|Finally a cinematic reality: JOHN CARTER. Images: DISNEY.|
Starring Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, and Willem DaFoe
Written by Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon
Directed by Andrew Stanton
Available on Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D and DVD from WALT DISNEY STUDIOS HOME ENTERTAINMENT
Reviewed by Scott Weller
Making a spirited leap (literally and figuratively) from the evocative pages of the written word to the visual reality of the cinematic screen, that indomitable hero of Edgar Rice Burroughs vivid imagination for fantasy and action, John Carter, the downtrodden American Civil War exile soon newly christened Warrior of Mars, finally arrives for his big screen debut after years of setbacks, delays and changing directors in a highly enjoyable and criminally under-rated crowd pleaser that is his first (and hopefully not last) big budget action/fantasy fest, now available to own on Blu-ray and DVD from DISNEY HOME VIDEO.
Alongside Carter in making his debut in the big budget, big artistic decision world that is the live-action movie-making arena, after a highly successful and innovative spell for PIXAR with top animation films including FINDING NEMO and WALL-E, Andrew Stanton’s childhood to manhood love and enthusiasm for the subject matter/book series, and the lead character in particular, certainly shows within the 250 million budget plus pot-pourri that’s certainly up there for all to see, creating a believable universe that I’m sure its 1900’s originator would have been proud of.
|Taylor Kitsch as John Carter, Warrior of Mars!|
Alongside co-screen writers Andrews and Chabon, in a world post STAR WARS and ALIEN (the former particularly heavily influenced by the works and imagination of Burroughs storytelling and characters), Stanton revitalizes the ground-breaking genre hero and his environment and re-works/updates certain elements to a more crowd pleasing and audience accessible way, to the true kidults in all of us, as well as introducing new elements to appeal to a broader spectrum, especially families with young children.
Best described to the average Joe as Conan in Space (that celebrated Earth bound hero of a sword and sorcery age, and another one of Burroughs past successes within his literary career, alongside the ever iconic Tarzan), Carter, a victim of the perils and misfortunes of the tumultuous American Civil War, stumbles on an ancient cave and teleport system that sends him through time and space to Mars (whose inhabitants refer to it as Barsoom), where, discovering that his physical strength and agility have been altered to almost SUPERMAN-like status due to the differing low gravity atmosphere of Mars, he soon becomes a handy game changer for the films main plot when he becomes embroiled in a power struggle between two warring humanoid clans clashing for control (one side aided by a mysterious outside force), of which a young and beautiful Princess is caught in the middle, trapped in a soon-to-be union to a warrior pirate in order to cement a new peace initiative.
After being dubbed an actor of promise with his appearance as Gambit in the X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE spin-off of 2009, Taylor Kitsch, playing our long haired lead, has had a bit of an unlucky time of things this year, what with the less than meteoric performances of CARTER, and the later released BATTLESHIP, at the US box office (the latter well and truly sunk due to its being outclassed and outgunned by the incredible resilience, popularity and just well-made fun of AVENGERS ASSEMBLE). A young Harrison Ford he certainly ain’t, but Kitsch will be around for the future, I reckon, of which he certainly holds his own in pretty solid fashion within this large cinematic universe/confectionery of big scale action and unleashed monsters, playing the role with a reasonable, if slightly underdeveloped, backstory- Carter’s guilt of not being around to save his wife during the prior American Civil War being the primary factor fuelling him into later action man status capable of getting even the fiercest of Martian warriors rattled!
|Lovely Lynn Collins as Princess Dejah Thoris.|
Stealing some of Kitsch’s thunder, Lynn Collins, another actor previously seen in WOLVERINE, is the young Princess Dejah Thoris, and makes a startling and beautiful on-screen first impression in the film: radiant in figure-making armour, Martian tanned red skin and alien tattoos, and soon proving her worth as a gutsy heroine to rival Princess Leia (even though she actually came before our Alderaanian Rebel leader, if you see what I mean!), confidently wielding a sword and laser blasting away as an equal to Carter as the enemy machinations grow against them. On the alien front, Willem Dafoe gives a spirited and wonderful performance of humour, friendship and courageous honour as the multi-limbed green alien leader of the nomad tribe, Tars Tarkas, who you can’t help but take a shine to, of which his friendship with John Carter develops well as it/he takes the newly arrived human under his adoptive wing, recognizing his new powers and eventually going into battle alongside him in order to stop the civil war now being manipulated by dark outside forces. The deep voiced anger of Thomas Hayden Church as Tarkas rival warrior clan leader, Tal Hajus, adds a lively counterbalance to Dafoe’s heroism.
