and yes, I can still stand to look at Traci Lords). The acting was hammy and the production values were unimpressive (but at least they were there); it looked like what it was: a thoroughly derivative low-budget C-movie bordering on the farcical. But that can be entertaining, too! As the movie went on I was thinking that, hey, this was in the same league as Bloodrayne and stuff like that, and I might actually end up rating this a 4 out of 10! A good rating for a craptacular excuse for a real movie, appreciating that it might be trash but at least it's funny and entertaining trash.
Unfortunately, the ending was so stupid and pointless that I have to cut that rating in half, and end up with a 2 out of 10 mark. Properly, the movie doesn't really deserve more than 1, but for maintaining a certain watchability almost all the way to the end, and for being funny despite its ROTJ derivation, I retain one more star.
All in all, still a massive disappointment that can in no way be recommended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The elephant in the room is the man whose name is nowhere credited on
this film. Perhaps that is a good thing. That man is Edgar Rice
Burroughs. 99 years ago he wrote a story called Under the Moons of
Mars. He wrote it strictly for the money and for the fun of writing it.
After that story achieved some success, he went on to create Tarzan of
the Apes and many other memorable characters. Over the last century his
dedicated readers have suffered time after time the hackneyed
interpretations of Tarzan while this, his seminal work, has been left
un-filmed. In the old days, it could not have been done justice because
of the low cinematic technology, and the mores of the times, but we had
finally entered an age when this tale could have been done justice.
What we have here just makes me sad.
In fairness, this is an adequate and mildly entertaining b-movie, but it is not the movie we who love this tale wanted. This is NOT the movie that we have waited almost a hundred years for. Not by a very long shot.
I personally think it's great that you don't have to go back to the monster movies of the 1950s - the fact that they're still making movies like "Princess of Mars" today is fine with me. Surprisingly, the makers must have read the E.R.Burroughs novel, some elements of the story are recognizable with John Carter's arrival on Mars, being able to jump very high (due to lower gravity), meeting Tars Tarkas and Dejah Thoris, and fighting for the atmosphere station. Everything is put up to date, sometimes well (Carter being in Afghanistan instead of Nevada) sometimes not (the, uh, "technically explained" data transfer to another world, and that Mars not being our red neighbor planet, but a different planet accidentally also called Mars). Fortunately they did not use the Great White Apes, because how silly would that look nowadays with men in costumes? Despite the low budget, a funny flick if you have the sense of humor for trash sf.
I can't tell you how badly I wanted to like this movie. Wait...let me
start again. I can't tell you how badly I wanted this to be a movie I
liked. It's like they didn't even try.
The character of John Carter is all but unrecognizable. The character of Dejah Thoris is like some Mad TV parody only not funny and who is that old lady they got to play her? Are you kidding me?
A lot of people have compared this to other movies, particularly Avatar. It's a bad comparison. Better to compare it to the original offerings from the Syfi network then at least we would know what league we were playing in. This could still have been salvaged had it at least not been boring, but it was.
I will not call it the worst movie ever as so many others have, but I will say that even within the obviously limited budget the creators of this film had to work with, they could have done far better.
If this film had only used different character names, I would have rated it higher, because it would have been a dumb, laughable Science Fiction flick, possibly even enjoyable at some "it's raining and there's nothing else to do" level. You get the feeling that the writer had read the first John Carter book a long, long time in the past and remembered the characters' names without remembering what the story was about, or even what a thark was supposed to look like (I'm sure that Burroughs' warrior tharks didn't have tusks that wobbled). This plot was silly; Burroughs' was engrossing. The biggest disappointment was Traci Lords. While it was her body that was ravaged in many films, here, it was her face that looked ravaged - she just looked so OLD. (Fortunately, I never expected her to know how to act, so I wasn't disappointed there.) The big sword fight seemed to be performed by two actors who'd never held a sword in their lives; all the intercutting didn't cancel that out (why couldn't they have used stunt men?). A truly bad film.
Transferring a book to the screen is never an easy or simple process.
Often, a lot has to be left out... exposition, subplots and plot lines,
characters and internal monologue. What can go up on the screen is
further constrained by the money and time available, by the talent in
front of and behind the screen.
Is this the "Worst movie evah!" Not hardly. If pressed, I'd give that honour to Tim Burton's 'Planet of the Apes', a work which cost more than the previous Apes franchise of five movies and two TV series all put together, but which was appallingly stupid - unbelievable talent and money went into making a painfully awful movie.
