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John Carter (3D Blu-ray Review)

6 Jun, 2012 By: John Latchem

Box Office $72.72 million
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $49.99 3D BD
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of violence and action.
Stars Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Dominic West, Mark Strong, Daryl Sabara, Thomas Haden Church, Ciaran Hinds, Samantha Morton.

Just as box office success has a way of elevating mediocre films, a good film may similarly be unjustly maligned due to underperforming at the box office, for whatever reason. John Carter, based on a series of sci-fi adventures first penned by Edgar Rice Burroughs 100 years ago, is hardly the disaster its reputation would suggest.

Director Andrew Stanton, best known for Pixar animated hits such as Finding Nemo and Wall-E, has delivered a fun, brassy space Western — a pulpy throwback with all the elements of a top-tier sci-fi film, such as expansive cinematography, a booming Michael Giacchino musical score, terrific visual effects and an imaginative, fully developed alien culture. The film looks great on Blu-ray, with nice 3D effects that don’t detract from the action.

The positives far outweigh the negatives, though the movie suffers a bit from a clunky intro and some exposition-heavy plotting. The question of how to open the film was clearly one that plagued the filmmakers as well, since there is an alternate opening sequence on the Blu-ray.

Taylor Kitsch stars as the film’s eponymous hero, a Civil War veteran who finds himself magically transported to Mars, where the low gravity gives him enhanced strength and leaping ability, enabling him to become a champion of a downtrodden Martian society. To the locals, the planet is known as Barsoom and is dying due to a race of conquerors squandering the world’s resources. Carter joins forces with the beautiful Princess Dejah (Lynn Collins, looking particularly yummy) to defend her people and unlock the mysteries of Barsoom.

The story was first serialized in 1912 as Under the Moons of Mars, with Burroughs using the pen name Norman Bean because he was embarrassed by the association with fiction writing. Burroughs chronicled Carter’s adventures in several novels, with the first, The Princess of Mars (compiled in 1917), providing the bulk of the story for this origin film.

After the success of “Tarzan,” early Hollywood studios tried to adapt Burroughs’ Mars books without much success, such as a 1930s animated film that progressed to test footage before the project was abandoned due to lack of funding. (Some of this footage is included with the excellent Blu-ray extras.) A live-action film looked to be a go at Paramount in 2005 with Jon Favreau as director, though he eventually bowed out and Stanton brought the rights to Disney.

A lot of the film may feel familiar to viewers, but it’s unfair to call it derivative because Burroughs’ Barsoom adventures inspired much of 20th century science-fiction (for instance, the idea of a man gaining enhanced strength and gravity-defying abilities on another planet would inspire the creation of Superman).

Even as its own film, I would say John Carter is less derivative than something like Avatar (which in fact borrowed many elements from Burroughs’ stories), and to my mind more entertaining.

I’d love to see a Carter sequel based on the other books, though one probably will never come due to the murky financial performance of this would-be first installment. It’s more likely destined to the realm of the cult hit, and indeed, enthusiastic fans have already formed a Facebook page to campaign for a follow-up. If this is the only film they get, at least they’ll have a worthy Blu-ray to savor.

In addition to functionality with Disney’s Second Screen behind-the-scenes app and an informative filmmaker commentary, the Blu-ray includes 19 minutes of deleted scenes, a blooper reel, a 34-minute making-of and a great 10-minute featurette about Burroughs.

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