John Carter Blu-ray 3D Review

John Carter is a fittingly bland name for Disney’s equally bland big budget actioner. It’s a film whose premise, based on the Barsoom series of books penned by Edgar Rice Burroughs between 1912 and 1943, is past its time, borrowed from by numerous Hollywood productions over the past several decades before getting its own big-screen adaptation. Everything in John Carter recalls imagery from other films, despite the fact that John Carter was technically the first story of its kind and scope to the plate.

As a hero figure, John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is difficult to root for or become emotionally invested in. His introduction takes place in the old West where he is being sought after as a fugitive. It is revealed that all Carter cares about his gold and he’ll stop at nothing to get what he considers to be his fair share.

For unknown reasons that go against every decision Carter has made to that point, he saves his captor Colonel Powell (Bryan Cranston in a limited role) from an Indian attack and retreats to a cave. Here he encounters and kills a humanoid alien, touches a medallion he/it held, and is whisked off to Barsoom aka Mars in the blink of an eye.

Our minds have been conditioned to accept Mars as a red, desolate and dangerous environment, one not fit for humans to stroll around on. In John Carter, Mars has the opposite effect. Carter not only can breathe on this planet, but he has contracted the superhuman ability to leap mountains in a single bound Superman-style. It’s a stretch to suspend disbelief as Carter jumps around Barsoom, especially when the planet closely resembles the canyons of Arizona or New Mexico.

The rest of John Carter is by-the-book, both figuratively and literally. There’s a princess who needs saving, the tall and green Thark race that needs liberated, and big action set pieces featuring giant white apes and massive flying ships to run the budget sky high.

All the while, Kitsch fails to grab hold of the hero role and make anyone want to root for him. He lacks that “it” factor, more important here than ever considering most of his co-stars are wonderfully rendered in a computer. He needs to stand out and instead is outperformed by his mo-cap friends.

Lynn Collins is a notch better as a princess with a wild side and a fearless spirit. However, when paired with Kitsch, there isn’t a single spark of attraction between them. They might as well be brother and sister from different worlds.

John Carter isn’t a bad film, per se. The production values are top notch and there is eye candy in seemingly every frame. Disney spared no expense to realize director Andrew Stanton’s glorious vision, but Stanton’s first live action foray doesn’t work as well as fellow Pixar filmmaker Brad Bird’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol does.

Sometimes looks can be deceiving, and in the case of John Carter, it’s too hard to shake the “been there, done that” feeling or become emotionally invested in Carter’s rise from criminal to savoir of worlds. That alien and his kind that Carter gets the medallion from are grossly underdeveloped, which is a shame considering a sequel might have remedied that problem. Adding “of Mars” to the title may have helped the marketing angle, but it wouldn’t have saved the film from its lackluster box office destiny and all but put a nail in the coffin on ever “seeing” where the story goes next.

3D Presentation

Every penny Disney put into John Carter is given its due on Blu-ray. In this Blu-ray 3D package is the post-conversion 3D version which, frankly, doesn’t add much to the film at all. There are a handful of scenes where the 3D jumps off the screen without looking as if it was designed to do so, all of which occur on Barsoom and during the daytime. For much of the film the 3D effect is lost, leaving behind a darker version of an otherwise fantastic looking movie.

A quick flip over to the Blu-ray 2D version reveals an absolutely flawless presentation. I hate to reference the budget again, but there is an insane amount of detail in all the visual effects work – especially the Tharks and their varying designs – which Blu-ray successfully translates to the small screen without losing any of said detail. All of the colors pop on the screen and numerous dark sequences hold up with strong black levels. I would have expected to recommend the Blu-ray 3D presentation over the 2D, but in the case of John Carter, set aside the glasses as 2D is the way to go.

Disney bumped up the John Carter audio to 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio which is rock solid but doesn’t quite reach the levels of excellence that the 2D high-def presentation does. On the plus side, dialogue and surround effects are spot on as Tharks race around the screen, cheer in the arena or attack ships from above. The audio is always clean, matching what’s on the screen with pristine clarity and resolution.

When it comes to bass, there isn’t quite enough extension in the LFE to complete with similar big budget action films. I expected the white monkeys to send the subwoofer into overdrive. They sounded great, but not as deep as I would have liked or expected. Similarly the explosions and crashes could have used a little more oomph.

Beyond the Feature

The Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D versions of John Carter pay off for supplements junkies as the majority of them are exclusive to high-def and all the bonus features are presented in high-def, exclusive or otherwise. It also includes a DVD and Digital copy to round out the big four-disc set, in addition to an exclusive red slipcover.

‘100 Years in the Making’ (11 minutes) is the only real must-see bonus feature, a brief retrospective look at the career of author Edgar Rice Burroughs. This could easily have been extended into an hour-plus and it’s a shame it wasn’t. It is one of the two non-Blu-ray exclusive features.

The other non-exclusive feature is an extremely upbeat ‘Audio Commentary with Andrew Stanton and Producers Lindsey Collins and Jim Morris.’ They make the film sound better than it actually is, but also make it easier to appreciate the extensive work and passion that went into the project.

The Blu-ray exclusives are as follows:

  • 360 Degrees of John Carter (35 minutes) – A making-of featurette
  • Deleted Scenes (19 minutes) – Includes optional director’s commentary tracks
  • Barsoom Bloopers (2 minutes) – Thankfully it wasn’t longer
  • Second Screen – Downloadable supplemental app

John Carter is a beautiful Blu-ray release that unfortunately looks a lot better than the narrative plays out. It’s still worth a look for an empty romp through Mars. Be sure to go the 2D route versus 3D to get the most out of the strong visual effects work in high definition.

out of 5

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