The Golem (1920)

aka The Golem: How He Came into the World / Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam

2015 #163
Carl Boese & Paul Wegener | 85 mins | streaming | 4:3 | Germany / silent (English) | PG

The word “prequel” was first coined in the ’50s, arguably entered the mainstream in the ’70s, and was firmly established as a term everyone knew and used in the ’90s by the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Works that can be defined as prequels predate their naming, however, and surely one of the earliest examples in the movies must be this silent German horror.

Now lost, 1915’s Der Golem was set in the present day, when “an antiques dealer (Henrik Galeen) finds a golem (Paul Wegener), a clay statue brought to life by a rabbi four centuries earlier. The dealer resurrects the golem as a servant, but the golem falls in love with the dealer’s wife. As she does not return his love, the golem commits a series of murders.” The film was written and directed by both Galeen and Wegener, but the latter was reportedly unhappy with the film due to compromises he’d made during production. So, after a sequel (also lost), Wegener tried to more directly convey the legend as he’d first heard it — hence Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam, translated as The Golem: How He Came into the World, and commonly abbreviated to just The Golem, what with the original The Golem being lost. (Got it? Good.)

Set in 16th Century Prague (not that there’s any way to know that from the film itself), The Golem 3 tells the story of that rabbi who brought the clay statue to life in the first place. When the Roman Emperor decrees that Jews must vacate their ghetto, a rabbi builds a monster out of clay then summons a spirit to bring it to life. Meanwhile, one of the Emperor’s knights has fallen in love with the rabbi’s daughter, who is also the object of the rabbi’s assistant’s affections, and this love triangle — combined with access to control of the Golem — will eventually spell “climax”.

Regarded as one of the first horror films, The Golem is more of a moderately-dark fantasy, or a fairytale-type myth. There are clear similarities to Frankenstein, though I don’t know if either influenced the other. However, it does feature what I presume is one of first instances of that most daft of horror tropes: running upstairs to escape the monster. It goes as well here as it ever does, i.e. not very. Said monster looks a bit comical by today’s standards. Built by the rabbi to defend the Jewish people, he immediately uses the hulking chap to chop wood and run errands — he doesn’t want a defender, he wants a servant! A terrifying beast nonetheless, it’s ultimately defeated because it picks up a little girl for a cuddle and she casually removes its magic life-giving amulet.

Golem aside, there are some good special effects, like the ring of fire that summons a smoke-breathing demon; composer Aljoscha Zimmerman’s score is largely atmospheric; and there are some nice shots, like when the rabbi walks up to camera, does something with his hands (in what is effectively now a close-up), then walks back to the Golem at the rear of the set. These are the exception, though: it’s mostly a mix of flat long and medium shots. Oddly, the credits on the version currently available note that it adds computer graphics and animation. Presumably this is the English text that’s been digitally pasted into the film on letters, decrees, books, and the like. It also means that the judder, grain, and print damage on the English intertitles is utterly fake. How silly.

Revered for its place in film history, The Golem has elements to commend it still, but doesn’t hold up as well as other films of the era.

3 out of 5

Horns (2013)

2015 #173
Alexandre Aja | 120 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA & Canada / English | 15* / R

Did Daniel Radcliffe murder his girlfriend? Sprouting devilish horns doesn’t help his case…

Ostensibly a fantasy-horror murder-mystery, in execution Horns is mostly black comedy: the horns force people to tell the truth, to amusing effect. The mystery is so-so: it’s glaringly obvious whodunnit… though, ironically, one reason it’s obvious is ultimately inaccurate. Oops.

It goes wrong in the overblown climax. It’s like someone didn’t know how to conclude the story so went all-out Fantasy. It would’ve been stronger to stay grounded, stick with the characters’ emotions, rather than getting sidetracked into a profusion of effects.

Still, fun while it lasts.

4 out of 5

This drabble review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2015. Read more here.

* Horns was cut to get that 15 — details here. It’s available uncut, rated 18, on Blu-ray (but not DVD). Unusually, it’s the edited version that’s on Netflix UK. ^

Willow (1988)

2015 #132
Ron Howard | 121 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | USA & New Zealand / English | PG / PG

WillowWarwick Davis is the farmer who must return an abandoned baby, unaware it’s heir to a throne evil queen Jean Marsh doesn’t wish to relinquish. Intermittently aided by Val Kilmer’s Han Solo-ish vagabond, they must elude the queen’s forces, led by her daughter, Joanne Whalley.

