John Carter (Cert 12)
2 Discs (Distributor: Disney) Running Time: 132 minutes approx.
In 19th century America, Confederate Army Captain John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) escapes arrest by Union soldiers and an attack by Apache Indians by hiding in a cave where a strange being suddenly appears and tries to attack him. Carter shoots the stranger but when a medallion he is carrying illuminates, Carter suddenly finds himself transported to the planet known as Barsoom, which we call Mars, where a civil war is raging.
John Carter marks the first *major* attempt at bringing Edgar Rice Burroughs’s other fictional hero to life (there was a hideous low budget straight to DVD effort in 2009 starring infamous ex-porn queen Tracii Lords, the less said about which the better) and at the helm is Andrew Stanton, the man behind many of PIXAR’s big films, having a stab at live action cinema.
The promotional legend for this film “Star Wars For A New Generation” is somewhat ironic seeing as this film sees the sci-fi genre come full circle; ERB’s novels inspired the likes of Flash Gordon which in turn inspired Star Wars which in turn inspired the making of this film – ergo: no Princess Of Mars no Star Wars no John Carter!
Our titular hero finds himself involved with a race of ten feet tall dual armed green aliens called Tharks, lead by Tars Tarkas (voiced by Willem Dafoe) who get then caught up in the feud between the cities of Helium and Zodanga. The Zodangan king Sab Than (Dominic West), under the influence of the evil immortal Thern Matai Shang (Mark Strong), suggests a marriage between himself and Helium princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) as a means to call a truce between the two sides, a prospect Dejah isn’t enthralled by. Carter gets involved when he helps Dejah escape from Sab’s clutches and it all kicks off. Our heroes go on an epic journey across Barsoom while the evil politicians plot and scheme their way to world domination and you can be assured that butts get kicked, big bad beasties bare on hand to scare the kiddies and a little romance blossoms too.
While Stanton’s film is a valiant attempt at big budget sci-fi hokum it is not without its flaws. Part of the problem is that like many adaptations, it tries to serve too many masters – picking the most salient material from a 330 page book and fit into 2 ¼ hours then takes elements from two of the later novels in the Barsoom Series (Warlord Of Mars and Gods Of Mars) then mixing it up with some of its own material (the supposedly cute 19th century bookends featuring ERB as John carter’s nephew); and there is the matter of making the material which was written exactly one hundred years ago and making it more palatable for modern audiences without compromising too much of Burroughs’s style, which leaves us with an often cheesy script. Thus we have an adaptation which is perhaps a bit too flabby for its own good but ultimately ticks the right boxes one wants from a sci-fi adventure.
It is also hampered by a charisma free lead actor Taylor Kitsch who is too pretty and tries too hard to be a gruff sounding hero, making John Carter too much of a Disney hero and not Burroughs’s hero, something Tarzan often suffered with over the years. Miscasting at its most woeful. Everyone else is perfectly suitable frothier roles. With Stanton’s animation background it should come as no surprise that visually there are no complaints. The action scenes are largely exciting clashes while the CGI Tharks, other Martian beasties and the backgrounds are also impressively rendered. The BluRay transfer is superb and frankly does the imagery better justice than the 3D I saw at the cinema (also included on this BluRay set).
The big story about this film however is it’s “failure” at the box office. Yes the quotes are deliberate because this is a tale which typifies the problems with Hollywood today. The bean counters in Tinsel Town were crying into their gold plated troughs when the film didn’t recoup its $250 million budget within the first twenty minutes of its premiering in the US and it was declared a flop. However it fared a lot better in the UK where it topped the box office for two weeks and did similarly well across Europe and elsewhere, including China and Hong Kong. With all worldwide receipts added to the tally, the film is starting to make a tiny profit and with the additional DVD/BluRay sales (the pre-orders on Amazon were among the highest ever) the coffers should be nicely swollen by the year end and the Disney boss who quit because of this “failure” probably feels an even bigger fool now.
So what went wrong? Simply put: the marketing. First off, the casting of Taylor Kitsch was purely to entice the female viewer, and secondly the word “Mars” was removed from the original title of John Carter Of Mars for fear it would scare off said female viewers. Instead it put off the sci-fi fans who would have been interested in this film, fearing this classic tale was getting a maladroit adaptation which would not meet their expectations. The words “Fail” and “Epic” come to mind.
In conclusion, John Carter is the “make your own mind up” film of the year. It’s had a bad rap which it doesn’t *completely* deserve and thus hasn’t reached the audiences it should have. It’s not prefect but it’s not that bad either. Ignore the prejudices, see it for yourself.
DTS 7.1 – HD HR English and Spanish and Languages
Dolby 2.0 Audio Described English
Subtitles – English, English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, Portuguese and Icelandic
3D BluRay version
360 Degrees of John Carter
100 Years In The Making
Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary by Director Andrew Stanton
Audio Commentary by Director Andrew Stanton, Producers Jim Morris and Lindsey Collins
Rating – Main feature *** ½
Man In Black