Blu-ray Review: JOHN CARTER

Disney Home Entertainment
Release date: June 5th, 2012

Disney’s JOHN CARTER, directed by Andrew Stanton, follows none other than John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), a reluctant Confederate army captain, who is accidentally transported to Barsoom—Mars to us Earthlings—after encountering an enigmatic being called a Thern. While adjusting to the new Martian conditions that allow him increased strength and the ability to leap through the air, he is captured by the aggressive, green, four-armed Tharks before falling into the middle of a long running war between the Red Men cities of Helium and Zodanga. The Princess of Helium, Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), tries to help Carter find a way home as she searches for a way to save her own from the violent ruler of Zodanga, Sab Than (Dominic West). A nice additional touch is that the overall story is being read in Carter’s journal by his nephew Edgar Rice Burroughs (Daryl Sabara), the name of the author of the novels that inspired the film.

The film is part western and part science fiction with an added dose of Roman Imperial style and gladiatorial games—a combination that makes the film feel both like an homage to the various films its source material influenced, as well as something entirely new. Visually, the film is on point with dusty expanses and intriguing glimpses into Martian civilizations from the outskirts of the Thark settlement to the bustling, towering cities of the Red Men. There is something entirely entertaining about seeing Mars, a planet we all now know to be devoid of alien life, as a bustling civilization filled with its own intrigue and cultures.

There are many different story arcs and various players in the film, but it’s presented in a way that is easy to follow. Despite this, it still gets bogged down in the various plot lines because it’s almost like taking a tour through Mars rather than a cohesive story contributing to Carter’s adventure. While it is all interesting to watch, there is something missing that makes it really take hold of the audience attention with an iron grip. It seems like this disparity is because Taylor Kitsch as John Carter is just not a particularly memorable lead. There are various scenes that include flashbacks meant to reveal Carter’s motivation, yet Kitsch is never haunted or torn enough. Instead of offering insight, the flashbacks become the only real driving force for the character and his characterization becomes too reliant on them. His acting isn’t bad by any means and it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the movie, but he lacks the charisma and heart in the role that made other Disney efforts like PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN so memorable.

The rest of the cast is fantastic: Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris effortlessly balances the elements of scholarly intellect with fierce warrior, James Purefoy as the Helium military leader Kantos Kan has a couple of the best scenes, despite his limited screen time, and Willem Dafoe as the Thark leader Tars Tarkas is just as awesome as a green CGI alien as he is as a human. The Therns are also an interesting inclusion in the film because they seem almost unnecessary to the plot other than to add to the conflict and provide a reason for Carter to end up on the red planet. They allude to having planned the course of history for Mars, one from which they refuse to allow deviation, but there is still the question of why they care and why they were included. Still, their role becomes more prominent by the end as they interact with more than Sab Than, which provides enough intrigue through their meddling in Martian life as they walk hidden among them to make their inclusion a welcome addition.

Video: The picture is presented in 1080p with a MPEG-4 AVC codec in a ratio of 2.40:1.

Audio: The sound is delivered in a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. There is also Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in Spanish and French. Subtitles are provided for English SDH, French and Spanish.

JOHN CARTER is a good, enjoyable film. There are parts in the beginning where it could be a bit tighter in the narrative, but it manages to set up a complex civilization and conflict in clear terms and it gets progressively more entertaining as the film goes on. The problem with it isn’t that it is bad (because it really isn’t), it is that the potential is there to show how entirely amazing it could have been, something which the end comes pretty close to. Even as it stands, the film provides a fun adventure through the dusty plains of Mars and a thousand year conflict that only Carter may be able to end that is well worth spending a couple hours investing oneself in.

Kristen Micek