GIVEN that it’s based on a pioneering work of science fiction, there can be little surprise that John Carter feels like one big deja vu moment.
If Avatar had never existed, it’s possible that director Andrew Stanton’s film would have seemed like it was breaking genre boundaries, given the premise of a distant planet penetrated by an earthling who begins an interplanetary romance and is accepted into the alien culture.
But this big-bucks Disney production is sort of charming, if perhaps lacking in the right amount of fizz needed to justify its eye-watering budget – an alleged $250m.
The film takes on the daunting task of trying to adapt sci-fi icon Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 1917 novel, A Princess of Mars, into a 3D modern blockbuster.
Not an easy task for a family-friendly studio when the book in question mixes century-old sci-fi ideas, skin-baring costumes and bizarre alien creatures.
It’s even more of a challenge for Stanton, who has (to this point) only helmed animated features like Finding Nemo and WALL-E.
The stakes are even higher when you factor in the untested leading man (Taylor Kitsch) and lady (Lynn Collins) who are asked to carry the film.
With so much riding on it, does John Carter manage to deliver the blockbuster experience Disney hopes it will be?
As in Burroughs’ story, Carter (Kitsch) is a Confederate soldier drawn west after the Civil War by the allure of gold, but no sooner does he find it than he happens upon a cave which serves as a portal to a place that looks very much like the American West.
It is in fact the desert-like Barsoom, or in other words, that fourth planet in the solar system that has often been fantasized about as a possible home to some form of life.
The first species Carter encounters when he awakens are just-hatching critters that grow up to become Tharks: thin, tusked, six-limbed, greenish-skinned creatures that are quite jumpy about being in year one thousand of their struggle with the nasties from Zodanga.
The poor Tharks desperately need more help if they hope to survive and when they see how Carter can leap tall rocks in a single bound they decide he’s their man.
And why wouldn’t they? Long-haired, bearded and skimpily clad through most of it, Kitsch fills the action-hero bill, though it would take repeated viewings to determine exactly how many times Carter is captured and then manages to somehow escape.
Overall, it’s neither classic nor fiasco. The film will likely delight sci-fi geeks most of all, but there might not be enough here to generate the much-needed box office sales on a worldwide scale.