Rich Ross, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, was quoted saying:
"Moviemaking does not come without risk. It's still an art, not a science, and there is no proven formula for success. Andrew Stanton is an incredibly talented and successful filmmaker who with his team put their hard work and vision into the making of 'John Carter'. Unfortunately, it failed to connect with audiences as much as we had all hoped."
Yes, filmmaking is an art and there's no real way to gauge what's going to do well and what's not. Everyone has different taste and there's always the competition to consider. However, Mr. Ross's statement doesn't sit well with me because despite the smoke he's trying to blow up our asses, there wasn't a single decision about John Carter's production that was made with artistry in mind. It was all about the money, simple as. Andrew Stanton, a man whose impressive history with Disney - which includes writing credits on Monsters Inc. and the Toy Story trilogy, as well as directorial responsibilities under Finding Nemo and Wall-E - expressed great interest in undertaking the live-action John Carter... and Disney let him have it. Forget the fact that Stanton had zero experience with live-action filmmaking, or that Stanton himself admitted, "I'm not gonna get it right the first time. I'll tell you that right now." No, Disney didn't care about that at all. Because of the success Stanton had with his animated contributions, Disney was bedazzled with dollar signs in their eyes, and somehow convinced themselves that his success would translate well working behind a camera. The end result? John Carter required two very extensive reshoots (a majority of the film was shot twice, which is unheard of), and the final estimated production cost was in the neighborhood of $250 million. Furthermore, Disney also allowed Stanton to have control over the film's $100 million marketing strategy, which left a lot to be desired. So, does Mr. Ross's diplomatic statement make me believe for one second that this film failed because... well, just because? Although it's admirable that Disney isn't throwing Stanton under the bus, which they shouldn't because they allowed all this to transpire, the bottom line is that my personal experience with John Carter felt something like this (and I'm sure I'm not alone here):
Disney Executive: "You're going to love this movie!"
Me: "Hopefully. The trailer looked intriguing but, it looks like one of those movies that could be really, really good, or end up being really, really bad."
Disney Executive: "Trust me, after we get the film rollin' here, you're going to see all sorts of magic."
We sit down and the movie begins. After the opening credits, the Disney exec stands up, opens his wallet and starts throwing money at the projection screen.
Me: "Um, what are you doin' man?"
Disney Executive: "Did you see that? All that magic that just happened?"
Me: "Dude, all you're doing is throwing money at th...."
Disney Executive: "Magic!" Throws more money at the screen...
Now, for those of you out of the loop, John Carter comes from the imagination of Edgar Rice Burroughs, as a story that was serialized in 1912 and eventually published as the novel, A Princess of Mars. Subsequent novels weren't far behind, and the Carter character eventually made a transition to television and comic books. The reason why Burroughs' vision was embraced by so many people and for so long, is because the universe he created had something for everyone - Science fiction, fantasy, action, romance, and even a dab of western. John Carter on Mars is a story about a man who, out of the blue, finds himself in a strange world. The difference between his biochemistry and the atmosphere on Barsoom (as the locals call it) give him superhuman strength, and two factions engaged in planetary civil war view him as both a wild card and a power they wish to harness. Along the way, Carter makes friends with a neutral tribe of six-armed aliens (or four arms in the movie) called Tharks, discovers a dark secret that explains the cause of the war, and falls in love with the planet's princess. It didn't matter if you were a man, woman, or child - John Carter on Mars was bound to have a lasting effect on you... even if you didn't realize it.
Fast forward to the present - I'm sure there are probably a bunch of people who have never even heard of John Carter before this film. However, the influence of this story has seeped its way into your life numerous times over. For example, elements of Burroughs' timeless story can be more recently seen in a great number of Hollywood films. Of course, being that John Carter has influenced so many of the works we're already familiar with, how could one turn a story that's been so heavily borrowed from into something fresh? The same way Hollywood has, at times, recreated the same thematic ideas in a different package over and over again - By hiring a director that has experience, vision, skill, and finesse. Unfortunately though, Disney hired Andrew Stanton. Don't get me wrong - I do believe Stanton has vision and skill, but he didn't have the experience and most of his time was spent trying to rise above the learning curve. So instead of seeing what probably would have been his vision, we're treated to a bunch of major scenes that were seemingly plagiarized from other films - Avatar, Star Wars - Episode I, Star Wars - Episode II, and to a lesser degree, Prince of Persia and Gladiator. I don't know about you, but I don't watch a movie to see a highlight reel of every other popular movie I've seen in the last 15 years... I go to see something that's either a quick paced feast for the eyes, or an adventure that has visual flare and soul. John Carter fails on both counts.
Yep. Despite the incredibly high production value of this film, it failed to entertain as a special effects driven extravaganza. Stanton tried to provide a real level of depth to everything that transpires in the plot, but those scenes did little more than slow things down. And as to why the scenes focusing on plot felt so dull and lifeless? Well, it's probably a combination of Stanton insisting that no-name actors be used almost exclusively, as well as Stanton's inexperience directing people on the set of a live action film. The acting all came across as such, with little to no sincerity. As a result, there were no sparks at all between Taylor Kitsch (John Carter) and Lynn Collins (Dejah Thoris, princess of Barsoom), and neither of the villains felt very dangerous. The only deduction I can make of all this, is that Stanton went into filming without a plan. If I were in his shoes and knew my skills as a live-action director were questionable at best, I would have been more flexible - I either would have stepped aside to let another director take the helm, or I would have made an alternate plan to make John Carter an action heavy flick with little to no plot. Instead, he tried to get the best out of both worlds and tanked the entire film as a result.
