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John Carter - 3D (DQ)

6/10

Stars: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Dominic West, Mark Strong, Ciar√°n Hinds, James Purefoy, Daryl Sabara, Cate Fowler. Voices: Samantha Morton, Willem Dafoe, Thomas Haden Church, Art Malik, David Schwimmer, Jon Favreau

Director: Andrew Stanton

Following in the footsteps of Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes, another brawny space traveller finds himself alone in a hostile world. But this, though it entertains well enough in its comic-book style, is hardly a classic.

The story opens in 1881, with the death of Carter, played by the unfortunately-named Kitsch, a sort of muscular version of Johnny Depp (minus the talent). As embryo author Edgar Rice Burroughs (Sabara, grown up, if not in stature, from his Spy Kids days) reads Carter's journal, events flash back to 1868, with an embittered and widowed Carter breaking out of a Union jail. Pursued, he ends up in a cave of gold, where pressing a symbol transports him to Mars (Barsoom to the locals). Here, he lands in the midst of hostilities in bizarre flying machines between the power-hungry Sab Than (West) and the would-be peaceable citizens of Helium, both sides dressed in the fashion of Roman centurions.

Initially, though, Carter, who, thanks to gravity, finds himself possessed of increased strength and an ability to make mighty leaps in the air, is captured by the Tharks, a green-skinned race vaguely like steeple-tall goats on two legs, with four arms and horns, who have their own internal battle for power going on. Here he befriends the chieftain's daughter (Morton) and an enormous dog-like creature which moves at the speed of light and becomes devoted to him.

What with Strong, as a sort of evil Ombudsman, morphing into various members of the cast to thwart Carter's subsequent heroics, things get complicated. And our hero finds himself on the run (again) with the Thark girl, the dog and the princess (Collins). Did we mention the princess? Well, it's a long and busy film.

The credit to to hundreds of stuntmen and technicians at the end is testament to the work put in on the complex battle scenes, though, apart from a sequence where, Spartacus-like, Carter has to take on two giant 'white apes' (while chained to a rock) in an arena, these don't amount to much more than one horde charging at another. Acting and script are pretty rudimentary, much in the style of costume epics of decades ago - but older junior schoolers should enjoy the colourful escapist fare well enough with parents who won't be too bored.

And, I almost forgot to mention: Charlton Heston's real name was - John Carter. Bizarre.

David Quinlan

USA 2012. UK Distributor: Disney. Colour by deluxe.
132 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 04 Mar 2012