"John Carter" (previously "John Carter of Mars", and I'm not sure why they didn't keep that, as anyone going on name alone at the box office doesn't have much to go on from "John Carter") is the live-action debut of Pixar director Andrew Stanton ("Wall-E").
Based upon the novel "Princess of Mars" by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the picture stars Taylor Kitsch as the title character, a civil war veteran who finds himself unintentionally transported to Mars (called "Barsoom" in the movie.) Upon arrival, Carter finds out that he has enhanced abilities thanks to the different gravity on the planet.
Carter quickly attracts the attention of two battling races and sides with the one that has the attractive princess, Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins). Much fighting and alien jargon ensues - the movie does get going in the second half, but the first half seems front-loaded with jargon and speeches that don't have the weight and impact intended.
That's a little bit due to the script (oddly enough, partly credited to famed writer Michael Chabon), which could have been streamlined. A larger problem is Kitsch, who doesn't have the ability to command the screen alone (and it's one of those movies where the lead character's hair is perfectly in place even in the middle of a giant alien battle), and while there are certainly supporting characters, this is largely Carter's show.
The intent was clearly to make the kind of old-fashioned sci-fi/western that the filmmakers might have grown up on, but it winds up feeling a little too much like a dusty "Avatar" (as sci-fi westerns go, it is at least better than last year's "Cowboys and Aliens".) The film has been in development over many decades and the project has been looked at by many different directors (including, most recently, "Iron Man" director Jon Favreau) over the years. I thought the film was more entertaining than the negative buzz would suggest - there are some great visual effects and solid action sequences. The movie is let down a bit by casting and the script could have used some mild work. Additionally, did Carter really need an adorable lizard-dog sidekick?
"Carter" may not live up to its potential, but it's still a reasonably entertaining big-budget flick with a strong visual style and a few solid action sequences in the second half.
VIDEO: "John Carter" is presented by Disney in 2.35:1 (1080p/AVC) and the results are terrific. The picture remained rock-solid throughout the show, with pleasing sharpness and detail - all the dusty, rocky details of the landscape are clearly visible throughout the show. No edge enhancement or pixelation was noticed, and the picture looked mostly pristine. The mostly earthy color palette looked rich and accurately presented.
SOUND: The film is presented in DTS-HD 7.1. The presentation remains engaging throughout, with the surrounds kicking in to offer ambience and powerful discrete sound effects. Audio quality remained terrific, with crisp dialogue, strong low bass and well-recorded music.
EXTRAS: "100 Years in the Making" is an enjoyable documentary that offers a detailed overview of the film's production process, from the publication of the novel through the many times the book was tried (and failed) to be made into a movie. We also get a terrific commentary from writer/director Andrew Stanton and producers Lindsey Collins and Jim Morris, who offer an insightful and engaging discussion of the production process and many of the challenges encountered during the making of the film. We also get deleted scenes (with commentary), bloopers and the terrific "360 Degrees of John Carter" documentary. A "Second Screen" picture-in-picture extra is also available.
Final Thoughts: "Carter" may not live up to its potential, but it's still a reasonably entertaining big-budget flick with a strong visual style and a few solid action sequences in the second half. The DVD offers some superb extras, as well as very good audio/video quality.
The Film B-