A fantasy adventure with a tone and pace reminiscent of Indiana Jones — no surprise it was conceived by George Lucas — Willow somehow passed me by during my prime “watching ’80s genre movies” phase. It’s just a fun romp, but Howard’s direction is slick, everything’s glossy and exciting, and there’s a last hurrah for practical effects.

4 out of 5

This drabble review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2015. Read more here.

The Dark Crystal (1982)

2015 #124
Jim Henson & Frank Oz | 89 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | USA & UK / English | PG / PG

High-fantasy adventure about some elves trying to stop a crystal from destroying their planet.

It’s by Jim Henson, so there’s fantastic puppetry and strong design… but the story and the manner of its telling — the dialogue, structure, and characters — alternate between boring, annoying, and laughable. The hero is irritating, the dull villains are given too much focus, the plot borders on nonsensical, it takes forever for barely anything to happen, and the sequence where our heroes accidentally share their memories has to be the cheesiest thing since fondue.

Some people properly love this, but I thought it was just awful.

2 out of 5

This drabble review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2015. Read more here.

Ladyhawke (1985)

2015 #78
Richard Donner | 121 mins | Blu-ray | 2.35:1 | USA / English | PG / PG-13

This is one of those films that crops up in the daytime TV schedules now and then and I’d always paid little heed to, because no one else seemed to. Then I read this write-up on Movies Silently and my interest was piqued. (There are many films of interest or recommendation that I haven’t got round to years after hearing of them; other times, I learn of something and watch it more or less instantly. What this says about me I don’t know, but we’ll just have to live with it.)

Ladyhawke is an ’80s medieval fantasy, though relatively light on the fantasy — it’s not Conan the Barbarian. It’s more like an old romance, in the “classical literature” sense rather than the “movie genre” one. (Apparently Warner Bros even marketed it as being based on a real medieval legend, until the screenwriter who actually came up with the story complained to the WGA. Reportedly they paid him off and continued to claim it was a legend. Ah, Hollywood. (Though he has a “story by” credit on the poster, so this may be apocryphal.)) The story concerns fugitive thief Philippe (Matthew Broderick) finding himself indebted to hawk-wielding swordsman Etienne of Navarre (Rutger Hauer), who wants revenge on the bishop (John Wood) who had also imprisoned Philippe — the fact Philippe escaped those dungeons is Navarre’s key to getting in. To add intrigue, that night Philippe is almost murdered by a giant wolf and encounters a mysterious beautiful woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), who disappears with the beast.

“What’s so fantastical about all that?” you may be asking, if you a) have never seen any promotion for the film, and b) didn’t decode the title. So let’s forge ahead with ‘spoiling’ it: the woman is a hawk by day, the man a wolf by night, and they are cursed lovers. See what I mean about “classical-style romance”? The revelation of their situation is played in-film as a mystery and then a twist, and yet it’s central to the film’s concept, how it was marketed, and how it’s discussed today. I always find it weird when movies treat as a big reveal something that’s been readily given away in advance. Here, there’s a good 45 minutes or so of mystery before said reveal. Obviously, therefore, it would work better as a fresh viewing experience if you didn’t know that going in; but it’s so fundamental to the setup (despite the focus on Philippe, it’s their story) that I wonder if anyone has ever seen it without knowing? On the bright side, it doesn’t really matter: this is not a film where the ‘big twist’ is the point.

Indeed, there’s so much to commend Ladyhawke that I remain baffled as to why I wasn’t more aware of it. Well, there’s one possible explanation: the score. Oh, the score. It’s so reviled that I think it single-handedly explains the entire film’s lack of recognition. The work of prog rocker Andrew Powell, it’s very “of its time”, which means it now doesn’t seem to fit the genre… though, based on people’s comments, I’m not sure it ever did: the music one associates with “the ’80s” has very little in common with what we think of for “medieval fantasy”. It does have its moments though, usually once individual cues have got underway. You’d think you’d get used to it, but no: every time a new bit starts, it still jars. Ah well.

