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John Carter (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

May 25, 2012 by  



If you are looking for a sci-fi popcorn action film, “John Carter” is a film you may be looking for!  The film looks and sounds incredible on Blu-ray and there are also  good number of special features but overall, “John Carter” manages to have its fair share of fun moments and is an enjoyable yet banal sci-fi popcorn action film .

Images courtesy of © 2012 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: John Carter

FILM RELEASE: 2012

DURATION: 132 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (2:40:1), English 7.1 DTS-HD MA, English DVS 2.0 Dolby Digital, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound Language Tracks, Subtitles: English SDH, French and Spanish

COMPANY: Disney

RATED: PG-13 (For Intense Sequences of Violence and Action)

Release Date: June 5, 2012

Directed by Andrew Stanton

Screenplay by Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews, Michael Chabon

Based on the story “A Princess of Mars” by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Produced by Lindsey Collins, Jim Morris and Colin Wilson

Associate Producer: Bob Roath

Music by Michael Giacchino

Cinematography by Daniel Mindel

Edited by Eric Zumbrunnen

Casting by Marcia Ross

Production Design by Nathan Crowley

Starring:

Taylor Kitsch as John Carter

Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris

Samantha Morton as Sola

Willem Dafoe as Tars Tarkas

Thomas Haden Church as Tal Hajus

Mark Strong as Matai Shang

Ciaran Hinds as Tardos Mors

Dominc West as Sab Than

James Purefoy as Kantos Kan

Bryan Cranston as Powell

Polly Walker as Sarkoja

Daryl Sabara as Edgar Rice Burroughs

As a warrior lost on Earth, John Carter is magically transported to Mars, where the fate of the planet and its people ultimately rest in his hands. With surprising new powers, and epic battles, he rises to become the man he is meant to be and the hero he truly is.

American author, Edgar Rice Burroughs, is well-known for creating sci-fi fiction and adventure books in his lifetime.   Best known for creating “Tarzan”, Edgar Rice Burroughs is also known for his sci-fi tales about Mars known as “Barsoom”.

In 1912, he would write the novel “A Princess of Mars” which would introduce people to a new hero named John Carter and for five more decades, he would go on to write eleven more novels based on the character and many generations of sci-fi fans would grow up reading Edgar Rice Burrough’s sci-fi stories.  And for many people, Burrough’s “Barsoon” stories would inspire many sci-fi authors such as Robert A. Heinlen, Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury.  Including filmmakers such as James Cameron and George Lucas.

And many would try to create a film adaption of the film for nearly a hundred years, but the technology to create something so ambitious with spacecraft, monsters and a large alien race was not exactly an easy film that studios could even consider, so many times, owning the rights to make a film based on John Carter fell through.  And in 2006, there was discussion of another attempt to make Burrough’s “A Princess of Mars” a movie but with the title of “John Carter” and was originally planned to be directed by Jon Favreau and produced by Harry Knowles.  But Favreau would go on to work on “Iron Man” and so, the next man in line to work on the film was Pixar’s Andrew Stanton.

Stanton had written many of Pixar’s blockbuster animated films such as the three “Toy Story” films, “A Bug’s Life”, “Monsters, Inc.”, “Finding Nemo”, “Wall-E” and since he grew up enjoying Edgar Rice Burrough’s and he has done a magnificent job in writing films, as well as directing “Finding Nemo” and “Wall-E”, why not give him the opportunity to direct Disney’s most ambitious sci-fi action film.  So ambitious that “John Carter” was budgeted at $272 million.

The film’s screenplay is by Stanton, Mark Andrews (storyboard artist for “Spider-Man”, “The Iron Giant” and the “Star Wars: Clone Wars” TV series) and Michael Chabon (who wrote the novel “Wonder Boys” and the screen story for “Spider-Man 2”).