The action picks up in the latter half of the film, which does seem to help things move along at a brisker pace, but it's still not enough to pull Carter up from the sand. It's unfortunate that the beloved Burroughs' tale about a regular guy becoming a hero on Mars was met with so little foresight by Disney, because John Carter should have been the film to come along and trump all the other imitations that came before (or after?) it... but instead of making good business decisions for, you know, the art, Disney just threw a bunch of money at the screen to cover up a turd, hoping it would sell. Don't waste your time on this one folks. This is the most blatant cash grab I've seen in some time, and if you want a better experience than what Disney and Stanton have been able to provide, just watch any of the films that they've ironically 'borrowed' from. You'll be a lot happier after those two hours are done, I assure you.
This should come as no surprise considering Disney's track record on Blu-ray, but John Carter's 1080p, AVC encoded transfer (2.40:1) is flawless in every perceivable way. There's no digital anomalies to speak of, such as digital noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression artifacts, so there's nothing to prevent the image from displaying the source in all its glory. Colors are bold, clarity and detail is consistently worthy of a dropped jaw, and in culmination with immaculate black and contrast levels, there's an impressive amount of depth to the characters on screen. Not only that, but the CGI in this film really is some of the best to come along since, well, the Star Wars prequel trilogy (although Avatar still reigns as top dog), meaning the detailing was so good, the CGI backdrops themselves often helped lend to the illusion of depth. Seriously, if there's one thing about John Carter that truly excels, it's the visuals. If you can swallow this film for the action scenes alone and won't be soured by how familiar they all feel, you're likely to have a blast with this reference quality disc.
I'll say it again in regards to this 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track - Reference quality. The action scenes just obliterate the LFE (in a good way) and the entire sound stage is active from beginning to end. Major action sequences offer pinpoint precision directionality, and when things slow down for a bit, there's always a realistic level of environmental ambience to ensure you'll stay immersed from the first frame of the film to the last. Dialogue is always crisp, clear and effortless to understand, and many of the major sound effects really seem to feel like they have some weight to them.
Although there's a respectable amount of extras here, it's not quite up to snuff when compared to the plethora of supplements Disney usually provides. Considering this film was a box office flop however, I guess I'm not too surprised to see they didn't go all out.
-Commentary with Director Andrew Stanton, Producers Jim Morris and Lindsey Collins - It's funny, listening to this informative and lively conversation, I almost feel bad coming down so hard on Andrew Stanton for delivering such a stale film. He seems really passionate about the project and what he's accomplished with Carter, which is great to know but it's also rather troubling - If Disney let him do another live action flick, will he deliver another product that trudges along any time there isn't action and money being thrown at the screen? I suppose only time will tell. If you happen to be a fan of this film, you'll find this track to be light, highly informative and quite entertaining overall.
-Disney Second Screen Interactive Experience - I've never been very fond of this feature. Basically, you sit down to watch the movie, whip out a tablet or laptop, and then sync the movie with your device so you can view additional content on your device while the movie is playing. It's really, really inconvenient and usually not worth the effort. Please stop playing into these silly technological trends Disney, and focus on providing us with stuff we can see on our expensive HDTV's.
-Deleted Scenes with Optional Director Commentary - The film really felt bloated enough... to the point where this two hour endeavor felt like three. The fact there are some deleted scenes are really no surprise (in fact, I'm sure there's hours upon hours upon hours of deleted content due to all the reshooting that happened), and as expected, these scenes aren't really worth watching.
-100 Years in the Making - Now this is an interesting featurette, as it focuses on Edgar Rice Burroughs' life and his rise to fame with the John Carter on Mars storyline.
-360 Degrees of John Carter - This is a fairly decent behind-the-scenes featurette at 35 minutes, where we get to see the director make his rounds while certain scenes are being prepped for work.
-Barsoom Bloopers - Well, everyone had a great time while filming, as evidenced by the breakout dance sessions they'd randomly have, but most of this blooper reel is kind of dull.
If you took Avatar, Star Wars - Episode I, Episode II, Prince of Persia andGladiator, stuck them in a blender and flipped the switch... you'd be left with John Carter, which is essentially a bland and soulless mix of the above mentioned films. It's truly a shame because most of these films were heavily influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs' story about a man living out a sci-fi/action/romance story on Mars. It deserved better than this, and Disney could have done something to deliver... namely not hiring a director who had zero experience with live-action filmmaking. Even if I were to try and recommend this film as a special effects extravaganza and nothing more, my conscience wouldn't allow it. There are so many parts that drag and keep the film moving at a snail's pace, that this two hour film felt more like a three hour test for my endurance of patience. This film is the embodiment of the typical mindset in Hollywood - Throw money at the screen and it will sell. Let's hope Disney learns they need some real substance to back it all up.
If you absolutely must see this film though, the A/V presentation is, without question, reference quality. Skip it.