John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), a destitute ex-Calvary man looking for a cave of gold, suddenly finds himself on Mars. Let the adventure begin.
Here’s what I wrote about this one back in March:
“A century in the making, Disney’s John Carter is a superlative cinematic fantasy that’s without question the single most entertaining thing I’ve had the pleasure to see in 2012 so far. Based on the stories by Tarzan impresario Edgar Rice Burroughs, Princess of Mars providing the basis for this initial adaptation, directed by Pixar giant Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Wall•E) and with screenplay by Stanton, Mark Andrews (“Star Wars: Clone Wars”) and Wonder Boys author Michael Chabon, this is a literate, highly intelligent and pleasingly multilayered epic that had me wanting to leap from my theatre seat and cheer.
The story itself is far too complex to go into a great detail here, the basics revolving around widower and former Civil War Calvary man John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) searching for a fabled cave of gold mysteriously transported to the vast deserts of Mars. Once there, he comes into contact Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe), a lizard-like nine-foot tall creature with four-arms who just so happens to be the leader of the Tharks, one of the planet’s major inhabitants.
The other two species residing on Mars, called Barsoom by the natives, are the Zodangans, led by the evil Sab Than (Dominic West), and the Heliumites, ruled by the benevolent Trados Mors (Ciarán Hinds). The former has been given an all-powerful weapon by the ethereal Matai Shang (Mark Strong), an ephemeral being who claims to have direct ties with the mystical forces all creatures on the planet pray to. In order to protect his people from Armageddon, Trados Mors succumbs to Sab Than’s demands that he be given his daughter’s hand in marriage, a thing the young princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) finds unconscionable forcing her to flee from the city.
It gets more convoluted and crazy from there, Dejah Thoris hooking up with Carter thanks to his spectacular intervention during her escape making him a hero to the Tharks and a point of worry for Matai Shang. One thing leads to another and soon the two humanoids, joined by Tars Tarkas’ secret daughter Sola (Samantha Morton), are racing across the deserts of Barsoom in order to find out the truth behind Carter’s arrival and maybe even a way to stop Sab Than before it is too late.
I get it if this all sounds a bit familiar. James Cameron has said multiple times Burroughs’ stories were a major influence behind Avatar, George Lucas voicing the same in regards to Star Wars. From Flash Gordon to Battlestar Galactica to Superman to even schlocky silliness like Transformers and Tron, it’s hard in many ways to imagine any of them existing if the John Carter adventures hadn’t preceded them. Heck, even the great scientist Carl Sagan had a map of Barsoom hanging on his doorway outside his office at Cornell University, a map that hung there for over two full decades.
So why hasn’t anyone tried to tackle Burroughs’ writings until now? Well, a lot of filmmakers have tried, they just couldn’t figure out the best way to do it. John McTiernan probably came the closest up until now to giving this a shot, but even he gave up when he realized the technology didn’t exist to do the tales justice and even though he had Tom Cruise attached to star he felt it best to move onto other projects and leave it alone.
By injecting Burroughs (Daryl Sabara) into the story, by giving the film a dusty, Sergio Leone meets John Ford look, Stanton, Chabon and Andrews have managed to unlock the writer’s stories in a way so many up to now has felt impossible. They’ve given the film an intimately human dynamic that goes beyond the spectacle, beyond the special effects, beyond the impressive motion capture, and in turn have crafted a science fiction adventure that feels immediate, personal and real.
What I liked best is that the filmmakers treat their audience with respect, allowing us so often to figure out what is going on for ourselves without a need to spell it out in bright shiny letters for us. Sure, there are times where they almost can’t help themselves (Thoris’ exclamations when she finally believes Carter is in fact from Earth is admittedly silly), but overall their use of restraint borders on magnificent. The best moments involve Carter’s initial arrival on Mars, his flailing and falling as he tries to learn how to move his body around in this new gravitational terrain, as well as his first interactions with Tars Tarkas, the two trying their best to communicate and learn one another’s names to humorous effect.
Speaking of Tarkas, much like the debate had last year in regards to Andy Serkis’ work in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, here comes another pair of performances that should once again spark up the heated motion capture discussion. Make no mistake, both Dafoe and Morton are superb in this, easily delivering the film’s two most indelible portraits, their work a symphony of emotion and nuance that continually kept me captivated.
There are issues, familiarity thanks to all those aforementioned adaptations that were inspired by this sadly being one of them. But the biggest hiccup is the fact that, no matter how hard West tries, no matter how much he wants to be the king of villainous nastiness, Sab Than just isn’t very interesting. He’s kind of a wet noodle and it’s never in doubt what Carter is going to make of him. The dude just isn’t scary, and for the most part one gets the feeling Stanton and company are treating him more like an afterthought, their desire to set up Matai Shang as the true baddie in potential subsequent adventures getting in their way at every turn.
Honestly? I don’t particularly care. The bookends to this film border on brilliant, the way the filmmakers set up the events and bring them to their culmination close to spellbinding. Stanton, much like Brad Bird did late last year with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, moves from animation to live action with remarkable ease, staging both dramatic and action sequences, in one important case both at the same time, with unequivocal confidence. John Carter is a treat, and here’s one vote hoping that box office receipts are high enough Disney decides a second trip to Barsoom is warranted.”
It goes without saying that box office receipts were not high, low enough in fact they got the guy running the theatrical arm of Disney fired, so it’s not exactly likely Stanton and company are going to be returning to the world of Barsoom anytime soon. Still, I stand by my statement that John Carter is a fantastic, that is without question one of 2012’s finest achievements to this point, and that I seriously doubt I’m going to be changing my mind about that fact in the near or far-flung future.
Here’s hoping those who take the time to watch Disney’s glorious Blu-ray release of the film will end up feeling the same.
Both 3D and 2D versions of John Carter are presented on two dual-layer 50GB Blu-rays MPEG-4 AVC Video with 1080p 2.40:1 transfers.
This 3D transfer is perfect. While I still don’t particularly care to watch the film that way, my own stubborn determination to see the format head back into the bad idea department has to be put aside when looking at the incredible image Disney has put forth for this Blu-ray release. It’s incredible; there’s no other way to say it.
The 2D transfer is equally superlative, colors so strong and consistent I almost couldn’t believe my eyes. Quite frankly, this is one of the best Blu-rays arguably ever released, the reference quality nature of the technical facets so astonishing I almost don’t know what else to say.
This release features English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 along with French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks and includes optional English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.
Extras here include:
· Audio Commentary with director Andrew Stanton and producers Jim Morris and Lindsey Collins – Solid if not altogether involving commentary track chock full of information but delivered with a rather matter-of-fact banality that gets a little tiresome.
· Deleted Scenes with Optional Director's Commentary (19 minutes) – Ten scenes, all in various states of finish.
· 100 Years in the Making (10 minutes) – A featurette on the world and history of John Carter that should have been much, much longer.
· 360 Degrees of John Carter (35 minutes) – Extensive behind-the-scenes piece that could have gone on for another hour as I seriously doubt I’d have tired of watching more of it.
· Barsoom Bloopers (2 minutes) – Not funny. Not at all funny. In fact, so not funny I’d like to tell everyone to avoid watching it. Trust me. It just isn’t funny.
The set comes with DVD and Digital Copies of the film, while the 2D disc is Disney Second Screen enabled. All-in-all, this is a great package, and I doubt fans of the film will be even slightly disappointed.
John Carter is awesome. This 3D/2D Blu-ray collection is awesome. Give it a chance. Keep an open mind. You won’t be disappointed.