John Carter – Blu Ray DVD Review

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.

Video/Specs
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.

Extras
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.

Conclusion
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.

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About Jeff Birou

Jeff entered the magical world of Disney in 1989, as he experienced “The Little Mermaid” at the age of 4. His passion for Disney has only intensified as he’s gotten older, becoming a full-fledged Disney-phile, learning as much as he can about the theme parks, business decisions, and their animated films. Jeff lives in a suburb of Philadelphia and works as an academic advisor for a big research university. He blogs about pure nonsense at LEG+JCB. Can also be see on: @jcbftw and LEG+JCB.
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14 Responses to John Carter – Blu Ray DVD Review

  1. mark hickson says:

    My Wife an I saw it on the big screen and we both enjoyed it! I sometimes find that some movies should only be watched at a theater. Maybe this is one of them.

  2. Shari Armstrong says:

    I waited nearly 25 years to see John Carter (of Mars). We even saw it in the theater twice, when we rarely go to movies. I haven’t bought a DVD since we got Netflix, yet I pre-ordered John Carter. My whole family loved this film, my husband, and our three kids (our almost 11-year-old daughter, 7 year-old-son and 2 year-old-daughter). It has humor, action, adventure, friendship, a non-sappy love story, and good FX.
    I love it more every time I see it and still get chills in certain scenes.

  3. Bryan says:

    Y’know, I like that you at least gave this movie a shot and did not just go on the negative buzz which was mostly about financials. But I do totally disagree with your assessment of the movie. First I want to answer one question you asked. How many times did the hero have to save the Princess out of the sky? Twice, and the second time it happened, Lynn Collins, the Julliard trained actress who played Dejah Thoris gave a little look to Captain Carter that was almost like an in-joke between the two of them and proceeded to tell Captain Carter to get behind her, a humorous joke between the two of them about their first meeting.

    Ok, I don’t quite get why you don’t see any chemistry between the two main characters. Perhaps you just saw Snow White & the Huntsman which was put out by another studio and thought there was chemistry in that movie which I never once saw. Perhaps you liked the faux Shakespeare dialog of THAT movie but didn’t like the “Pulp Shakespeare” dialog of John Carter which I personally loved.

    And personally, I don’t get why you think things were too convoluted in the plot. Was pretty simple and straightforward to me. As for the motivations of the characters, especially Dominic West as Sab Than, the chieftain of the warring city of Zodanga, yes, that wasn’t set up well. A deleted opening scene on the disc sets it up far better, but it also hurt the timing of the film. In that scene, the war had been going on for thousands of years and it was over natural resources …. especially radium … to run their machines and flying craft. Helium tried to find alternate sources of fuel and to be responsible with the Mars environment. Zodanga set out to rape the planet of all its natural resources. And later it is revealed as we DO see in the film that the Therns decided that the brutish Zodangans should rule the planet and hasten the planet’s death so that the Therns could feed off the destruction of Mars. It was the “brain trust” at Disney that decided that the scene of exposition was not necessary and ultimately Andrew Stanton agreed, as is mentioned in the disc commentary, that it was better for the timing of the film that there wouldn’t be a lot of exposition, but that the audience should come into Barsoom with the same lack of understanding as John Carter did. For me and for many of the fans I enjoyed it with, that was just fine.

    Personally, I think that, for those who aren’t just prejudiced against Sci-fi, that many of those who actually saw the movie and didn’t like it, that they are looking at the movie with the eyes of a modern audience who loves videogames and hasn’t as much patience as filmgoers of the past did. If people looked at this movie and thought of it first as a romance, and second as an old fashioned epic with the timing and pace of Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or the Rocketeer (which I recall Leonard Maltin didn’t like for much the same reasons you didn’t care for John Carter) or Michael Curtiz’s Adventures of Robin Hood or even DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, I think they would appreciate it much more. But then again, everyone I’ve shown it to with the exception of my dad has loved it.

    Look, you were honest which is more than many reviewers were. And I can’t say that you weren’t tired the first day you saw the movie and that the second day you picked it up that you didn’t have a bad day. Who knows that in 5 years, you’ll dust the movie off your shelf or someone will invite you to their home and an enthusiastic audience at the movie watching party will make you wonder why you didn’t like the film in the first place. But let me just end with my experience today. I bought an extra copy of the DVD to lend out to other people and I let the Zumba instructor at my local gym borrow it last week. Today I saw her again and ask her what she thought and she, a young lady in the demographic that movies like Twilight and The Hunger Games were aimed at, gave it a solid 5 out of 5 stars. She DID love Woola and the romance in the movie but the scene she couldn’t stop laughing at was John Carter trying to get used to walking on the far off planet. Now, she passed it on to one of the ladies in the office, in the same demographic. That woman has not seen it yet but because I’ve talked it up so much, we wonder if I’ve raised her expectations TOO high. We will see when she brings it back. Point is, while you didn’t like it much, it may well be that some of your readers will. I don’t feel bad that the first young woman borrowed it first. There’s no shame in borrowing or renting a movie before deciding to buy it. But the thing is, she now wants to buy a copy for her permanent collection. Chances are that a large part of your reading audience will ask “What’s wrong with you on this movie? I often agree with you but this time you’re totally off the mark! ” ;) My experience has indeed been that to see this movie (for most) is to love it. So for anyone on the fence, I say give it a try. Anyway, thanks for trying to give the movie a fair shake and for at LEAST watching it. When Leonard Maltin reviewed The Rocketeer, he said that he WANTED to like that movie too and just couldn’t. Maybe this one just caught you on an off week.

