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John Carter (2012)
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 6/5/2012
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/11/2012
Reviewing Blu-ray Discs/DVDs as opposed to theatrical films, certainly has its pros and cons. For example, I get to watch movies in the comfort of my home theater, but I have to wait for the home video release. One of the oddest parts of this comes when a movie creates a decidedly negative buzz during its time at the mutliplex. I can read the reviews and the audience reactions, but I have to wait to see for myself. (Yes, I realize that I could simply go see it, but that's not how this works.) So, when I do finally sit down to watch the Blu-ray Disc, I'm filled with pre-conceived notions, no matter how I've tried to avoid spoilers. This was certainly the situation with John Carter.
The titular character in John Carter (played by Taylor Kitsch) is a Civil War veteran who has traveled to Arizona in search of gold. Despite the fact that the locals think that he's crazy, Carter is convinced that there is a cave of gold in the area. When he finally finds it, he's attacked by a oddly-clothed bald man. When Carter awakens, he's in a strange desert valley. Even stranger, he's suddenly gained the ability to leap hundreds of feet off of the ground. Carter is soon captured by a group of very tall reptilian creatures called Tharks and taken to their city. Their leader, Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe), is impressed with Carter's spirit and spares his life. Two flying warships appear overhead, and Carter learns that there are humanoids here. He meets Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), a citizen of the city of Helium, who explains that the city of Zodanga, lead by Sab Than (Dominic West), is attempting to rule with an iron fist. She also informs Carter that he is on the planet of Barsoom, which we call Mars. Carter is fascinated by Dejah and her story, and he agrees to help her with her cause if she can find a way to send him back to Earth.
Even before its theatrical release, John Carter began to get bad press, as rumors abounded of the budget being out of control and Disney having no idea how to market it. But, there was little talk of the quality of the film itself. Having now seen it, I can say that John Carter, not unlike reviewing Blu-ray Discs, is a mixture of pros and cons.
The film is based on the writings of Edgar Rice Burroughs (who also created Tarzan). Burroughs wrote eleven novels which told of adventures on Barsoom. According to the credits, John Carter is specifically based on the book Princess of Mars, but the movie also incorporates ideas from other books in the series. Director/Co-writer Andrew Stanton, along with Co-writers Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon allow the story to have a novel-like feel, as it introduces many characters and ideas. The movie isn't afraid to be fairly hardcore science-fiction/fantasy, as we are introduced to many unique characters and a lot of odd sounding words. The "steampunk" look of the machines shown in the film is no doubt an accurate portrayal of how Burroughs would have pictured such things while writing in the early part of the 20th century.
However, many of these things hurt John Carter as well. Reading a novel and watching an adaptation of a novel are too different things, and this movie proves it. John Carter is simply too long and too slowly-paced for its own good. I liked the fact that the movie opens on Earth and takes some time to introduce us to Carter there. But, once he reaches Barsoom, the middle part of the film drags as we meet the various characters and hear about the war between Helium and Zoganga. So much of the film feels tedious and redundant (oh, Carter's been captured and put in chains again?), as we wait for the movie to get on with it. Much of the story feels very hackneyed, which most likely isn't the fault of Stanton and his team. Burrough's books were highly influential and many other writers have "borrowed" elements from his stories. Thus, even if we aren't familiar with John Carter, we will feel as if we've heard this tale before. Movies like this always gamble with the use of aliens words and names, and they feel especially clunky here. I realize that the filmmakers were simply being true to the source material, but, again there's a difference between reading nonsense words and hearing them spoken over and over. Hollywood needs to understand that when we watch a movie like this, we don't want to have to learn a new vocabulary.
Many have made John Carter out to be a train-wreck, but it isn't. It's simply the product of a production team which was both over-zealous and over-estimated the appeal of their movie. Pixar veteran Stanton (Wall-E, Finding Nemo), here making his live-action debut, knows his way around CG effects and can stage an action scene. But, as seen in his animated movies, he has no idea when enough is enough and he lets things run on too long. Which is ironic, as the first few minutes of the movie move too fast and feel confusing. While color is added to the movie where ever it can be, John Carter also suffers from the fact that the desolate setting gets old very fast. This may sound odd, but if this had been done on a smaller scale, it could have been a much better movie. John Carter is worth seeing, but you'll be very tempted to fast forward through parts of it.
John Carter could not end Baroom enough on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc carries an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is incredibly sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source materials. The image shows a very impressive crispness which lends the landscapes nice depth, even in this 2-D version. The splashes of blue and red look very good, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good and the picture is never soft. The only drawback here is that the HD transfer makes some of the visual effects appear less seamless than one would want. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The surround effects are nicely done in the action sequences, which really places us in the middle of battles. The effects are very detailed and we can pick out individual sounds such as the aliens and gunshots. The subwoofer effects provide deep bass, but it never overpowers the dialogue. The stereo effects show good separation. Overall, this is a great technical package.
The John Carter Blu-ray Disc offers a variety of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Andrew Stanton and Producers Jim Morris and Lindsey Collins. "100 Years in the Making" (11 minutes) gives a brief overview of the career of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Director Stanton, along with others like Jon Favreau and Michael Chabon, comment on Burroughs writing while we learn some about his life. There are quotes from Burroughs, be we aren't told if these are actually recording of his voice. The piece also touches on how astronomers viewed Mars in the past. The Disc contains 10 DELETED SCENES which run about 19 minutes (complete with a brief introduction from Stanton) and can be viewed with optional comments from Stanton. The alternate opening could have helped the film, as it introduced us to the various factions on Barsoom. Some of the scene are unfinished, and we see crude drawings in place of visual effects. "360 Degrees of John Carter" (34 minutes) gives us an in-depth look at a day on the set of the film, taking us through various stages of the production. "Barsoom Bloopers" is a 2-minute gag reel.
Review Copyright 2012 by Mike Long