It’s hard to say when the troubles started for John Carter. Though others have speculated that people had it out for director Andrew Stanton, there’s no denying that the film never cracked how to sell itself to the public, and the advertising – from the original trailers to the film’s name change from John Carter of Mars to John Carter, to selling the film on the white apes who only appear in the third act of the movie – did the film no favors. It was known to be a very expensive film, which went through a couple rounds of reshoots and when it emerged in March it flopped domestically. A nd though the film is flawed, there’s a lot to like about it – as much for what it is as what it aspires to be. Watching it at home, there’s a fun film in there, and it’s mostly good. Taylor Kitsch stars as the titular Carter, and our review of the Blu-ray follows after the jump.
The film’s biggest problem is that it doesn’t know how to start. The film opens with a prologue set on Mars (also known as Barsoom), where there’s a fight on flying boats, and then the bad guys show up (headed by Mark Strong) and give a weapon of unbelievable power to Sab Than (Dominic West). Then we see John Carter (Kitsch) deliver a letter, and then we’re told that he dies and that his nephew Edgar Rice Burroughs (Daryl Sabara) who is given Carter’s estate and his diary. There we finally get to meet Carter, who is known for his gold mine. He was a solider, and we see him recruited to help with the Indian problem, when he gets into a fight and stumbles onto a Martian. He takes a trinket from the dead Martian and is transported to Mars. Quickly he runs into the four-armed alien Tharks, and Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe), their leader, who captures Carter. On Mars – because of the different gravities – Carter can jump insanely high and has what amounts to super strength.
Then he meets the princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), who was being attacked by Sab’s men in a hope of getting her to marry him. It seems the evil guys headed by Matai Shang (Strong) know that Dejah is close to figuring out how to harness an energy supply known as the ninth ray, which will change the power situation on the planet. It’s all a bunch of gobbledygook that comes close to political commentary. Because Carter was a civil war veteran, he’s a reluctant fighter, especially after his wife and kid were killed. But he and Dejah have chemistry – even though he keeps talking about going back to Earth.
The biggest problem with the film is that it just doesn’t know how to start, so you get about twenty minutes of dull set-up before anything happens. But on second viewing that was less of a problem, and there is great spectacle and excitement to be had. Indeed, the film is charming and deserves to be given another shot. I think another thing working against the movie is that the 3-D is totally unnecessary, and depending on what kind of 3-D you saw it in, it’s an obstacle against the movie.
Kitsch is okay, it’s more the role than him, but he doesn’t pop off screen. Great as he was on Friday Night Lights, Kitsch doesn’t seem to have that thing that makes people stars. He had that on a TV show, but the small screen is a different animal. The real star his is Lynn Collins, who is sexy, but more than that a compelling and smart character who can take care of herself. It should have been a star-making turn.
Unfortunately, there were just so many mistakes made with the film and a second viewing helps cure some of those problems. The white ape arena fight is a lot of fun, but when that’s the centerpiece of an ad campaign, you watch the film waiting for it to happen. And then when it does, it’s not so spectacular that it makes the wait worth it. But it’s a good scene, and has a great energy.
The film’s biggest sin is that the storytelling is filled with the sort of things you ignore in a film like Star Wars because that movie has so much energy. There’s just way too much clunky exposition delivered in ways that aren’t exciting, and that includes the sequence where the bad guy walks around with Carter and explains his evil plan. It’s a “Really?” moment if there ever was one. Still, it’s a film of some great charms that got lost in the story of its excesses and failures.
Disney presents the film on Blu-ray in a two disc 2-D set and a four disc 3-D version. That set comes with two Blu-rays (one the 2-D, the other the 3-D), a DVD and digital copy. The film is presented in widescreen (2.35:1) and in 7.1 DTS-HD master audio. The transfer is spectacular. The 3-D was done as a post-conversion, and though the picture quality is about as good as to be expected, the 2-D version is the way to go. Director Andrew Stanton and producers Jim Morris and Lindsey Collins provide a commentary that must have been recorded before the film came out, it’s a smart track, with Stanton enhancing the film with his thoughts.
As for supplements there’s a Disney Second Screen, which was not live at the time of review, and ‘100 Years in the Making’ (11 min.) which talks about the history of the material, with thoughts from Stanton and Jon Favreau – who came close to making the picture at one point. ‘360 Degrees of John Carter’ (35 min.) is a great approach to the making of as it walks through one day on the set on one of the big sequences. There are ten deleted scenes (19 min.) with optional commentary, and Bloopers (2 min.)