Friday, March 23, 2012

John Carter plus Breaking Bad vs Justified

No time for a long post today, so these reviews will be a little shorter than I'd like. It's unfortunate, but that's the way it is.

John Carter

I finally made it to see John Carter, and I have to say that I was disappointed. I haven't read any Edgar Rice Burroughs, but, from what I can tell by looking him up, this was a poor adaptation. That wouldn't matter except that it was also a poor movie. If it had been a faithful adaptation, I would have given it a pass on some of the last minute rescues and whatnot that filled the movie, but, no, it appears all of these were a part of the "adaptation" only since those sequences don't appear to be in the source material. Stopping the bomb at the 1 second mark may have, at one time, been the height of suspense, but, when a movie like Galaxy Quest (which is great, by the way) makes fun of such last moment saves so blatantly, you know it's time to move away from them. There is no longer any suspense in those moments.

All of which is to say that John Carter, above all else, is cliched. It's also hopelessly muddled and full of short cuts to get past issues that wouldn't have been there at all if they'd been more faithful to the source material (like the magic juice Carter drinks so that he can speak Martian).

So... while I was looking for a fun space romp (which should have been easy enough to do), what I got was something that failed to be exciting on any level despite the wonderful visuals. This is a movie that Disney really should have just aimed at kids, as it appears the older one gets the less likely they will really enjoy it. Here's my evidence to support that:

Daughter (age 8): It was good!
Son (age 11): Awesome!
Son (age 16): eh, it was okay...
Friend of son (age 16ish): >shrug< it wasn't the best...
Me: >sigh<

Breaking Bad (season 1)

After hearing many good things about Breaking Bad, my wife and I decided to try it out. That was unfortunate. The show uses every contrivance and cliche you can think of. It started with the one I hate the most: the flash forward (you can read more of what I think about this device here). It was so horrible. And this is going to be full of spoilers (but only about the first episode), so skip down if you don't want to know. We start out with the "hero" running from the law in his underwear. "What an interesting situation," you might think. "That's something you certainly don't see every day."

It goes on long enough that I turn to my wife and say, "This better not be one of those situations where they flash back to the real story." The "hero" gets out of the vehicle he's driving ready to... well, we don't know what he's ready to do. Go down in a blaze of glory? Commit suicide? Stand in the road in his underwear with a gun in his hand, that's for sure. And, then... "Three weeks earlier" WHAT THE HECK?!?!

So they go about getting us back to the point where he's in the road with the gun in his hand, and all I find out is that they lied to us to bring about the tension:
1. The sirens that we (the audience) are hearing are police sirens, but the vehicles, when they show up, are fire trucks. That's a cheap trick.
2. The way the character acts during the whole scene where he's running is completely not the character they build for him in the rest of the episode. You can buy it when you see it at the front of the episode, but, once we get to know the character, it doesn't work. He would not have acted like that.
3. The fire the trucks are responding to? There's no way. The fire was out in the middle of nowhere in the desert in New Mexico, yet we are expected to believe that the firemen respond immediately. And not just respond immediately, but that the "hero" knows they're coming and gets scared and runs. The fire was nothing. A little grass blaze, but fireman rush out into the desert within moments of it being started? I don't think so.

This is just the first episode. Don't get me started on the gas mask and all the completely ridiculous stuff with high school.

We did complete the first season. My wife wasn't as completely turned off by it as I was, but, by the end, neither of us cared enough to be interested in going on to season 2. Jesse Pinkman is the only character that's remotely interesting. And none of the side characters are at all likable or interesting. And Walter's life seems to be full of making bad decisions because he's full of pride, so I find very little in him to make me want him to succeed.

All of that leads me to this:


My wife and I started into season 2 of Justified last night. I love this show. So far, it has refused to use the horrible "flash forward" device, but that's not why I like it. It just makes me like it more.

Justified stars Timothy Olyphant, who is, in the end, the reason we watched Justified to begin with. See, my wife loved, I mean absolutely loved, Deadwood. I thought it was pretty good, too. However, Olyphant is so wooden and stiff in it that I often wondered if he was really a bad actor in a perfect role or a wonderful actor. As it turns out, he's a wonderful actor. But that was why I rented Justified; I had to know if he was always like that... like he had a pole inserted up his butt into his back. And, I have to say, that I am even more impressed with his role in Deadwood after seeing Justified, because, man, it must have been difficult to be the way he was in Deadwood all the time, but he did it.