Nonetheless, a terrible score (or “debatably terrible” — it has its fans) is no reason to write-off an entire movie — just look at GoldenEye. Ladyhawke’s many enjoyable elements include some absolutely stunning locations and scenery, often beautifully lensed by Vittorio Storaro. There are good action sequences, in that more freewheeling, less hyper-choreographed way older movies have. They’re also not an end to themselves: this is a story, not a series of set pieces strung together. Concurrently, the screenplay (credited to three writers) is nicely balanced. It’s not a comedy, but it doesn’t feel the need to be po-faced either; the romantic adventure storyline is played straight, but Philippe occasionally addresses amusing asides to God, for example. It even wisely dodges special effects… most of the time. The few occasions on which it does make motions in that direction, it demonstrates why it was wise not to attempt them more thoroughly. These days they’d slather on the CGI, but shying away from such things is not just due to a lack of technology: it’s far more magical to not be too explicit.

The film also offers an array of likeable characters and performances. For starters: Rutger Hauer as the good guy! Wonders will never cease. In fact, he was originally cast as the villainous captain of the guard, but when the original Navarre, Kurt Russell, dropped out, Hauer got a promotion. It’s a shame, in a way — no offence to Ken Hutchison, who does a solid job, but I wager Hauer would’ve given the villain more presence. Equally, he lends the heroic knight something of an edge that other actors might not have brought. As for the rest, Broderick is a likeable lead; you can believe everyone falls in love with Pfeiffer; Leo McKern turns up as a suitably wise old hermit; and oh look, it’s Alfred Molina, with crazy hair and some prosthetic scars playing a wolf hunter. John Wood’s nameless bishop is an odd primary villain, though. Not afforded much screen time after a couple of scenes early on, we mainly learn of his evil deeds from other characters. Come the climax, he mostly stands there in silence while he’s defeated.

I do wonder if, had I seen Ladyhawke as a kid, among all the other family-friendly ’80s SF/F I watched back then, would it be a beloved childhood favourite? I think it might. That’s the kind of age when one might be liable to fall in love with it; or, at least, people of (very roughly speaking) my generation would — I suppose Kids These Days fall in love with copious CGI, be that animated or ‘live action’. Anyway, I think it deserves to be less overlooked, and if you’ve never caught it (or not for a while) it certainly merits a chance.

4 out of 5

Red Sonja (1985)

2015 #64
Richard Fleischer | 85 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | USA & Netherlands / English | 15* / PG-13

Red SonjaFrom the sword and sorcery ‘boom’ of the ’80s, Red Sonja concerns a warrioress going after the evil queen who slaughtered her family and has now seized a magical MacGuffin that will destroy the world or somesuch.

The first remarkable thing about Red Sonja is that I don’t think anyone in it can act. Our heroine is played by model Brigitte Nielsen. Discovered on the cover of a fashion magazine by producer Dino De Laurentiis, that’s more or less the extent of her acting skills. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays her love interest / fellow warrior / big name to go on the poster. He’s hardly renowned for his thespian credentials either, and this won’t do anything to persuade you otherwise. No one else fares any better, though Sandahl Bergman has a degree of entertaining over-the-top campiness as the villainess.

However, the screenplay is surprisingly not bad, provided you accept it’s trying to be funny rather than assuming it’s unintentionally so. The bluntness of Arnie’s character early on is particularly laughable… though I think that one might be unintentional. There are some character and/or plot beats that are very effective — the fate the villainess affords survivors of a temple massacre is chilling, for example. When it tries to be too serious it’s often not much cop, but generally it’s operating in a slightly-wry action-adventure tone, so it earns a cautious pass.

Technical elements are largely up to snuff, including some great production design (the skeleton bridge, for example) and some well-choreographed action scenes, with the Sonja vs. Arnie fight Lovers' tiffbeing a particular highlight. Veteran helmer Richard Fleischer’s direction seems to have come in for criticism from some quarters, but I found it adequately unremarkable. Damning with faint praise, I know, but it doesn’t merit slagging off either.

Red Sonja is by no means a good film, but it’s kind of marvellous in spite of its innumerable flaws. I sort of loved it.

