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Blu-ray Review: John Carter
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Adam Frazier   |  @   |  
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John Carter Blu-ray CoverJohn Carter
Blu-ray | Blu-ray 3D | DVD
Directed by Andrew Stanton
Starring Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, Dominic West, James Purefoy
Walt Disney Pictures Home Entertainment
Release Date: June 5, 2012

Written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, A Princess of Mars is the first book in the John Carter of Mars series, which tells the story of a Civil War veteran transported to Mars.

For nearly 100 years, Hollywood has failed in its attempts to bring Burroughs’ classic science-fiction fantasy to the silver screen, though the ideas presented were borrowed by countless other works.

Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars series is so old that it actually influenced other influences. From Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian series to the pulpy Flash Gordon serials of the ’30s and ’40s that inspired George Lucas’s Star Wars, the themes and elements of Burroughs’ work have been mined so thoroughly that most moviegoers will find Disney’s live-action film adaptation, John Carter, to be rather irrelevant – but that’s not to say it isn’t entertaining.

John Carter: White Apes

From Academy Award-winning filmmaker Andrew Stanton (Wall-E, Finding Nemo), John Carter is a sweeping epic of action and adventure set on the mysterious world of Barsoom – a planet the inhabitants of Earth know as Mars. The film follows [you guessed it!] John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), who wakes up on Mars and becomes entangled in an age-old conflict amongst the planet’s inhabitants, including Thark warrior Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) and the absolutely bad-ass Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins).

Dejah Thoris is an extremely influential female character in science-fiction fantasy history – a template for later heroines like Princess Leia, Red Sonja, and Ripley. She’s a brilliant scientist, a fierce warrior, and it doesn’t hurt that she’s drop-dead gorgeous either. When I first saw Return of the Jedi as a boy and laid eyes upon Princess Leia in that metal slave bikini, I knew I liked girls. In that same way, Lynn Collins will no doubt ignite an entire generation’s Bad-Thoughts-Machine as Dejah Thoris, who wears a ceremonial wedding gown like no other.

John Carter: Dejah Thoris

Taylor Kitsch, on the other hand, isn’t terrible as John Carter, but he’s just all wrong for the part. Kitsch is a young, handsome guy – he looks like an underwear model, not a grizzled Civil War veteran haunted by a broken past.

Ultimately, John Carter suffers from a lack of consistency – it’s completely unbalanced. At one moment it’s silly and comic, with a ten-legged dog-monster that speeds around the martian deserts like The Road Runner. Other times the film wants so desperately to be serious and somber – simultaneously assaulting you with action sequences that, while thrilling, have been done before.

Don’t get me wrong, the monsters and the airships and the landscapes are fantastic, but any time John Carter jumps and skips across the surface, it feels wrong – it reminds me of Elektra’s rooftop jumps in Daredevil – it feels fake, even in a world where we can breathe on Mars and there are Great White Apes roaming about.

John Carter and the Tharks

Sadly, John Carter is destined to bear the brunt of comparisons to Star Wars and James Cameron’s Avatar. I’m just as guilty of this – I’m sure you’ve already counted the Star Wars references I’ve made in this review, but I just can’t help it. I grew up with Star Wars – and even though I’ve watched Flash Gordon and The Hidden Fortress and clearly recognize the influences and inspirations that Lucas mined for his space epic, you never forget your first time – and my first time was Star Wars.

Even 8-year-old kids with only a budding knowledge of Star Wars are going to be quick to compare the arena scene in John Carter with Attack of the Clones. The thing is, John Carter is way better than the Prequels. There’s a lot of heart to John Carter, but unfortunately, due to the film’s poor box office performance, it doesn’t look like we’ll be getting a sequel any time soon.

Overall, John Carter is a spirited pulp adventure – a worthy adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ work that comes a hundred years too late. It’s a fun ride, but it’s all-too-familiar territory for celebrants and enthusiasts who watch too many films and read too many books (is there such a thing?).

OK, enough about the film itself – let’s talk about the Blu-ray. First, there’s the 100 Years in the Making featurette, which emphasizes the historical importance of Burroughs’ fiction. The featurette is narrated by Burroughs’ own words and a variety of filmmakers, who discuss the lengthy process of bringing John Carter to the screen.

360 Degrees of John Carter documents a single day of production on set as director Andrew Stanton and his cast and crew prepare for one of the film’s massive action sequences. Stanton’s enthusiasm and vision is palpable, and it’s great to see Lynn Collins and Willem Dafoe preparing for their scenes and getting into character.

There are also several deleted scenes included, accompanied by Andrew Stanton’s commentary on why the scenes were cut. In each scene he adds why he was personally attached to the shot and how reluctant he was in cutting certain material. Other extras include Disney’s Second Screen option, which allows viewers to explore the John Carter universe while watching the film, via iPad or computer. There’s also an audio commentary from Stanton and the cast, as well as somewhat amusing blooper reel.

As for the quality of the film’s visuals, Disney’s 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer is rather stunning. Regardless of how you feel about the film itself, the high definition presentation is impressive. Disney’s DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track compliments the images by bringing the roaring sounds of spaceships and martian beasts to life.

Overall, if you enjoyed the film, you can’t go wrong with John Carter on Blu-ray. While I was hoping for an extended director’s cut that improved the quality of the film itself, it’s still a great little science-fiction adventure with some staggering imagery and a few thrills.

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