John Carter 3D Blu-ray delivers truly amazing video and audio in this excellent Blu-ray release
Civil War vet John Carter is transplanted to Mars, where he discovers a lush, wildly diverse planet whose main inhabitants are 12-foot tall green barbarians. Finding himself a prisoner of these creatures, he escapes, only to encounter Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, who is in desperate need of a savior.
For more about John Carter 3D and the John Carter 3D Blu-ray release, see John Carter 3D Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on May 25, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
"No fiction is worth reading except for entertainment. If it entertains, it is good literature, or its kind. If it forms the habit of reading in people who might not read otherwise, it is the best literature." That's right, dear readers. Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of the "Tarzan" and "Barsoom" serials and series, was the Michael Bay of early 1900s pulp fantasy and science fiction. Reading Burroughs isn't a stirring intellectual experience, especially in this day and age, and his flights of Mars-bounding fantasy haven't exactly withstood the test of time. Quaintly old fashioned, filled with the sort of strange beasts and four-armed aliens that now adorn every junior high artist's sketchbook, and relayed by a chummy, opinionated -- I've come this far, so I'll just say it -- occasionally racist narrator who insists on pausing the action to speak directly to his audience, it's surprising that so many filmmakers have worked so hard to keep the Barsoom torch burning over the last hundred years.
There's a certain early 20th century American nostalgia for Burroughs' work, sure -- largely fueled by affection for the author's "Tarzan" tales -- but, let's face facts, John Carter isn't Tarzan. Few people have heard of John Carter, making the film's title as unremarkable as its paint-by-number theatrical trailers. And without a known property, without an A-list actor to draw a crowd, without a world that looks unlike anything audiences have seen before, with a gravity-given semi-superpower that allows our hero to *gasp* jump really, really high and really, really far, is it any wonder that John Carter came and went without much buzz or fanfare? That Disney's $250 million early spring tent-pole only drummed up $72 million at the U.S. box office? And barely eeked out $270 million worldwide? Is it any wonder at all that John Carter fell flat on its face after leaping so high?
Movin' on up...
When former Confederate soldier and once-and-future Mars messiah John Carter (Taylor Kitsch, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Friday Night Lights) -- John Carter... J. Carter... JC... messiah... I know I'm missing something here... what am I missing? -- is transported to the Red Planet (also called Barsoom) by an alien medallion, he finds himself caught up in a Civil War between the humanoid city-states of Zodanga and Helium. Carter's arrival coincides with the proposal of a peace treaty that hinges on Helium princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) marrying the Zodangan king, Sab Than (Dominic West). The princess, though, refuses, escapes and heads for the hills, where she meets one John Carter of Earth, who's just recently discovered that Barsoom's gravity allows him to leap tall buildings... ahem, great Martian chasms in a single bound. Eventually, after some convoluted political wranglings, Carter and Thoris elicit the help of the more distinctly alien Thark king, Tars Tarkas (Willem Defoe), and his daughter, Sola (Samantha Morton). Soon Carter finds himself fighting on the front lines, facing the villainous Matai Shang (Mark Strong, ever the token villain), and choosing between love on Barsoom and life on Earth.
Those looking for more ammunition in the war against George Lucas will adore John Carter, as it casts light on just how much material Lucas "borrowed" from Burroughs when dreaming up the Star Wars prequels. One of Carter's chief set pieces -- the arena battle -- is more than a little reminiscent of Anakin and Obi Wan's fight for freedom on the dusty red-desert planet of Geonosis, and the sense of déjà vu that accompanies it is unavoidable. Writer/director Andrew Stanton and co-writers Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon go to great lengths to sow seeds of passion and romance in the first chapter of what was meant to be a sweeping sci-fi saga, but so many elements of "A Princess of Mars" (Burroughs' first Barsoom book) have been raided by so many filmmakers over the years that everything about John Carter is dishearteningly familiar. When the "Barsoom" serials and stories first gained popularity, they offered a fresh, dazzling vision of alien life on the red planet; a vision that captured the imagination of young readers and transported them to Mars, right alongside John Carter. That boundlessness, that creative spark, is missing from Stanton's adaptation, mainly because it's too faithful to Burroughs. There's nothing new here. Nothing truly alien. Nothing we haven't seen a hundred times before. Nothing is remotely engaging or intriguing. It's simply a classical tale told classically. Stanton and his writers have carefully stripped away the racism and altered tainted character arcs and subplots, thank God, but the movie is almost as antiquated and generic as the original stories have become.
That said, John Carter still works as popcorn-munching family fare and pure adventure-driven entertainment. Most adults will shrug their shoulders when Carter hurtles through the sky across the Martian plains; older kids, on the other hand, will beg for more. Most adults will yawn, weary from a sense of been-there, seen-that; kids will cheer as battles rage, laugh infectiously as Carter faces a pair of enormous white space-apes, and peek through their fingers as the Barsoom-bound hero races to save a princess, fights for the lives of thousands, and brings peace to an entire world. It doesn't make it a great film, as Burroughs would likely assert, but it makes for a fun two-hour ride. If, that is, you're able to shut off the critical centers of your brain, accept John Carter on its own terms, and settle for a fairly standard silver-screen Mars populated with cartoony, computer generated alien hordes. Kitsch and Collins are a touch stiff, but this isn't a movie about fine performances; it's a visual effects extravaganza. Had the same film come to be in the '50s or '60s, courtesy of Ray Harryhausen or his contemporaries, it would have been a stop-motion marvel. To his credit, Stanton plums Old Hollywood for inspiration and, as big and flashy as the film's visual effects try to be, the results ooze Old Hollywood grandeur and pseudo-Harryhausen style. In 2012, though, John Carter feels as if it's late for dinner by a good fifty or sixty years.