3 out of 5

* Originally cut in the UK to get a PG. References to Sonja being raped and a throwing star were all that had to go, apparently (so not the two beheadings!) The first video release featured the cinema print; subsequent releases are all uncut and rated 15. ^

Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)

2015 #32
Bryan Singer | 109 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

Jack the Giant SlayerThe influence of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings rumbles on with this attempt by director Bryan Singer to turn the fairytale of Jack and the Beanstalk into a fantasy epic.

In a plot that over-complicates the original tale to bulk up the running time, farm-boy Jack (Nicholas Hoult of About a Boy, Skins, the current X-Men prequels, etc) is entrusted with some ancient magic beans, which he accidentally drops and from them grow sky-high beanstalks. Unfortunately, the kingdom’s runaway princess (Eleanor Tomlinson, now known for Poldark) is with him at the time, and ends up at the top, kidnapped by giants. The king (Ian McShane, who I imagine is still Lovejoy to many) commands the head of the palace guard (Ewan McGregor) to lead a team up the beanstalk to rescue her, taking Jack along because… his name’s in the title? I forget. Anyway, they meet some computer-generated giants (the leader voiced by Bill Nighy, because of course), action sequences ensue, etc.

Despite being a moderately-starry big-budget Hollywood effort, Jack the Giant Slayer feels cheap as chips across the board. For starters there’s the woeful screenplay, with its first-draft-level dialogue and poor construction. We’re given little reason to care for quickly-sketched characters or the mission they set out on. The first act is rushed through, then unbalanced by an over-long and over-the-top climax. The quality cast ham it up, probably due to the under-written and over-familiar character types they have to work with.

Jack and the beanstalkA computer-animated prologue wants to be the one from Hellboy II, or the interlude from Deathly Hallows Part 1, but instead just looks like something from a ’90s kids’ CG TV series (think ReBoot, that kind of thing). The main film’s effects are little better — if you told me any of the CG-driven sequences were from a Syfy miniseries, I’d probably believe you.

Naturally the climax leans on these, for an epic-fantasy-wannabe giant invasion. The film would be so much better without this forced attempt to provide an epic battle — focus in on the quest to rescue the princess, which is the main story anyway, then end the movie with the beanstalk coming down and everyone returning home. Leave the giants up in their kingdom, leave the door open for a sequel — every studio exec loves the hope of a sequel, right? (I don’t think there should be a sequel, but that’s how you sell it.)

As a children’s movie, Jack the Giant Slayer would be passable. It should by all rights be a PG, but for some reason (well, for box office) it’s been pushed a little far (only a little far, mind) and insists on being considered as a 12A/PG-13. In that playing field, it’s not up to snuff. I don’t mean to imply kids only need or deserve sub-par entertainment — that’s certainly not true — but, for younger children especially, well-worn plots, They might be giantsoveracted characters, and bright-and-cheerful CGI are more or less acceptable, in a “it’s no classic but it’ll pass two hours just fine” kind of way. Produced on those kinds of terms, this might have passed muster for some. Might.

I didn’t enjoy Jack the Giant Slayer at all. I think I’ve given it a second star only because I like everyone involved and they have my sympathy.

2 out of 5

Jack the Giant Slayer featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2015, which can be read in full here.

The Black Cauldron (1985)

2015 #17
Ted Berman & Richard Rich | 77 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | U / PG

The Black CauldronThe Black Cauldron is best remembered as an intriguing footnote in the history of Disney animation. Their 25th ‘official’ film, it was the first with no songs, the first to earn a PG (after being cut — twice — to avoid a PG-13), and flopped so badly they disowned it for over a decade. Fully-animated sequences were cut after disastrous test screenings for parents, and famed exec Jeffrey Katzenberg, who came into Disney management during the film’s production, reportedly ordered 12 minutes cut, muddling the film’s story. What a mess.

The final result… isn’t that bad. It’s not some lost classic, but nor is it an unmitigated disaster. Based on a series of children’s novels that in turn were based on Welsh mythology, it’s a dark-ages fantasy story in which a young pig keeper battles an evil lord intent on securing a magical cauldron and using it to rule the world.

