This might come as a surprise, but I actually really enjoyed John Carter. Unlike 99% of critics, I found John Carter to be the refreshing and bold sci-fi adventure I haven’t encountered since the original Star Wars trilogy. It’s got fun characters, a light tone, and some great storytelling. The only problem is the overabundance of story that director Andrew Stanton tries to tackle. Ultimately, John Carter is a flawed science fiction epic, but I’ll take it over the rest of Hollywood’s big-budget disasters with shallow plots, uninteresting set pieces and the general risk-free environment most filmmakers operate in.
John (Taylor Kitsch) is a war vet with a past, like most. He’s chosen to keep that past locked up and for the most part he keeps to himself. General Powell (Bryan Cranston) sees Carter’s talent, buried underneath all of his self-regret and loneliness and he tries recruiting Carter to help fight off the natives. That doesn’t really work out, which leads to Carter leaving one world for another.
Carter finds himself on the planet Mars. He’s somehow transported his body to the red planet, where he discovers that Mars isn’t lifeless, but in fact full of life and air and flying machines! John is thrown in the middle of a terrible civil war that’s draining the planet of its resources.
There’s Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), the queen of Mars faced with the horrible proposition of marrying the man opposing peace in her kingdom. That evil man is Sab Than (Dominic West), and he is being controlled mindlessly by the even more evil Matai Shang (Mark Strong). Shang is an ancient worker for the Gods, which means he holds the ultimate power to wipe out the entire planet if he chooses, and he has bestowed his power onto Sab Than. Than must abide by Shang’s rules in order to conquer the world.
If you take out the two humanly tribes on Mars that still leaves you with the Tharks, a green alien race with four arms. Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) is the leader of the clan that finds John Carter and he believes that Carter can bring something to the planet that might save it and end the constant war that rages.
John must now choose sides and fight in a war that he doesn’t have any say in, and in doing so, he discovers that hope is not lost and that there is still something worth fighting for.
Edgar Rice Burroughs’ pulp novels are full of rich sci-fi material that guys like James Cameron and George Lucas took a page from, but that doesn’t mean this adaptation is completely lacking in creativity or originality. It’s a little late to the party in terms of adapting a book to the big-screen, but it still holds its weight against Star Wars and the ever so popular Avatar.
There’s an epic scale of beauty in John Carter that I’ve never seen before. Dialogue is read almost in a Shakespearean tongue, and there’s still room to show some of its alien designs and futuristic flying machines. It almost reminds me of Thor, in terms of how Disney has tried to modernize some of the ideas, but it feels much larger in scale. It’s out of this world (literally) and Andrew Stanton has no troubles showing that. His direction for the most part is rock-solid, with an eye for visuals and a talent for finding some of the best actors to play supporting roles.
Lynn Collins sticks out and delivers the best performance of the film. Her Dejah Thoris is radiating charisma. She’s got the backbone of a fierce queen that will do right by her people, but she’s also got a little bit of a bad-ass streak going on, coming off as a kick-ass warrior princess. She’s got the beauty, but more importantly she’s got the brains and talent.
Taylor Kitsch isn’t a complete misfire in the casting department, but he does drop an occasional wooden line of dialogue. He warms up after time, though, and I eventually came to see him as the only actor fit to play John Carter.
What hurts the film is the lack of focus in the story. There’s just too much rich detail to be explained, and Stanton never sits down and sticks with one plot point. He goes for all of them and that makes the film feel directionless at times, as if without a real motivator. Stanton fixes those mistakes by the end, but you begin with an initial uncertain feeling of what the film is trying to accomplish and it never shakes that feeling until the final reel.
I’d love to go back to the world of John Carter for a follow-up; I feel that Stanton has presented a very different character that could spawn countless sequels. The material shouldn’t be a problem adapting, but securing a budget for such an expensive idea might be a problem, given that the film is one of the biggest box-office bombs in history.
The marketing leading up to the film’s release was a horrible misfire and I feel that if people actually sit down and give this one a shot they’ll probably end up liking it a great deal.
John Carter comes to Blu-Ray in 3D and 2D. The 3D presentation suffers from the same problems that most do: colors are dimmed, detail is lost, and there’s some minor ghosting. The use of the extra dimension is good, but not overly clever or notable. A few shots here and there benefit from the depth, but the world of John Carter is so big and massive that a bright and crisp 2D transfer outshines a dark and damper 3D transfer any day of the week. The 1080p 2D counterpart offers up some gorgeous colors and gracious detail. There’s not a single flaw found on the 2D disc.
Disney’s 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track mirrors the 2D video transfer in consistent and energetic quality. This is another loud one from Disney. It’s full of expanding effects and layers upon layers of super-sonic detail. Dialogue is never a problem and action makes good use of the extra 2 channels. John Carter is reference grade material.
The combo pack comes with a shockingly short amount of features. Check out the full list below:
- 2D & 3D versions of the film
- Audio Commentary with Director Andrew Stanton
- Disney Second Screen Interactive Experience
- Deleted Scenes with Optional Director’s Commentary (HD)
- 100 Years in the Making (HD)
- 360 Degrees of John Carter (HD)
- Barsoom Bloopers (HD)
- DVD Copy
- Digital Copy
I’d like to emphasize just how spectacular John Carter really is. There’s so much to like in the film and very little to dislike. If you like big budget science fiction films that aren’t afraid to take risks and surprise you, then check out John Carter, because it’s probably going to be the last gamble Disney takes for some time. You’ll be slapping yourself in the face when they greenlight ANOTHER Pirates of the Caribbean film and pass on a John Carter sequel, because Carter is much more deserving and could actually make good use of another 2 or 3 hours.
The Blu-Ray comes with a restricting 3D presentation that is adequate, but doesn’t outshine the 2D counterpart, which is flawless in every way. The 7.1 audio track reminds you why Blu-Ray is the superior format for lossless audio and the special features top the disc off, making it one combo pack you’ll want to pick up.
If you have the capability to view 3D I’d suggest the 3D combo pack, but everyone else will want to stick with the 2D disc, because the 3D isn’t that much of an upgrade.
John Carter is a big gamble that pays off. It's a sci-fi film that's not afraid to take big risks, with a few minor bumps along the way and the Blu-Ray is a must own.