I excitedly picked up the John Carter Blu-ray combo pack last week, popped it into my player, and then fell asleep about 40 minutes into the film. Suddenly, a week went by and I realized I didn’t really have the urge to finish the film. Not a good sign. But, you know, I owed it to myself, and to the creative team (who I like!), to finish the film and then develop an opinion.
John Carter, based on the novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs and directed by Wall-E’s Andrew Stanton, is a befuddling work. It’s ambitious, chock full of characters, special effects, and a fairly dense plot, but in so many ways it just doesn’t work. The civil war between Helium and Zodanga is convoluted right from the first scene; both forces wear nearly the same uniforms, save a batch of blue or red here and there to distinguish them. Carter’s motivations and acceptance of his status on Mars seems all too convenient. Odd edits, especially during Dejah’s first “damsel in distress” moment (I mean, really, how many times did Carter need to catch her while falling in this movie?), make following the action difficult. The acting, especially from lead Taylor Kitsch, is adequate but far from the kind of engaging you need to launch the kind of franchise Disney was looking for here.
Unfortunately, the biggest sin against the film is its lack of emotion, which is surprising, given Stanton’s (not to mention his fellow screenwriters, who include Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon) pedigree. The romance between Carter and Dejah just sort of happens, since it’s supposed to, and the objectives for other characters, like Dominic West’s Sab Than or William Defoe’s Tars Tarkus, are barely addressed. If you were unfamiliar with Burrough’s stories, as I was, you probably aren’t going to find yourself invested in these characters.
I really wanted to like this movie. I disregarded a lot of the negative buzz, which had more to do with the film’s financial failures than its creative ones. I suppose that’s why, once I finally got around to finishing it, I was ultimately disappointed. It’s clear that John Carter had a lot of ambition and there are elements to like, like the Tharks, Dejah, and some of the less cumbersome mythology, but the film is weighed down by its many flaws.
This is a review of the Blu-ray disc only, the not 3D disc.
Disney’s Blu-ray releases have always been something to behold, and John Carter is no different. The colors of the film are rich; the desert scenes (and boy, there are a lot!) are rich in tans and yellows, and the blue light of the Ninth Ray effects really pop against this backdrop.
Other potential encoding issues, like artifacting or banding, I was unable to notice. The one glaring issue I had, which appears to be part of the original film itself, is during one of the latter scenes in Helium, where Dejah’s jewelry is very blurry in a few close-up shots. Given the high picture quality of the rest of the film, though, this seems to be intentional.
Audio here is great as well, and actually serves as another example of why, with a Blu-ray player especially, you really need to have surround sound to enjoy to the full effect. Working with one-directional, TV-only sound, you’re going to get a muddle of voices and effects that don’t do the true audio track justice.
There are only a handful of extras on the Blu-ray, with only a few going into the actual production of the film. “360 Degrees of John Carter,” which follows the crew through a day of shooting, is the most enlightening of the bunch, allowing you to really get a sense of the challenges the lead creative team had in adapting to the live-action environment. A lot of these transition issues come up through the special features, particularly in the Audio Commentary (provided by director Andrew Stanton and producers Jim Morris and Lindsey Collins).
There are also ten deleted scenes (with optional director commentary), which range from the fairly standard “extended conversation”-type scene, to a wholly different opening sequence, which I think actually sets up the conflicts and players, albeit a bit clumsily, much better than what ended up in the finished film.
Disney once again releases a spec-wonder with the John Carter Blu Ray DVD Combo pack, though the film is a bit of a mixed bag. While I didn’t much care for it, there seems to be a contingent of pretty passionate fans of the film, so I recommend that if you’re at all curious, give it a rental and decide for yourself.