As we watched the opening of the second season of Justified, the thought went through my head, "This is so much better than Breaking Bad. I had to wonder why that comparison came into my head when it's been weeks and weeks since we watched Breaking Bad (and I really never intended to talk about it here at all).

It's about the story telling. And the characters. Justified is full of interesting side characters. People you can relate to. Even the bad guys. You really just see them for who they are and end up liking them anyway. Like Walton Goggins as Boyd Crowder. This is the bad guy, but, wow, he is just an interesting character. You end up rooting both for Raylan Givens (Olyphant's character) to catch him and for him to get away at the same time. This is after thinking that Boyd was just a throw away character at the beginning, too.

Justified has not (so far as we've seen) fallen victim to any of the normal conventions of TV or the associated cliches. My wife and I sit down each night to watch one episode of a show (that we rent, because we don't "have" TV), and, generally, we watch whatever episode that is, and I'm fine with it and ready to do whatever else I need to do before bed (like Farmville. Or the dishes (always the dishes...)). Not so with Justified. I'm never ready to turn it off. I want to just keep watching.

In my book, that's pretty compelling.

"It was justified."


  1. It's been a few years since I read Princess of Mars, but it followed the story fairly close. I think the biggest problem is it's a hundred year old story and thousands of stories and movies have been made since them that draw from John Carter's elements, making it look dated and cliche.
    I still thought it rocked. It was my style of science fiction - now that I know I have a style.

  2. Yes could everyone sign a pact to retire some of these cliches? The 1-second-left bomb, the bad guy getting caught by talking on the phone/microphone/tape recorder about his evil scheme, and so forth. And really, juice that lets you speak Martian? Why not a fish inserted into the ear? On that score I liked in "The 13th Warrior" where they use a montage of the Arab guy (Antonio Banderas) watching the Viking guys as they travel to explain how he picks up their language. He still speaks it a little TOO well, but it's better than juice or magic dust like in "Pocahontas" or whatever.

    I haven't watched either of those other shows. Breaking Bad is on my Netflix queue to get to at some point. The only time I ever flip to FX is to watch "Archer" which I'm sure you wouldn't like because none of the characters are likable, which is actually the point of the show.

  3. It's a bit unfair to John Carter that the source material is partially responsible for a lot of the cliches the movie is guilty of - I thought they princess of Mars was a pretty big cliche anyway, except of course that it wasn't when it was written, I thought they improved on a lot of the source material myself... or at least did what they could to make it seem like a movie for today's audience. I used the term 'noble failure' in my post today and people didn't take too kindly to it. But with all that in mind, I thought it was pretty good myself, albeit not exactly inspired. I heard a very interesting interview with the screenwriter (Michael Chabon) where he talks about the changes they made and why they made them... it was in the Geek's Guide to the Galaxy podcast if you must know. It's a good listen.

    After Momento used the device it the greatest possible way conceivable, I think everyone else will always suffer from that flash forward thing in comparison.

  4. Rusty said it better than I did.
    Besides, John Carter HAD to be better than any of the last three Star Wars films, right? They so ruined it for me, I can't hear the words Star Wars without cringing.
    And Memento was cinematic genius at its best.

  5. The summary I read of Princess of Mars didn't sound anything like the movie I saw, so I can't help but think the movie was not like the book. If it was, they wouldn't need to write a book based on the movie. That in itself implies that the movie is different enough that they need a new book for it.

    At any rate, I'm not against the cliche if it's the original cliche, but I don't really think the super fast dog saving Carter from the priest guy was original material since the stuff I read about the book didn't include those guys at all. It also didn't mention anything about a wedding. Maybe those things are in the book, and it was just a bad synopsis.

    As far as it goes, I'm not really for taking an older book and trying to make it for "today's audience." That devalues the audience, and it never works out. Just for another recent example, you can look at last summer's Three Musketeers.

    If you want to write a different story, just write a different story.

    And I'm pretty sure there was no "magic juice" in the book.

