John Carter (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo) (2012)

Actors: Willem Dafoe, Lynn Collins, Thomas Haden Church, Taylor Kitsch
Format: AC-3, Color, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Dubbed, Subtitled, Widescreen
Language: English
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Number of discs: 2
Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Walt Disney Video
DVD Release Date: June 5, 2012
Run Time: 132 minutes




Epic disaster. Ishtar in space. Red Ink Planet . . .

Even before John Carter sank without a trace at the box office three months ago, the pundits weighed in on its ultimate fate. They branded it a turkey of epic proportions, a financial disaster of the sort that used to kill entire studios. A prominent-yet-lackluster ad campaign didn’t help matters and the film’s speed-of-light release on Blu-ray suggests an embarrassment that Disney would like to forget as quickly as possible.

But a funny thing happened on the way to cinematic ignominy. The film itself turned out to be much better than early word suggested. Critical reaction was heavily mixed, but a discernible group of voices leapt enthusiastically to John Carter’s defense. Many (though not all) of those voices loved the original John Carter stories long before they turned into a movie, and most of them understood the character’s importance to modern science fiction. Edgar Rice Burroughs created John Carter a century ago, and his writing inspired everything from Flash Gordon to Star Wars to prominent astronomers like Carl Sagan.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that this movie has a lot of life left in it, if not as the blockbuster its creators imagined then as a cult film of the first order. The Blu-ray release marks the first step in that transition, giving people another chance to watch it and realize that it may be a great deal better than they were led to believe.

Admittedly, the film takes its time to get going. We start with an awkward introduction to the world of Mars – rendered a desert by millennia of war, but still full of savage, violent and fascinating life – followed by an obtuse framing device covering Carter’s (Taylor Kitsch) early life in post-Civil War America. It’s a heavy lodestone to bear and you may find your patience tested getting through it. (A deleted sequence on the Blu-ray hints at a much more elegant opening abandoned for reasons we can’t quite fathom.)

Then Carter reaches the Red Planet, and suddenly the movie comes alive. A sinister conspiracy aims to destroy the free city of Helium there, paving the way for the despotic rule of Sab Than (Dominic West). It’s up to Carter to stop them, aided by his enhanced strength and speed courtesy of the planet’s lower gravity.

Director Andrew Stanton buckles the swashes tightly with all manner of alien creatures, daring rescues and a beautiful princess (Lynn Collins) who proves every bit the hero’s equal. It all stays true to the character’s pulpy origins, while infusing the action with a Boys’ Own energy unseen since the heyday of Lucas and Spielberg. The undeniable energy with which John Carter unfolds speaks to marvelous nights reading paperbacks under the covers, traveling through a landscape as rich as Oz or Lucas’s Star Wars. John Carter does itself a big favor by taking it all very seriously: fun, to be sure, but refusing to indulge in too-hip winks or in-jokes. That investment helps us get into the proper mindset, then revel along with the cast at the popcorn fun on display.

Others have noted that Disney short-changed the film by refusing to hype its influential status further. Had audiences understood what they were watching, they might have shown up in greater numbers. Against the current crop of summer blockbusters, it more than holds its own, and while it serves as nothing more than straight entertainment, its good qualities hold up over multiple viewings. John Carter may not have been a hit, but like its hero, its story is far from written. If you haven’t seen it yet, give it another shot. You may be surprised at how much fun it can be.

THE DISC: Disney does right by the film’s gorgeous vistas and sound palette, providing the only reason you really need to pick it up. The supporting features are rather anemic: a brief documentary on Burroughs, a behind-the-scenes “day on the set” feature, trailers and audio commentary along with the now-standard DVD copy. Considering the poor box office showing, it’s not surprising that they would keep the extra features to a minimum, but the film itself remains the primary draw.

WORTH IT? Unquestionably, especially if you’ve not yet seen it. This film definitely merits a viewing.

RECOMMENDATION: John Carter’s self-seriousness and maligned reputation shouldn’t get in the way of its innate appeal. Anyone in the mood for a big-budget adventure will find something to appreciate here.

- Rob Vaux



blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest Headlines

Most Popular

Copyright © 1997-forward James O'Ehley/The Sci-Fi Movie Page (unless where indicated otherwise).