Tonally it’s very odd. Segments of dark fantasy, on a Lord of the Rings-type level, butt up against childish slapstick and tomfoolery. There’s nothing wrong with being tonally varied, but The Black Cauldron features such extremes, and flits between them so carelessly, that it’s jarring. At times it’s almost like Disney’s animators forgot they were making a kids’ movie: there’s a buxom dancing gypsy, a bit where a chap is turned into a frog and gets stuck wobbling around in a woman’s cleavage, and a bunch of dark stuff with an army of the undead, which even in its cut-down form isn’t bright and cheery.

Also, one of the main characters is a clairvoyant pig called Hen.

Taran and EilonwyIt’s always interesting when a company like Disney break outside of the norm, and it’s certainly brought them some degree of success in recent years with the likes of Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6. Those have gone over very well with the geek audience, though I found them both severely lacking. The Black Cauldron also comes up short, but as the product of thwarted ambition rather than inherent mediocrity, I’m inclined to like it more.

3 out of 5

Always (1989)

2014 #92
Steven Spielberg | 117 mins | TV | 16:9 | USA / English | PG / PG

AlwaysReleased the same year as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and followed by Hook, Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List in his filmography, Steven Spielberg’s remake of 1943 fantasy drama A Guy Named Joe is sandwiched between several all-time classics (and Hook), which probably explains why it’s been widely overlooked and, consequently, underrated.

Switching WW2 bombers for ’80s aerial firefighters, cocky pilot Pete Sandich (Richard Dreyfuss) is killed in the line of duty, leaving behind girlfriend Dorinda Durston (Holly Hunter, with a character name retained from the ’40s). Greeted in the afterlife by an angelic Audrey Hepburn (in her final role), Pete is sent back to Earth to be a spiritual guide to trainee pilot Ted (Brad Johnson). But when Ted runs into Dorinda, and romantic feelings begin to blossom between them, Pete has to decide if he can let go.

There’s a “something for everyone” feel to parts of Always: a soppy romantic storyline, a fantasy twist, hefty doses of humour, and some thrilling action sequences in the firefighting. There’s some wonderful aerial photography and special effects — not what the film’s about, but they’re excellent nonetheless. I guess that’s what you get when a director and crew who specialise in effects-filled blockbusters make a fantasy rom-com. Of course, Spielberg’s renowned sentimentality means he’s equally well suited to a sweet romantic movie. Three's a crowdEven with the undercurrents of grief and the difficulties of moving on, this is fundamentally a light, amiable romance.

An enjoyable little movie, Always was never destined to sit among the highlights of a career as exceptional as Spielberg’s. Nonetheless, it’s a pleasant aside from both his grander and heavier works.

4 out of 5

Always is on ITV tonight at 11:30pm.

John Carter (2012)

2014 #131
Andrew Stanton | 132 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

John CarterA box office flop (it made a once-astonishing $284 million worldwide, but that was off a $250 million production budget and a ginormous bungled marketing campaign), John Carter has gained something of a following among those who did enjoy it or caught it later — see this post by ghostof82, for instance. I approached it hopefully, then, buoyed by such positive after-reaction — many a good film has been ignored by the general audience. Disappointingly, I didn’t find John Carter to be one of them.

Adapted from a classic, influential science-fantasy novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs (that being A Princess of Mars, deemed too girly a title for a PG-13 SF/F blockbuster nowadays), the story sees American Civil War veteran John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) transported to Mars, which he finds populated by human-esque aliens, the two factions of which are at war, and giant four-armed green-skinned aliens, who are trying to stay out of it. Of particular interest is the half-dressed princess Dejah (Lynn Collins), promised in marriage to villain Sab Than (Dominic West) in order to end the conflict. Cue simplistic politicking and CGI-driven action sequences.

There have been many reasons cited why John Carter flopped, a good many of them centred around the marketing campaign (reportedly director Andrew Stanton, given power by his directorial success at Pixar (Finding Nemo, WALL-E), demanded a level of control Disney felt forced to give, and his belief that Carter was as renowned a character as (say) Sherlock Holmes or James Bond led to a misaligned campaign, one which the professional marketing people who knew what they were doing weren’t allowed to salvage). Also, the sheer importance of Burroughs’ novel was actually a hindrance — Never seen Star Wars?not because it’s so famous (among Normal People, I don’t think it is), but because its influence means its imagery and concepts have already been plundered (Star Wars and its sequels being the most notable example). A sense of “seen it all before” is not a good thing ever, but doubly so for a movie that is, at least in part, based on spectacle.