  4. Kenneth Jordan says:

    To start, let me say that John Carter is dazzling and a great movie for what is was intended and is supposed to be. The special effects are great, the action is great, the characters are great, and I love the movie. It is perfect pulp science fiction in the interplanetary or planetary romance genre.

    However, everyone’s entitled to their opinion, up or down. This review, however, is without doubt the worst review of John Carter that I have read, either pro or con. There is no basis for most of the statements in your critique of the movie, and frankly most of them are pure nonsense. I guess that means that it lives up to the statement that “He blogs about pure nonsense….”

    First, the review states: “…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.” Really?? This isn’t even credible. You’re telling us that when you woke up, you didn’t know you had not finished watching the film? I don’t believe that statement, given that you’re only 27 or 28 years old. You’re obviously making this claim because you think it’s a cute, indirect way of saying you don’t like the movie. That’s fine if it’s your opinion, and you’re entitled to it, but just say, “I really did not like this movie; in fact I thought it was boring.”

    Next, you say: “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.” Really?? I had no problem with Carter’s motivations. Odd edits?? Hmm. I certainly had no problem whatsoever in “following the action.” In fact, I didn’t notice any “odd edits,” and I watched the movie 12 times at the theater. Of course, neither of us is a filmmaker, so many Andrew Stanton knows more about it that we do.

    Finally, and perhaps the most nonsensical claim you make is the following: “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.”

    “Lack of emotion?” Really?? I guess that’s why the battle scene where John Carter fights the Warhoon horde to give Dejah Thoris and Sola time to escape reduced me to tears 11 of the 12 times I watched the movie. I saw plenty of emotion here, and also in other spots in the movie. And you say the “romance…just sort of happens, since it’s supposed to…?” Let’s see, she’s been chased and almost killed by her city-state’s mortal enemy, Sab Than, who’s demanded she give in to a marriage she doesn’t want, and now she’s fallen into the hands of the Tharks, and he’s lost a war, lost his wife and daughter, and been beamed to a strange land and sees a beautiful girl in danger, and she’s the only human he has contact with, and that doesn’t afford a legitimate chance for romance? Really?? Obviously, you have a different understanding of human nature than I do.

    And Sab Than’s motivations are obvious: He wants power, he wants to conquer Helium, and he wants to control Barsoom. Further, he’s being told what to do by Matai Shang. Seems pretty clear to me what his motivations are. And I likewise have no problem understanding Tars Tarkas’s motivations.

    Look, I understand you don’t like the movie. But there is no reason for you to reach for nonsense to justify your dislike. This movie is entirely consistent with the tradition of pulp science fiction, and in particular the planetary romance genre. It’s not Ernest Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald or Lawrence of Arabia and was never intended to be. Obviously you don’t like the genre. That’s fine. However, there is no basis for the nonsensical statements in this review, other than that. Just say so and don’t make it sound like the filmmakers failed in what they were trying to do, and don’t make it sound like the movie itself is fatally flawed, because it isn’t.

    This movie, in fact, is a perfect reflection of what it is intended and was supposed to be: pulp science fiction in the interplanetary romance genre. Nothing more and nothing less.

    And believe it or not, a whole lot of people, millions in fact, like that genre and this movie, as evidenced by the fact that John Carter was the top-selling home video this week.

    Thank you.

  5. Becky says:

    The first time I saw the film, like you, I was a little confused by the similar armor of the Heliumites and the Zodangans, but after that point, our opinions completely diverge. I didn’t feel your lack of emotion at all. I pretty much teared up when JC was fighting the Warhoons with the intercuts of his earth family being buried. I loved John Carter. I haven’t been this crazy about a film in years. Just watched the bonus features again today. Buy the blu-ray, definitely worth it.

  6. Debra Fisher says:

    I can see where a person who is not familiar with the Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars series could be confused or not enthusiastic about elements of the movie. On the other hand, I took 3 teenagers…who knew NOTHING about the books…to see the movie and they loved it. I asked if they had any problems following the story and they said not at all. In fact, they sat through the very long credits to see if there would be a sequel…and they were seriously hoping for that sequel.

    The enthusiastic fan base are mostly people who had read and really enjoyed the ERB series. I had first read them at the age of 9 and have waited nearly half a century to see a decent version put to film. While I don’t agree with all of Stanton’s decisions, I found the movie to be one of the most enjoyable film’s that I have ever seen. It followed the pace of the books in which John Carter finds himself on Mars and, not knowing quite what to make of it all, embraces the oddity of it all. It is a good old fashioned adventure flick (with a little romance, of course) just like the ones the I grew up with as a child. Maybe not the newer generations cup of tea since it didn’t contain a lot of graphic violence or curse words.

