Blu-ray Review: John Carter

John Carter Blu-ray boxSTUDIO: Walt Disney Studios | DIRECTOR: Andrew Stanton | CAST: Taylor Kitsch, Mark Strong, Samantha Morton, Ciaran Hinds, Willem Dafoe
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 6/5/2012 | PRICE: DVD $29.99, Blu-ray/ DVD Combo $39.99, 4-Disc Blu-ray 3D/Blu-ray/DVD Combo $49.99
BONUSES: featurettes, commentary, Second Screen, bloopers
SPECS: PG | 132 min. | Science-fiction | 2.40:1 aspect ratio | 7.1 DTS-HD audio | English, French and Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

John CarterJohn Carter is perhaps the biggest flop that didn’t deserve it.

Based on the series of books by Edgar Rice Burroughs including A Princess of Mars, John Carter has science-fiction, action (lots of action), adventure and romance. It’s no Lord of the Rings, but it’s got heart and is entertaining.

Notorious for being a $250 million film that grossed only $180 million worldwide in theaters, prompting the resignation of Walt Disney Studios chairman Rich Ross, John Carter was thwarted by a bad — very bad — marketing campaign. The posters are terrible, the trailer laughable, and the name is plain boring and doesn’t give any hint of the film’s story.

The story itself is this: John Carter (Taylor Kitsch, TV’s Friday Night Lights) is a man from Civil War-era Virginia who accidentally transports to Mars. There, he gets caught up in a battle for the dying planet, fights to unite the planet’s citizens and falls for the princess (Lynn Collins, X-Men Origins: Wolverine).

Brimming with great looking special effects and visuals, the movie features strange aliens, elaborate vehicles, intricate costumes and gorgeous sets, all of which look fantastic in the high-definition Blu-ray. The sound too, with the huge battles and roaring alien creatures, is phenomenal in the 7.1 DTS-HD.

The movie’s biggest flaw is that it tries to be too much, weaving the alien adventure with Carter’s life on Earth and a series of feuds and cultures on Mars. But in his first live-action film, co-writer/director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) keeps the movie’s pacing tight so we’re not bored or longing for the end.

Stanton himself is an avid fan of Burroughs’ novels, and in the featurettes on the Blu-ray, he seems like a kid who just got his absolute favorite Christmas present. He positively beams through his interviews as he describes the sets, his love of the actors and his passion for the story, which he discovered when he read the books as a child.

In the featurette “100 Years in the Making,” Stanton talks about what it meant to him to be the one to bring this books to the screen. Another film version was in the works by Jon Favreau (Iron Man 2) with Paramount, but when that movie fell apart, Disney grabbed the rights and gave Stanton the green light. Favreau also is seen in the featurette, talking about the legacy of the novels and Burroughs’ influenced much of the science-fiction we have today. Burroughs words about his writing are also heard over voiceover, a really wonderful touch.

The piece also goes into detail about the set design, stunt training, locations and more.

In “360 Degrees of John Carter,” we see behind-the-scenes footage with Collins going through makeup, hair and costume, Willem Dafoe on stilts, the actors in front of the green screen, and even the tough choices when it comes to deciding what to eat from the craft services table. Stanton also talks about the differences between shooting a live-action film from an animated movie, many that he didn’t expect beforehand.

Ten deleted scenes are offered on the Blu-ray, in various degrees of production, from storyboards, to a mix of green screen and live-action, to finished special effects. Stanton introduces the lot and recorded a commentary for each about what he liked about them and why they were cut. Among the included is the original opening sequence, and it’s a good thing it was out.

The Blu-ray also has a blooper reel, which is fun, mostly showing various actors falling and/or dancing. The funniest is when the canoe Kitsch and Collins are rowing collides with the boat holding the camera.

Stanton and producers Lindsey Collins and Jim Morris talk in the film’s commentary track, offering up lots more behind-the-scenes stories, from the coldest locations to the casting choices. The chatter is continuous, with barely a breath to hear the dialog of the film. Stanton is the most verbose, showing his excitement for the movie once again. But Collins and Morris get words in occasionally, giving some nice color to the conversation.

Disney also included Second Screen, with which you can watch more extras on your computer or tablet while the film plays. We prefer the picture-in-picture pop-ups personally, but at least Disney gives extras via both the disc and Second Screen so there’s something for those of you who agree that entertainment doesn’t have to include two screens.

Finally, we have to thank Disney for once again allowing users to bypass all the trailers and go straight to the menu. Other studios, please take note, you’re only annoying us by forcing us to chapter through them, which we will.

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About S. Clark

Sam Clark is the former Managing Editor/Online Editor of Video Business magazine. With 19 years experience in journalism, 12 in the home entertainment industry, Sam has been hooked on movies on since she saw E.T. then stared into the sky waiting to meet her own friendly alien. Thanks to her husband’s shared love of movies, Sam reviews Blu-ray discs in a true home theater, with a 118-inch screen, projector and cushy recliners with cup holders.