Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Watchers

Rupert Giles

To whom all watchers look for guidance.

This blog represents a new venture for me, as it is a dedicated blog for film and film criticism and reflection.  In addition to trying to stay relatively current with the movies you can find at local theaters, I would like to try and engage with older and more difficult films that the average person isn’t as interested in seeing.  In order to do this, as well as deepen my exposure to the world of film and have a little fun while I’m at it, I’m starting The Watchers, a group of friends interested in watching films off the beaten path and reflecting on them together as much or as little as they see fit.

Anyone can join The Watchers, but it helps if you know me personally (and live relatively close!) so we can actually watch movies together.  I’ve compiled this list of 50 films over at IMDb.  I’ve tried to select critically acclaimed films that I either haven’t seen or have only seen once and not with other people.  Also, as befits the title of my blog, I’ve tried to select thematically dark films.  I would most like to attract people of faith interested in reflecting on the films’ artistic and cultural significance in light of their faith.  I see potential for blog entries from The Watchers not only containing my reflections, but also possibly recorded conversations from group members and guest bloggers wanting to offer their two cents.

I should be up front about the fact that I am a Christian and therefore the Christian faith and the theological witness of the Christian Bible will most often serve as the guiding principles for the overall shape of the blog’s content and reflections.  That said, I would be excited to have anyone join in the conversation:  I affirm pluralism and charity in dialogue, yet retain that certain viewpoints are irreconcilable.

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John Carter (** 1/2)

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“I made that same mistake myself. They’re called the Blue Man Group.”

Disney’s latest adventure film John Carter comes from the unsung granddaddy of outlandish adventure Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Better known for creating Tarzan and the many books detailing his escapades, Burroughs also wrote a fantasy epic about an American Civil War veteran unwittingly whisked away to Mars only to become entangled in another civil war.  Only with aliens.

Television actor Taylor Kitsch headlines as the titular hero, a purportedly wounded man with a past who increasingly seems like a quarterback of a blank slate with less jaded grief and more all-American excitement to throw himself into the fight.  It is fun to seem him adjust to the new gravity when he first comes to Mars.  At first he can barely walk, but eventually he’s leaping all over the place man-of-steel style.  It could be that Carter leaves behind the grimness of his past through the beginning of a new adventure, but his hero journey is less compelling and his personal transformation is less convincing than that of the main character in Avatar.

He is granted status as an honored warrior by the Na’vi Tharks, green-skinned barbarians with curious breeding practices and a taboo on flight.  These tend to stay out of the main conflict on the planet between two humanoid kingdoms, the leaders of which also take an interest in John Carter’s unusual physical powers.  He of course becomes romantically-entangled with one their princesses and is eventually forced to choose sides (Hint:  She helps to, uh, persuade him).

It’s the kind of silly and impossible adventurism (like a man being raised by apes, only moreso) beloved by Lucas, Spielberg, et al; and the source material seems a very obvious inspiration for Star Wars, Superman, Avatar and Final Fantasy.  Some of that excitement is captured in the action sequences, most engagingly in an giant beast-fighting arena sequence that recalls Attack of the Clones but more likely served as inspiration to Anakin and Padme’s tussle with aggressive E.T.’s.  Visually, the film is exciting and lush, mixing western and sci-fi imagery with aplomb unlike last year’s Cowboys & Aliens.  As an exercise in confident, unbridled world-building the film is a blast.  In this regard it’s the best since (but not equal to) Avatar.  It’s in the telling, however, that the film loses its footing.

Much like this review, John Carter suffers from extended and ponderous exposition that puts unnecessary drag on its forward momentum.  Contra the unbridled energy of the best adventure films like Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Castle of CagliostroJC unfolds its story as though it were tapping into archetypal themes in the manner of Lord of the Rings.  However, it fails even to achieve the thematic resonance of Avatar.  Its flirtations with self-importance, most notable in the prologue and the end-of-film title reveal (from John Carter to John Carter of Mars), only detract from what should be a dizzying head-rush of weirdness, excitement and visual excess.

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