|Willem Dafoe is great as the alien leader Tal Hajus.|
I can’t say that the characterizations of both the films heroes and villains are deep and meaningful but Stanton certainly picks a strong supporting cast to bolster things up around his two leads, making the most of what they have in what was intended be the first of a franchise, including ROME TV series veterans Ciaran Hinds and James Purefoy back in splendid robes, armour and sandals once more, alongside other notables including Dominic West as the primary baddie Sab Than, and the always reliable Mark Strong, carving out a fine supporting character acting career in big budget films, what with recent appearances in the likes of Russell Crowe's ROBIN HOOD, SHERLOCK HOLMES, another underrated fantasy THE GREEN LANTERN, and this, playing a mysterious and all-powerful, all-knowing blue eyed shape changer, Matai Shang, whose ultimate follow through in the story I will not spoil. Other cast solid cast members include Brit ladies Polly Walker and Samantha Morton, whilst BREAKING BAD’s Bryan Cranston makes an early cameo.
|Woolas: a CGI star in the making!|
A fine CGI creation amidst the live-action cast, as well as a sea of intriguing monsters and beings, is Woola: it may look squat and ugly but don’t be deceived, he’s one of the film’s best characters- a perfect DISNEY/PIXAR creation- becoming Carter’s lovable and scene-stealing pet/companion in battle, who can move at lightning speed. A cute and delightful addition for younger audiences to enjoy, and a soon cult favourite.
Further quirky humour and action keeps the film moving along to its spectacular crash and bang finale, whilst the Earth set framing sequences around the film’s middle (featuring a young Edgar Rice Burroughs finding out the truth about his friend Carter) are also noteworthy, amidst a wondrous showcase for all the talented artists and designers bringing out the period details as well as the faraway majesty and dangers of the Martian landscape and its peoples, realized in beautiful enhanced location filming within the wild and wonderful national parks of Utah, and which have never looked better in striking Blu-ray, whether watching it in 2 or 3D, alongside some fine effects work from multiple technical houses: check out the awesome insect-winged flying ships and the moving city of one of the films chief villains. The incidental music by LOSTs Michael Giacchnio also adds some nice touches here and there, though his scores are now all starting to sound exactly the same as each other to my own personal ear…
|The movie boasts great effects work.|
On the Blu-ray extras side, there’s a solid if not totally fulfilling batch of extras including a positive and informative commentary from director Stanton and producers Jim Morris and Lindsey Collins, who also talk about the big challenges of the films ultimate realization, a selection of deleted scenes (with optional directors commentary), some of which are part animatic or incomplete- all nice to see if ultimately nothing to write home about (interesting that they’ve included the original beginning to the film, too, which I think Disney was right to excise and re-film/re-structure: a new action beginning was indeed needed to kick start the film and its alien characters/environment), 360 Degrees of John Carter: a fun and reasonable length look at the day in the life behind the scenes look at Andrew Stanton and the cast/crew as they film one of the films pivotal finale action set pieces in England, enjoyable on-set bloopers, and 100 Years In The Making (also available as a singular extra on the DVD release): a nice, if too short, look back at Edgar Rice Burroughs and his creation of John Carter in books, comics and finally in its long in the works translation to movie form, including a nice contribution from IRON MAN director Jon Favreau, who almost got his own vision of the film off the ground a few years prior…
|In the Geonosis...sorry, Barsoom arena!|
Launching the 2012 blockbuster season in a spirited fashion this past March, the film’s ultimately positive but not massive box office results were generally regarded as being down to it being poorly promoted worldwide by Disney (who allegedly just didn’t know how to effectively market it in these difficult, all-consuming times of economic stress). Yes, it made money at the box office, but seemingly not enough to justify its huge production and publicity costs. (The latter I thought was pretty non-existent, with early poster campaigns that were weak and directionless, whilst the early trailers were nowhere near as exemplary and deserving of the film, its characters and overall plot as they should have been. The later, better trailers arriving at cinemas and online were way too late to be successfully appreciated, IMO). The cinematic opportunity to really tag the experiences as a bold and in your face Before STAR WARS, there was JOHN CARTER type statement to audiences was incredulously lost by the seemingly clueless American publicity team which also didn’t want to use the words “warrior” or “Mars” in the title, either, especially the latter, after the failure of several other space/sci-fi films previously set on that planet. All of this was a bit of a shame, really, though I confidently predict that JOHN CARTER will find a strong audience on the small screen and will become a cult classic, much like other undeserved past flops, like the original Tron, The Dark Crystal and The Rocketeer, that will be much appreciated and enjoyed in the years to come. If this proves to be the one and only adventure for the Mars relocated hero, though, it’s not too bad as both a beginning and an end…
|John Carter: Martian journeyman!|
It may take a while for average audiences to get past some of the funny sounding names of characters and planets, and ignore some of the bad press about the film (most of it just negative for negativity’s sake), but if you watch it in the spirit for which it was made and intended, you may be pleasantly surprised…
With all the elements that George Lucas would mine so successfully with his beloved STAR WARS films, if thirty- five years late to the party!, and packed with tons of action, swordplay, big monsters and handsome people, fans of JOHN CARTER can only hope that it makes enough money in Blu-ray and DVD sales to make the studio bosses change their minds for the future. Another trip to that mysterious Red Planet and its world of warriors and wonder would be great to experience…
MOVIE: 7.5 out of 10
BLU-RAY/DVD EXTRAS: 7 out of 10