“John Carter” would feature stars such as Taylor Kitsch (“Battleship”, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, “Friday Night Lights”), Lynn Collins (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, “The Number 23”, “The Lake House”), Willem Dafoe (“Platoon”, “Spider-Man”, “The Boondock Saints”), Thomas Haden Church (“Spider-Man 3”, “Sideways”, “Easy A”) and Samantha Morton (“Control”, “In America”, “Morvern Callar”).

The film begins with an introduction to Mars (Barsoom) and that the planet is dying and a war is brewing among the various races that live in Barsoom.  One day, a Thern appeared and gave Jeddak of Zodanga, a special weapon in order to rule over the planet.

The story then shifts to Earth, where we are introduced to a former American Civil War Confederate Army captain named John Carter (played by Taylor Kitsch).  John Carter has died and his teenage nephew Edgar Rice Burroughs (played by Daryl Sabara) attends the funeral.  While Carter’s body is put inside a tomb and can only be locked from the inside, his attorney has given Edgar (who was called “Ned” by John Carter) a will and not only was Edgar given the property owned by John Carter, he is also given a journal that only Edgar can read and no else.

As Edgar reads the journal, it’s a story written by John Carter to his nephew about something magnificent that had happen to him.

The story then flashes back to Arizona when the Union army has come to arrest John Carter (who is searching for gold out in the west).  Colonel Powell (played by Bryan Cranston) wants John Carter to help the Union army fight the Apache’s.  But Carter wants know involvement and so he is imprisoned.  But John Carter finds a way out and manages to escape jail and this leads Powell and his men to chase after him.

During the chase, they encounter a group of Apache who are trying to warn John and the Union army but one of Powell’s men fires at the Apache and now the Apache want revenge and start going after both Carter and Powell, who find themselves in a cave, where Carter was looking for gold.

But while in the cave, an alien Thern appears and as Powell is injured, Carter manages to kill the Thern and take his medallion. And next thing you know, Jack is transported to Barsoom and because he is not from the planet and has different bone density, he is able to jump at very high levels and also has incredible strength.

But when a green martian named Tharks spots him, eventually Carter is captured by Jeddak (a word for “king) Tars Tarkas (voiced by Willem Dafoe), leader of the alien race known a the Tharks.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the cities of Barsoom, the warring cities of Helium and Zodanga have proposed a cease fire.  Sab Than (played by Dominic West), the Jeddak of Zodanga proposes the cease fire and an end to the thousand-year war to the Helium king if only he allows his daughter Princess of Helium Dejah Thoris (played by Lynn Collins) to marry him.  Knowing that the city of Helium is losing the battle and nothing else can be done, the helium king wants his daughter to marry him but she does not want to marry the enemy.

As for John Carter, he starts to learn that Tars Tarkas has compassion for him and is trying to protect him but another martian named Tal Hajus (voiced by Thomas Haden Church) has challenged Tarkas for a fight to be king.  While none of the martians want to align themselves with Tal Hajus, Tal Hajus wants John Carter dead and so Carter is imprisoned and chained to a wall.  And he is shown compassion by Jeddak Tars Tarkas’ daughter Sola (voiced by Samantha Morton), who gives him a drink, so he can understand and also communicate in their language.

When John Carter escapes, he underestimates his strength and kills one of the martians with one hit.  And so John Carter is to be punished, but Sola will be punished even more for trying to help him.  And she is whipped as punishment and her father who has no choice but to have her punished, warns her that this is her second major offense to her people and she has one more.

But as John Carer is to receive punishment, Zodanga airships and Helium airships are in battle and while the airships fly over the martian landscape, Princess of Helium Deja Thoris who has disguised herself as a warrior is caught in the melee.  As John Carter sees her from afar, he sees that she is human and immediately goes out to rescue her.

As as Jeddak Tar Tarkas sees John Carter in battle, he is so shocked of seeing John Carter’s abilities that he makes him an honorary Thark.  And as Tarkas wants John Carter to be their weapon of war, John Carter wants nothing to do with it.  But Tarkas warns that if he doesn’t go along with him, he may not be able to protect the princess.

