Screenshots were taken from the DVD
century after he was first created, author Edgar Rice Burroughs'
interplanetary hero John Carter finally got his own movie. Although
never as popular as Tarzan, another Burroughs creation, it's actually
quite surprising that it took this long for Carter to come to
the screen, since the character casts a pop culture shadow over
everything from Flash
Gordon to Star Wars. Unfortunately,
despite the character's obvious influence on sci-fi adventure
filmmakers from George Lucas to James Cameron, Disney's John
Carter, a big-budget adaptation of the first book in Burroughs'
series, A Princess of Mars, opened to disappointing box-office
and lukewarm reviews — which is a shame, as it's an enjoyable,
if flawed, space adventure.
the opening narration by Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) informs us,
Mars (or "Barsoom" as the natives call it) is not the dead planet
we know, but a dangerous world full of strange creatures and competing
alien races, and one that threatens to be torn apart by war. Through
a series of strange circumstances, ex-Confederate cavalryman John
Carter (Taylor Kitsch) finds himself transported via an alien
talisman to Barsoom, where the planet's lower gravity grants him
enhanced strength and the ability to leap great distances. While
trying to find his way back to Earth, Carter is caught up in a
struggle between the warring city-states of Zodanga and Helium
for the fate of Barsoom, all while still finding the time to fall
in love with the beautiful Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), Princess
above plot description is only a very brief overview of John
Carter, a movie brimming with various alien characters
and terminology. Burroughs, y'see, was a man of ideas. Big ideas!
And his fertile imagination is what has helped his creations endure
for such a long time despite the occasional hokeyness of his writing.
To his credit, director Andrew Stanton, known for directing Pixar
movies like Finding Nemo and WALL.E,
makes sure the world of Barsoom is well laid out and doesn't treat
the subject matter with the kind of eye-rolling irony that some
other filmmaker might've been tempted to. This is not to say that
John Carter is cerebral science fiction.
Far from it. Rather, it's a pulpy, old-fashioned adventure that
in many ways actually has a lot in common with previous adaptations
of Burroughs' works like 1976's At
the Earth's Core, which had Doug McClure as an all-American
stranger in a strange land going up against similar fantastical
creatures and situations.
sets John Carter apart from previous
attempts to bring Burroughs' works to the screen is its massive
budget (reportedly $250 million), allowing Stanton & Co. to bring
Burroughsian worlds to life in ways the makers of At
the Earth's Core could've only imagined. Indeed, many of
the sights in the movie could've easily come from a dusty old
issue of Amazing Fantasy, from the 10-foot tall, four-armed
alien Tharks to steampunk-style flying machines and even a cartoonish
alien dog sidekick for Carter (which, thankfully, is not as annoying
as it easily could've been). Stanton does his best to cram in
as much information as possible about this alien world, which
brings me to my biggest complaint about the film. Clocking in
at well over 2 hours, John Carter
feels a little bloated. I understand that they were going for
an epic feel here, but Burroughs' stories work best as breezy,
fast-paced adventures, and I think John
Carter would've worked better if it had been trimmed by
about 20 minutes or so. Stanton (or perhaps the film's producers)
also made the mistake of automatically assuming the movie would
be successful, ending it on a cliffhanger and deliberately leaving
some plot elements unresolved in order set up a series of films.
Since sequels are unlikely given the film's domestic box-office
take, John Carter feels a bit incomplete
as a standalone film.
the hero, Kitsch does a decent enough job, supplying the chiseled
abs and gruff voice, although I will admit he looks more like
a modern-day pretty boy than a grizzled ex-Confederate soldier.
Collins (True Blood, X-Men Origins:
Wolverine) fares a bit better as Dejah Thoris, getting
some fighting skills to go along with her good looks, although
ultimately her purpose in the story is to play the damsel in distress
(we are talking about a movie based off source material
that's a century old, after all). The supporting cast is filled
with great (mostly British) character actors like Mark Strong,
Ciaran Hinds, Dominic West and James Purefoy, and they play their
roles well despite not being given a ton to work with.
big-budget summer tentpole movies go, John
Carter is an entertaining bit of sci-fi spectacle. It's
not quite as breathlessly fun and entertaining as it could have
been, but it's ambitious and doesn't insult the audience's intelligence
the way some other CGI-heavy blockbusters do, and some of the
source material's "whiz-bang" giddiness does manage to shine through.
While it falls short of being a sci-fi classic, I enjoyed it a
lot more than other failed mega-budget attempts at movie franchises
such as The Golden Compass, and if
you like your science fiction done the old-fashioned way, with
an emphasis on adventure and spectacle over science, John
Carter delivers the goods.
after the end credits rolled, I couldn't help but wonder what
a $250 million Doug McClure movie would've been like...
the film's disappointing box-office, Disney has gone all out with
the Blu-ray/DVD combo pack for John Carter,
offering up virtually flawless audio and video as well as a great
selection of extras that should make fans of the film very happy.
The 1080p/AVC encoded video transfer is rich and warm, with great
colors' and detail and the DTS-HD 7.1 soundtrack is thunderous
and makes great use of the Surround channels while also retaining
clarity. In terms of both audio and video, this makes a great
demo disc to show off your home theater.
include a commentary track featuring Stanton and producers Jim
Morris and Lindsey Collins as well as a "Second Screen"
mode, where you can sync the movie with a laptop or iPad via an
app in order to view extra content. There are also two featurettes,
100 Years in the Making (10 min.) which details Burroughs'
original John Carter stories and the various attempts at bringing
the character to the screen over the years, and 360 Degrees
of John Carter (35 min.) which goes over the film's production.
Rounding out the extras are a selection of deleted scenes (including
an alternate opening) and a short blooper reel.
of John Carter should be very pleased
with the film's presentation on Blu-ray and those who missed it
in theaters would do well to check it out.