That’s why it failed to connect with the general public, at any rate, but none are particularly good reasons to criticise the film for the more discerning viewer. Sadly, I think there are a good few others. The storytelling, for one, a confusing mess of alien names and words that are thrown around with reckless abandon. This may again by the fault of Stanton’s familiarity with the material, a lack of awareness that newcomers (aka the vast majority of the audience) wouldn’t have the foggiest what was going on. Such things are not necessarily a problem — look at the success of Game of Thrones or Avatar, both of which introduce silly names and/or thoroughly alien worlds. The difference there is the new information is either doled out slowly or doesn’t sound too far beyond what we already know — monikers like Joffrey or Tyrion are pretty close to real-life names, for instance. Everything in John Carter has a high fantasy name, however, and dozens of them are hurled at you virtually non-stop for the first half hour or more, making it almost impossible to keep up.

Even with this telescope I can't make out what's going onIt doesn’t help that the film is structurally muddled at the offset. It begins on Mars, a voiceover detailing the conflict — an instant bombardment of names and concepts. I don’t mind things that challenge you to keep up, but it still feels a bit much. Then we jump to New York in the 1880s, where Carter is running away from someone in the streets. Then to his house, where his nephew has just turned up to be told he’s dead. You what? We just saw him in the telegraph office! And then we jump back to the 1860s, where he’s searching for gold and getting arrested (or something) by Bryan Cranston in a wig as some form of army officer. Then it gets a bit more straightforward. If being transported to Mars and meeting four-armed CG aliens who speak in subtitles is what you call “straightforward”, anyway.

This is mostly preamble, and it takes a long time to get through. I presume it’s faithful to the original story, because Cranston and co add virtually nothing to what goes on on Mars. That said, apparently Burroughs’ original book sticks to Carter exclusively, whereas the film keeps darting off to show us what’s going on elsewhere. I presume the idea was to give things a bit of momentum — while Carter’s being dragged around the Martian desert by his captors, we get to see the beginnings of the arranged marriage, etc. To me it just felt jumbled, and undermines Carter’s sense of confusion and discovery. We know far more of what’s going on than he does (if you can decipher it, anyway), leaving us waiting for our identification-figure to catch up.

Big eyesIt feels a bit facile to criticise the quality of CGI these days, but that doesn’t stop John Carter from being over-ambitious in this regard. In fact, it’s not really the sometimes-half-assed green screen or occasional plastic-ness that’s the problem, but the design: those four-armed aliens are just a little too cartoony. Perhaps it’s a hangover from Stanton’s Pixar days, perhaps something just went a little awry during the process, but their design doesn’t look quite ‘real’ enough; a little like someone’s taken a real-life creature and then lightly caricatured it. I think it’s the eyes, which are perhaps a little too big and round and ‘cute’, but there’s something else indefinable there, or not there. These aliens aren’t just set dressing but proper motion-captured characters, played by the likes of Samantha Morton, Willem Dafoe, Thomas Haden Church and Polly Walker, so the lack of connection is regrettable.

The live-action cast don’t fare much better. You may remember Kitsch and Collins as co-stars of the poorly-received first Wolverine movie, where quite frankly they were two of the worst things in it (Kitsch was woefully miscast, for one). Doesn’t bode well for them being the leads, does it? Neither are as bad here, but neither quite click either. They’re surrounded by a gaggle of British thesps (West, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, James Purefoy) who feel like they’re slumming it in roles that are beneath them.

Some of John Carter’s fans have accused audiences and critics of ‘bandwagonism’ — that is, hearing/assuming it’s bad and so treating it as such. I can assure you, that’s not the case here: A princess of MarsI was expecting, or perhaps hoping, to like it; to find a misunderstood old-style adventure full of entertainment value. It may be an old-style adventure, but that’s beside the point, because whatever it is, I just felt it wasn’t particularly well made: poorly constructed, weakly performed, lazily (and wrongly) assumptive of the audience’s familiarity with the material. Disappointing.

2 out of 5

The UK TV premiere of John Carter is on BBC Two tonight at 6pm.