So, John follows Tarkas’ advice and vows to fight for the Tharks and now he must do all he can to ensure the safety of Princess of Helium Dejah Thoris.  But will he be able to protect her and also find a way to get back home to Earth?

 

VIDEO:

“John Carter” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:40:1).  If there is one thing that videophiles can remain confident in Disney, is that they strive for perfection, may it be animated or live action films.  And “John Carter” does not disappoint!  The video quality is absolutely beautiful and vibrant.   The colors of the various costume design, the scenery of Mars to the detail of the skin and even CGI aliens and monsters are magnificent.  Black levels are nice and deep and the clarity is amazing.

While watching this film, I detected no artifacts, banding or any major issues with the video.   If anything, “John Carter” looks magnificent on Blu-ray!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for the lossless audio, “John Carter” is presented in English 7.1 DTS-HD MA, English DVS 2.0 Dolby Digital and French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital.

As for the lossless track, “John Carter” like the video is just amazing to listen to.  This is an immersive soundtrack!  You literally hear (and feel) everything around you.  From the overhead ships, the many crashes, booms, blasts, you can feel confident that the surround channels are active, especially LFE.  This is a film that will definitely utilize your subwoofer.  Great direction effects, ambiance is also well-featured.   “John Carter” sounds absolutely fantastic on Blu-ray!

SPECIAL FEATURES

“John Carter” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary with director Andrew Stanton and producers Jim Morris and Lindsey Collins who go through every detail about the making of the film and everything you need to know about casting, visual effects and more!
  • Disney Second Screen – If you have an iPad or laptop, you can sync the film and enjoy additional content.
  • Deleted Scenes with Optional Director’s Commentary – (19:02) Featuring ten deleted scenes including an alternate opening and with optional commentary by director Andrew Stanton.
  • 100 Years in the Making – (10:43) A fascinating featurette about Edgar Rice Burroughs and those who tried to bring John Carter to the big screen for the last hundred years.  Featuring re-enactments of Edgar Rice Burroughs, director Andrew Stanton, filmmaker Jon Favreau and many more.
  • 360 Degrees of John Carter – (34:33) A production diary featuring the costume and makeup department and following director Andrew Stanton through a day on the set of “John Carter”.
  • Barsoom Bloopers – (1:48) Gag reel from “John Carter”.

EXTRAS:

“John Carter” on Blu-ray comes with a separate DVD featuring the film.  The DVD is presented in widescreen 2:40:1, English, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, English DVS 2.0 Dolby Digital Language track and subtitles in English SDH, French and Spanish.  Also, a slipcover case is included.

Before watching “John Carter”, I am aware of how badly this film did in the box office and I have read the various news reports on the finger pointing of why the film failed.

Was it because Andrew Stanton, who knew how to write and direct animated films for Pixar, was not ready to take on the job for such large scale film?  Was it because the concept of “John Carter” has been rehashed in so many other films such as “Star Wars”, “Avatar”, “Flash Gordon” and other sci-fi films?

After finally watching “John Carter”, I felt that part of the problem was that the film was not marketed well and while John Carter is a name that will entice Edgar Rice Burroughs fans familiar with his work, the goal of a lot of action films is not to solely market to the Generation X or the Baby Boomers but for the Generation Y.  A generation who are used to vampire films, big budget superhero films and sci-fi films such as “Avatar”.   And “John Carter”, while familiar to us who are familiar with Burroughs work, may sound like a politician to today’s generation.

And the problem that the film suffered from was an over-reliance on John’s relation to the alien characters and not enough on the storyline about John Carter.  I know that there was a lot of trimming with this film, but I wonder how much important scenes were cut in order to make 132 minutes.  We are given flashbacks of John’s wife and child, but it would have made a bigger visual impact if we saw what happened and how it would make things worse for John Carter.

