I would dearly like to write more about AQ and FMJ (and hopefully will sometime in the next couple days), but I can't, as I just spent the afternoon at the Cinnebarre movie theater (no relation to the RPG) in Mountlake Terrace, drinking Guinness and watching John Carter of Mars in 3-D.
I'm going to go ahead and call it one of the all-time best fantasy-SciFi films I've ever seen. Definitely in the Top 10, quite possibly Top 5.
As others have written, the marketing for this film really didn't do it justice. I was not terribly impressed with the previews I'd seen, and I'm fairly nit-picky with films. This one? Really not much to pick at all.
Now, I should probably say up-front that I've never read Burroughs (sorry, folks, I have a large backlog of reading material I'm trying to catch up on...ERB is scheduled for around 2014 or 2015). As a consequence, I can't say how true to the book the film is.
However, I HAVE read a lot of other later imitators of Burroughs's John Carter character, including John Norman, Michael Moorcock, and S.M. Stirling. Of the bunch, the character portrayed on the screen...and the story narrated in the film...blew away anything I've read from others and certainly exceeded any expectations I had on this film. It was simply fascinating to see how much of the plot had been borrowed for other fantasy stories over the years. And yet JCM's story felt fresh...it felt original (as in "the originator") rather than a pastiche of the films that have stolen from it.
What can I say? Sometimes Disney gets it right (like with Dragonslayer or that first Pirates of the Caribbean film); certainly Pixar are the #1 guys doing this CGI stuff (the six-armed aliens might as well have been animatronics. Or real aliens, I guess. Best CGI acting I can recall seeing). But the other film stuff...acting, pacing, art direction...great, great work. Perhaps not as spectacular as Avatar, JCM was still a damn sight better than that film.
And I prefer a better film to a better spectacle anyway.
Airships and pseudo-steampunk tech, weird cultures and traditions...with no heavy handed exposition needed to explain what the f is going on, may I add. As with Whedon's Firefly, the filmmakers just created a world, invited the audience in, and figured you were smart enough to figure stuff out (fortunately, it's a bit simpler than Firefly so it's pretty easy to grok in a single two hour movie).
And what a world! I think my favorite part was the panoramic views of Mars. Holy smokes...I never wanted to set an RPG on Mars so bad! Made me consider scratching my Arabian Nights setting for something a little more out-o-this world. Where's the Barsoom campaign setting for Labyrinth Lord, huh? Come on now! You OSR folks are going to leave me to cannibalize that Savage Worlds Mars book? Please don't do that!
All right, now I'm just raving. Suffice is to say I liked it a lot. My buddy Steve-O (who accompanied me) is a bit of a SciFi connoisseur (or at least and aficionado), and HE thought it was a heaping pile of awesome. Said he wanted a sequel. Of course, he hasn't read Burroughs either.
Point is, it was a great film. Certainly a Disney flick I'd want my child to see (when he's a little older, that is).
***EDIT: Oh, just found this little gem for folks interested in old school fantasy role-playing on Barsoom. Check it out...it's exactly what I was looking for!***