    You know, I really wanted to like the movie. I thought it was cool that they were making a movie of John Carter. But I think they should have made a movie of John Carter.

    The movie succeeded in one way: I want to read the books, now. I feel like I can't really accurately assess the film since -I- haven't read them. Relying on others' information about the books seems too flimsy to me.

    I haven't seen Memento.

  6. Andrew - I don't mean to imply your opinion of the movie was less valid than mine. However, I think the priest guy... why am I forgetting who that is? The Thern? If that's who you mean, they play a bigger role in the series but are not really present in the first book.

    The dog creature, the magic juice, those things don't usually bother me - unless I'm already unhappy with the movie - then that sort of stuff really bothers me. But again, what I mean about updating the book for a modern audience has more to do with things like the magic juice, in the books there is no explanation (that I recall) about how he gets to mars, he just goes to sleep in a cave and there he is. Everyone on mars just happens to speak English. The attitude John Carter seems to have towards the natives is a bit, well, racist. Or speciesist.

    And the books have some problems that I think they tried to fix in the movie... everyone on mars is a telepath, everyone reads everyone else's thoughts whenever they want. But there is still that subplot about the secret daughter from the alien king. It just didn't make a ton of sense.

    My point, really, is that I never liked the books, they felt slapped together and poorly thought out to me. I know they are hugely influential and have tons of die hard fans, and in a lot of ways were creating a genre. But the book version of John Carter wasn't that likeable, and sometimes things didn't flow logically.

    So, I thought staying faithful to the source material would not have made the movie any better, really. Again though, I've read a few of the books, but I'm no expert, my feeling after reading the books versus seeing the movie makes me think they did a great job with the source material.

    I can't recommend Memento highly enough. It does that flash forward thing, but its about as brilliantly conceived of a movie as I've seen. I'd be really interested to get your thoughts on it.

  7. Like I said, I'd like to read the books to have a better opinion about the adaptation.

    In general, though, when people decide to take elements from several books and combine them into one movie, they usually fail, too. In my experience, they always fail. (Like the movie The Black Cauldron and the movie The Dark is Rising)

    In reading about the book, it says that one of the tharks(?) teaches Carter to speak Martian (or Barsoom), but I can only go by what that says since I didn't read the book.

    The stuff I read about Burroughs implies that he actually did a lot of plan and did huge story boards for his books so that he could keep track of what was going on. That kind of thing was unheard of at the time.
    But I don't actually -know- this as I didn't do any extensive research. I was just trying to get an idea.

    At any rate, the movie didn't do it for me; however, I think this might have been an occassion where having read the book(s) first may have helped me to know what they were trying to do with the movie.

    Memento has been on my list for a while. Maybe, I'll get it bumped up. I haven't felt any real inclination to watch it which is why I haven't gotten to it, yet.

  8. Burroughs may have gotten into the mapping out thing. I'm not sure, everything I learned about his process I picked up from the podcast I mentioned earlier. According to Chabon, the later books did get very good, very coherent and there was a great deal of improvement, but he also mentioned that lots of the story elements were changed as the series went along.

    I wouldn't know, I didn't get that far in the books. However, he also said that the Princess of Mars was essentially the first thing he ever wrote.

    And you're probably right about the Tharks too, I'm running off of aging memories here, lots of room for mistakes.

  9. Yeah, Princess was first. He wrote as a serialized story for a magazine. It was later that he got into story boarding and stuff. He invented a sub-genre with that book, which kind of blows my mind. Not that he did that but that there -is- a sub-genre called "planetary romance."

    I'd like to think that I'll peek at the books some day, but I probably won't.

  10. A co worker of mine keeps telling me I need to watch Justified. I already spend WAY too much time watching television so I am worried about getting hooked on another series.

  11. I will be checking out Justified. I love Breaking Bad. I have no issues at all with it but I guess that's subjectivity :)

  12. Jennifer: Justified is worth it. You should check it out even if it means dropping something else. It's that good.

    Michael: Yeah, I know you like Breaking Bad. That was one of the reasons I wasn't going to mention the show on here, but the comparison of it to Justified in my mind made me have to do it. Let me know what you think of Justified.