On the other side of the coin, here we have an action adventure movie made for very little money, with little in the way of resources. Yet it's amazing how they managed to actually make an enjoyable, watchable film.
I'm not necessarily a fan of Asylum films. A lot of them suffer from the worst sin of film-making, tedium.
But Princess of Mars is anything but tedious. There are no shortage of rocky moments, including awkward scenes with Kantos Kan, and there's definitely stuff to dislike. Shortcuts, or shots where there was no time or money to do more than get something in the can.
But flaws aside, it's a relatively faithful telling of the novel. The biggest changes are the reduction of the role and backstory of Tars Tarkas, and the elimination of the Zodangan war, as well as the cosmetic stuff - short stubby two armed Tharks, riding giant birds instead of eight legged horses.
A lot of the true heart of the novel and the characters remain. John Carter is light hearted and heroic, Dejah Thoris is regal and idealistic, Tars Tarkas is noble. The relationships develop naturally between them, the acting is usually decent and sometimes quite good. The location shooting in the Vazques rocks is a highlight, the place looks genuinely weird and alien. The script, apart from the occasional clunky line, moves quickly and efficiently, there are witty lines.
Frankly, my advice is to go look at the trailer. A lot of times, the trailers are better than the actual film. Or the trailers contain all the good parts of the film and the actual film tends to be mostly filler. In this case, the trailer is actually a good showcase for the film. If you liked the tailer, you'll enjoy the film.
In the meantime, I'm pretty happy with it.
One of my friends burned me a copy of this film because he knew what a big John Carter fan I a. I saw the cast and was instantly appalled and was even moreso by the end of the film. I honestly doubt whether anyone that made this atrocity even read the book. I am eagerly awaiting the big budget version, but whoever is responsible for allowing this film should be taken by Edgar Rice Burroughs surviving family, taken outside and summarily executed by them for doing something so dreadful to a very much beloved series of novels and a group of equally beloved characters. This film was so low budget they couldn't afford to give Tars Tarkas his other set of arms or his other 9 feet of height. It actually makes Plan 9 from outer space look like Avatar by comparison.
I'd read some pretty brutal stuff about this flick and was happy to
find an entirely competent and often clever b-movie. Admittedly, I was
a huge Edgar Rice Burroughs fan as a kid, but I'm not sure that didn't
prime me to dislike the movie.
It wasn't a big budget movie, but I think the money they had was well spent. The special effects were not the center of the film but they didn't detract from the story either. The acting was surprisingly unembarrassing and I personally found the dialog very good. The updating of the story was subtle and funny.
One of the other reviewers said this isn't the film we were waiting for, and I suppose that' right. It is, though, the film we got. All in all, it struck me as a sincere labor of love that did credit to the memory of Burroughs himself, the master of the pulps.
Clearly "Princess of Mars" is The Asylum's cash in on the "John Carter"
movie that was out in March 2009, as "Princess of Mars" came out in
December of the very same year. Is that a trademark of The Asylum, to
take something that others made famous and then just sponge and leech
of that success?
At any rate, and regarding the motivation behind this movie, then The Asylum actually managed to pull of a fairly decent movie here, compared to some of the other more questionable releases they have spewed out.
The story, if you are familiar with either the "John Carter" movie or the E.R. Burroughs novel, is about John Carter, a man from Earth, who end up on a distant red planet, where he have to save their world from impending doom.
Pretty straight off the copy and paste storyboard here, without anything new or overly interesting to be added to the story. But still, the movie was enjoyable for what it was. A word of warning though; if you have seen the "John Carter" movie that was out earlier in 2009, then chances are that you might want to stay clear of this version. Imagine a weird hybrid of the 1980's "Flash Gordon" movie mixed with Disney's "John Carter" movie, and you have the end result coming out as "Princess of Mars".
One thing that did puzzle me, though, with the technology and resources available to the human-like race on this red planet, why would their princess be clad so scantily like a common... Well, you get my meaning. It just didn't make sense. Or did it? Well, you have Traci Lords in the role as the princess, so of course, why wouldn't the director be having her running around half naked?
The creature effects were adequate to look at, except for those bipedal reptiles that they used for mounts. They were just horrible to look at. Awfully animated CGI and they walked like they all had bad indigestion.
I will say that The Asylum did put out a fairly enjoyable Sci-Fi movie here, but in the wake of Disney's "John Carter", then the movie pales in comparison.
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