As for the war between the Heliums and Zodanga, one again…this feels rushed.  While we are given a narration at the beginning, it’s not enough.  You need to build upon the antagonist and show why he is so evil.  And it’s been mentioned many times before how George Lucas has borrowed from Burrough’s “Barsoom” stories.  But one thing he made sure was to show people how evil the empire was and how Darth Vader was the ultimate evil, but also someone behind the scenes.  There was nothing that made us know the level of evil within the character of Sab Than, Jeddak of Dozanga.  All that was established was the Thern and how they love to instill chaos on a planet.

For a sci-fi film, may it be a Predator, an Alien, an evil empire or whatever, the antagonist must be shown to be a great evil and thus, the viewer can root for the protagonist.  But it doesn’t happen this way in “John Carter”, why doesn’t Princess Deja Thoris want to go back home?  It’s because she is being forced to marry the enemy.  For today’s viewers, they are so used to seeing the greater evil either kill a love one, destroying a planet or annihilating a race, there is just no way that an arrange marriage is “enough” to be believed for today’s sci-fi fan.

And this is the problem that “John Carter” has met with audiences.  This is story based on a 1912 novel which has been rehashed many times and because the people behind the film are great fans of Burrough’s work and want to respect the work of his novels, there is no straying away from the storyline. Listening to the audio commentary, there was a moment where Stanton and others talked about how they were big fans, but sometimes a film needs to be changed from its original novel in order to make things modern.  And despite the fact that it may offend those who grew up with the film, the fact that we see this happening with super-hero films such as “The Avengers”, “Spider-Man”, “X-Men: First Class”, to name a few, the writers get away from the original comic book series, maintain the characters but modernize the screenplay for a modern audience.

The focus seemed of keeping the storyline intact, but giving today’s technology a chance of bringing the story of “Barsoom” to a wider audience who may not be familiar with John Carter or the characters of the novels, is a major gamble.  And while watching the film, I realized more and more that the film was devoid of any emotional attachment to its primary characters until we reach towards the end of the film.  And this is surprising to me as Andrew Stanton has always made characters a priority, may it be in the “Toy Story” films, “Wall-E”, “Finding Nemo”, “Monsters, Inc.”.  There was always an emotional attachment to the characters and in this film, it was geared more towards the popcorn action fan and showing that John Carter can kick some butt.

As for the Blu-ray release, as expected from a Disney Blu-ray release, the video quality and the lossless audio are fantastic and there are a good number of special features, including a fascinating audio commentary, a featurette on how it took nearly 100 years for a “John Carter” film to be released and other special features to keep viewers busy watching this Blu-ray for several hours.

Looking back, especially having grown up reading “John Carter”, not through the novels but the old ’70s Marvel comic book series and my feeling when I heard of the film being made was more of a “would anyone care in this day and age about “John Carter?”. While myself and others who grew up reading the novels or comic book series would say “yes”! , after watching this film, I felt that the staff did a good job in bringing Edgar Rice Burrough’s sci-fi classic to the big screen and bringing life to the characters, monsters, aliens and air vehicles, but visual effects and action sequences can only go so far.  I still feel that Andrew Stanton is a talented filmmaker and an excellent writer, but there was a reason why this film was not made for so long and it’s not just because of the technology, but it’s because so many of the stories elements have been done on other sci-fi films, rehashed over and over and “John Carter” suffers from sci-fi banality.

But by no means is “John Carter” a horrible film.  “John Carter” manages to have its fair share of fun and enjoyable moments and I felt it managed to be a sci-fi popcorn action film that was created to be nothing more than what it is meant to be.

And while I felt that the storyline of the film was average, the overall quality of the video and audio is not. “John Carter” looks absolutely magnificent on Blu-ray and I’m confident that videophile and audiophiles will be impressed by this Blu-ray release.  I’ll even go farther in saying that this Blu-ray release of “John Carter” is probably one of the best looking and sounding Blu-ray releases of 2012 so far!

Overall, if you are looking for a family sci-fi action film, “John Carter” may not have done well in the box office, but giving it a try on Blu-ray, you may find yourself enjoying it!

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