John Carter is a pulp-soaked spectacle of science fiction sound and vision. With eye-popping 3D effects that “whiz-bang” and “golly-gee” the senses down to their sockets, John Carter is a planet-hopping celebration of pulpy matters and pulse-rattling pomp. Far, far better in a galaxy of here and now than the Star Wars prequels and, at times, recalling the glory of the original trilogy in itself, Andrew Stanton’s movie delivers what Cameron’s bloated Avatar promised: a solid dazzling epic. Okay, breathe now (more a note to myself than to you, folks).
While purists of Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs might argue with the choice of changing the title from The Princess of Mars to the rather plain-sounding John Carter, anyone with half a brain will know why and accept it as such. Nevermind all that nonsense, though. The movie, directed by Pixar alum Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo and WALL-E), is anything but plain. To be clear, it is worth every cent of whatever price you might pay to see it and see it again.
Adapted by Stanton and co-writers Michael Chabon and Mark Andrews, John Carter spends damn near 135 minutes to weave a mysterious tale that starts on Mars, goes to the year 1881 on Earth, to the post Civil War’s border disputes and back to Mars before wrapping the story up…back on Earth. Whew. Epic in nature and scope, the writers jam-pack their narrative with romance, adventure, and humor. Heroics aren’t too far behind. With pounding battles against warring aliens, white apes, and arena battles, the movie is a marketing nightmare that Disney still hasn’t figured out to sell properly.
Word of mouth will have to carry this vehicle to Mars and back. Allow me to help push.
John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is an American Civil War veteran who, after refusing to protect the border from the Apache threat in a hilariously constructed series of scenes, finds himself mysteriously transported to Mars. Due to his bone density, he is able to leap and bound like a relative superhero (he also has great strength) and, once discovered by Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) and other specimens of the brutal Tharks, finds himself hilarious dubbed ‘Virginia’ and held as a captive who must follow the order to fight on the side of the Tharks. It is his remarkable skills that keep him as anything but a captive, that and Tars Taskas’ compassion.
Turns out that Mars is quite the battleground and Princess Dejah Thoris (a beautifully pulp-soaked and curvaceous Lynn Collins) of the city-state Helium is caught in the middle. She is a pawn in a marriage scam that is to unite two bitter enemies, but will only bring about its destruction as governed by Matai Shang (Mark Strong), leader of the Holy Therns. With voice work from Thomas Hayden Church, Samantha Morton, and featuring Bryan Cranston, Dominic West, and Ciarán Hinds, John Carter is more than a summary can supply.
The action beats and adventure thrills are through the roof with theatrics and heroics alike. It's imaginative and full of wonder. It's also a great adventure. Sure, there’s probably nothing all that new to the formula behind the mechanics of John Carter and, if you’ve seen Flash Gordon, you know the just how shiny and effectively delicious pulp material can appear on the silver screen, but what a success it is. The unyielding accomplishments that this film achieves are all on a geek’s checklist of good times.
John Carter feels so alive and refreshing at times that the narrative virtually breathes. There’s a rhythm to its rising and falling action that Stanton has created and, as such, the film feels perfectly natural through large parts of special effects-laden theatrics. Lots of movie magic (and lots of money) brought this film to life, though. Lots. To say this is an example of effortless entertainment would be an insult to all the people that worked so hard or dreamed so big to see John Carter happen. Certainly, the wait and the work have all been worth it.
As a movie, John Carter is equal to one thousand Flash Gordon’s in style and is as hero’s journey-minded as the whole of Lucas’s A New Hope. Joseph Campbell would be proud. Carter himself is a wounded man. Haunted by the failure of a first marriage that ended with the death of his wife, Carter cannot forgive himself nor let himself forget what he could not protect. The film, as if in answer to his consciousness, is edited together in such a fashion as to keep the past as mystery and somehow keep it forward-minded.
Engaging to the last breath, John Carter is the first (of several, I suspect) films that should not be missed as the summer season approaches. Having seen it once, I am already chomping at the proverbial bit to make a return visit to Mars.
Go witness its timeless tale of geekdom pulp and joy.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action.
Director: Andrew Stanton
Writer: Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews
Cast: Taylor Kitsch; Lynn Collins; Samantha Morton; Willem Dafoe; Thomas Haden Church
Genre: Action | Adventure | Fantasy | Sci-Fi
Tagline: Lost in Our World. Found in Another.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Did I not tell you he could jump!"
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Official Site: http://disney.go.com/johncarter/
Release Date: March 9, 2012
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: No details yet available.
Synopsis: From Academy Award–winning filmmaker Andrew Stanton comes John Carter—a sweeping action-adventure set on the mysterious and exotic planet of Barsoom (Mars). John Carter is based on a classic novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose highly imaginative adventures served as inspiration for many filmmakers, both past and present. The film tells the story of war-weary, former military captain John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), who is inexplicably transported to Mars where he becomes reluctantly embroiled in a conflict of epic proportions amongst the inhabitants of the planet, including Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) and the captivating Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins). In a world on the brink of collapse, Carter rediscovers his humanity when he realizes that the survival of Barsoom and its people rests in his hands.
Available on Blu-ray - June 5, 2012
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (1 BD, 1 DVD); DVD copy
Disney might have dropped the ball on the marketing of John Carter but they certainly did not drop the ball on this gloriously ripe 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer. It’s loaded with great detail in Martian landscapes, bold and striking colors, and a wonderfully swirl of filmic appeal. Skin tones – no matter the atmosphere – are correct and the CG work is phenomenal on HD. There’s also a wonderful attention to depth and texture that the transfer has. Caves are deep and dark with bold shadows that hold their shapes and the striking landscapes are atmospheric enough to create a great canvas for your home theater experience. Swooping in with a pulse pounding surround sound experience is Disney's DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track. Dynamic is exactly the right word to use here. From front to back and from beginning to end, the sonic sensations are fully engaged for an experience you will never forget.
- This might be the most lively and focused commentary I’ve heard yet. Director Andrew Stanton and producers Jim Morris and Lindsey Collins share their unexpected memories of making the film and, rather quickly, go about discussing the film’s production, casting, and filming. Every special effect is recognized and some secrets are revealed for those interested in CG work.
John Carter was a gigantic flop at the box office due to Disney’s poor marketing and name change. It will probably find new life at home but certainly not enough for there to talk and rumor of a sequel. I’m just surprised that Disney gave it a commentary track and about an hour’s worth of special features. Being a fan of old school Hollywood romps, this was a favorite of mine so I took much delight in exploring John Carter's journal with Disney's Second Screen app which unlocks additional content. There are ten deleted scenes (with optional commentary from Stanton) but some scenes are far from finished, relying on pre-visuals and storyboards to flesh them out. There is a too short featurette that discusses the 100 year gap between book and screen. Interesting because it mentions the numerous attempts many famous directors have made in trying to get this film to the silver screen. There is an interesting production diary that looks at the costumes and the makeup departments as they work. The camera essentially follows Stanton with a sort-of day-in-the-life aspect. Finally, the supplemental material concludes with an awfully painful two-minute blooper real.
- Ten Deleted Scenes with Optional Director's Commentary (19 min)
- 100 Years in the Making (10 min)
- 360 Degrees of John Carter (35 min)
- Barsoom Bloopers (2 min)