    Keeping in mind that not everyone will agree to like any one particular thing and that is why there is such diversity in the world, I think that, if you were considering watching John Carter that you should go ahead and do so. Don’t let one reviewer keep you from possibly enjoying one of the best movies around. And that is advice from a person who was born the same year as Disneyland which, by the way, was a long, long time ago…

  7. Kayla says:

    I don’t understand how you merit the movie and yet it is so “flawed” because you can’t follow a unique plot or action scenes? Haha ok… Well,
    I thought John Carter was amazing, everything about it was entertaining from beginning to end. The visual effects, story line, characters, and chemistry between John and Dejah were all captivating. It never gets old!! If you haven’t seen it already, get the blu-ray. You won’t regret it

  8. Brad Blake says:

    I’ll be brief as the comments from fellow responders say it so well. This is a simply marvelous movie, the likes of which we RARELY see anymore. This is Raiders by way or Star Wars and Jason and the Argonauts. A truly wonderful, fun, adventure film that just happens to be also Science Fiction. A fantastic film that only gets better with each new viewing.

  9. Jan Austin says:

    John Carter was a wonderful film! I just can’t agree with your review. It was a marvelous adventure, with an incomparable cast, and fantastic and heart-warming characters. One of my most favorite films of the past decade. I saw John Carter several times on the screen with family and friends who all simply left the theater with the same feelings as mine. It was a film I wanted to go back to time and time again and have! Now it is not only out on DVD but is Number 1 in DVD sales! Whoo-Hoo Woola!! Can’t get better than that! Except for maybe one thing…..a John Carter Sequel. ANd so say thousands and thousands of fans from all over the world who want to go Back To Barsoom! I say join us! John Carter is a delightful film Give the DVD a glance and I can assure you, you will want to go Back To Barsoom too!

  10. diegomom50 says:

    I was lucky enough to have seen this movie in March in the IMAX and
    loved this movie. I have been telling friends and family until I was
    blue in the face how good this movie was. And now the people who were
    scared off by the media flop reports and the critics animosity anr now
    finding out for themselves what I discovered in March. That John Carter
    is a good movie that got a raw deal. Disney through it under the bus
    with poor promotion and advertising. The only hype this movie received
    was bad press from Rich Ross, his subsequent job loss, the 200 million
    dollar write down at end of 1st quarter. A figure that has been disputed
    but not by the lazy media. They all cut and pasted the press release
    from Disney and the fix was in. Thank you to the word of mouth of the
    fans of this movie for changing the buzz. Hey Disney Take me back to
    Barsoom, I want the trilogy that Andrew Stanton envisioned. So sorry you couldn’t enjoy it. Your loss

  11. Daria says:

    Wow–if the reviewer is a “Disney fan,” I’d hate to see an enemy. At least Birou has the decency to encourage readers to think for themselves; that’s more than a lot of professional critics have done when it comes to “John Carter.” I’ve been sitting night after night, again and again with audiences who thoroughly enjoy this film; their honest laughter, cheering and applause completely counters these odd, lack-luster reviews. This leads me to believe that there are just too many bloggers and critics who cannot seem to understand the subtleties of ACTING. Every female in these audiences relates to the nuances of the charming romance between Dejah and John and the fact that it was achieved only after John tackled the demons of his guilt at not having been there to save his wife and child; that revelation, coupled with his epic battle against the Warhoons is the single most compelling piece of filmmaking in any adventure film in decades. Beyond that, Carter is in grief mode throughout 2/3rds of the film, yet that seems to escape far too many reviewers as well. Luckily, audiences “get it” and not only have they continued to seek out this fabulous paean to good ol’ fashion film fun in the few cinemas still screening it after three months, but they are also buying up every copy of the DVD they can find, leaving store shelves empty. I think I’ll go with their opinion of this fine film outing and bypass the pundits. I’ve been onboard with John Carter’s trip to Barsoom since Day One and am I ever glad of that.

  12. Khanada says:

    I applaud you for not listening to critics and giving the film a chance. I can’t agree with your assessment, but I do think it’s simply that some people just don’t “get” John Carter. Most do, when they actually watch it. I’ve heard from so many people since the DVD/Bluray release, who love it and are so disappointed that they skipped seeing it in the theater! I can’t count the new fans we’ve gotten since then in our Take Me Back to Barsoom Facebook group, too! And I’m glad that those who don’t “get” it are a rare few, because I adore the film and I’m dying to see the trilogy Stanton has planned for it! I’ll fight for those sequels and as fans before us have done (Star Trek, Serenity, etc), we will get them!

  13. PM says:

    First, I have to say that I loved the John Carter books. When I read them as a youth, they filled my mind with adventure, romance, old school chivalry, and wonder. In terms of the film John carter, all of those same emotions were captured to my way of thinking. I loved the film and went to see it three times in the theater, something that I never ever do! This film brought me back to when I was a boy watching those old school, B adventure flicks that Hollywood just does not make anymore. If ever a film deserves a sequel it is this one. I hope that you sit down and just let the movie unfold as you watch it, I think you would enjoy it more if you just let it works it magic on you.

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