At least no one can fault Disney's otherworldly 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer for John Carter's woes. While the precision crafted presentation makes some of the film's more problematic CG shots that much more problematic, blame can't be assigned to the encode itself. Colors are warm, sun-bleached and striking, with strangely earthy alien-desert browns and yellows, dazzling golds, blazing reds, brilliant blues and deep, cavernous blacks. Skintones never falter either, under the hot glare of the Martian sun, below the planet's surface, or beneath the night sky. Detail is extraordinary as well; not so sharp as to suggest artificial means, but crisp, exacting and oh-so-filmic. Textures leap to life, refined and meticulously resolved. Edges are perfectly defined, without any significant ringing or aliasing to worry over. Delineation is revealing, pulling back the curtain of Barsoom's shadows just enough to get a glimpse of anything that lies within the darkness. And clarity and contrast are consistent and unwavering, leaving little room for criticism. Artifacting, crush, smearing and other issues are held at bay, and the tiny hints of banding that occur are so negligible and fleeting that it almost seems silly to mention them. Regardless of whether or not John Carter amazes you, its high definition presentation will do nothing less.
Disney's 3D version of the film is another matter. Though the MVC encode possesses the same high-quality technical traits as its 2D counterpart, the post-converted 3D experience leaves something to be desired. Depth is decent, and the bright, colorful world Stanton and company have created lends itself to 3D. But, even at its best, the presentation exhibits a pop-up storybook plane-to-plane layering that isn't as full, involving or convincing as it might have been had the film been shot in native 3D. Sequences built from the ground up with CG are more engaging than most, but the actors look as if they've been stacked on top of the at-times flat Martian landscape. Airships, Tharks and other alien structures and creatures have more dimensionality than Carter and his fellow humanoids, and the 3D takes another hit anytime the adventure moves indoors. Is it a mediocre 3D experience? Not at all. I'd even go so far as to call it above average. But will it draw you into the worlds of Barsoom? Will it send you leaping across the skies with John Carter? Will its armies charge out of the screen? Not quite. Many of the elements are almost there, but almost isn't enough to drop jaws and leave 3D junkies breathless.
The adventure spills over into Disney's DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track too. Ships pass overhead, giant monsters smash their meaty fists on the ground, Tharks thunder across the Martian plains, arena spectators roar, energy weapons disintegrate aircraft, flying chariots whiz past... John Carter delivers a wealth of sonic wonders. LFE output is bold and bewildering, taking every thoom and rumble to task. Even when the visuals don't feel properly grounded, the film's lossless mix lends welcome weight and brings the action back down to Earth (or Mars as it were). The rear speakers step up as well, expanding and enriching the Barsoom cities, the Martian deserts, and Michael Giacchino's genre score with unflinching ambient support, stirring directional effects, and exceedingly effective cross-channel pans. Meanwhile, dialogue, ever distinct and perfectly intelligible, stands strong and weathers any chaos Carter's enemies unleash. Voices are clear and nicely centered, distant shouts and screams emanate from every direction, and crowds envelop the listener and draw filmfans deeper into the world of Barsoom than Disney's 3D video presentation. Suffice it to say, John Carter sounds every bit as good as it looks, and fans will be delighted with the results.
Audio Commentary: Director Andrew Stanton and producers Jim Morris and Lindsey Collins deliver a spirited overview of the film, beginning with the project all but dropping into their laps and quickly moving on to its development, casting, production and visual effects. Great care is devoted to outlining the technical challenges, commenting on the live and computer-generated performances, and charting the 100-year journey from page to screen.
Disney Second Screen Interactive Experience: Explore John Carter's journal with Disney's Second Screen app. Simply download the corresponding app to your iPad or laptop, sync the film with your device, and enjoy additional content.
Deleted Scenes with Optional Director's Commentary (HD, 19 minutes): Ten deleted scenes are available (among them an alternate opening), but they're in various states of disrepair. Some have been cobbled together using near-finalized footage and storyboards, some have been hurried to the disc with incomplete visual effects, and some rely on overlays and pre-viz CG to convey the events of any given shot.
100 Years in the Making (HD, 10 minutes): Though much too short, this excellent featurette examines Edgar Rice Burroughs' life, the genesis and success of the original "John Carter" series, the many attempts filmmakers from almost every era made to bring his stories to the silver screen, and the eventual adaptation that finally made it into theaters some one-hundred years later.
360 Degrees of John Carter (HD, 35 minutes): This extensive day-in-the-shoot production diary pays a visit to the costume and makeup departments, follows Stanton as he goes about his routine, and watches as the cast and crew prepare to film several shots.
Barsoom Bloopers (HD, 2 minutes): Not much to laugh at here. Move along.
John Carter was a box office flop, pure and simple. So can it redeem itself and find an audience on home video? I'm sure some will flock to the cozy comforts of its grand, Old Hollywood space adventure, but without outstanding performances, a stirring story or anything that might distinguish it and carry it through the ages, Stanton's throwback sci-fi romp is doomed to be just another CG spectacle; one that will continue to weaken as its CG becomes more and more archaic over the years. Thankfully, fans in the present can count on a fantastic Blu-ray release. While its 3D experience is nothing special, its video transfer is gorgeous, its DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track is a blast, and its high-quality extras are worth taking in. Ultimately, though, if you don't have a lot of cash to spare, I'd recommend renting John Carter before taking any leaps of faith.