How's the movie?
Chalk it up to bad marketing, bad timing, or just plain bad luck-- whatever the case, John Carter got a raw deal in theaters. It's not a grand slam, but it is a grand scale, highly ambitious fantasy overflowing with inspired design and special effects work. Taylor Kitsch is a bit dry as a Confederate soldier who finds himself in the middle of a civil war on Mars, but thankfully he's surrounded on all sides by supporting players that really give it their all, particularly Lynn Collins.
If you missed this in theaters, please don't miss it on Blu-ray or DVD. It's much better than the box office and general miasma of negativity in the press implies. Plus, it's an exceptional HD experience.
Rotten Tomatoes: 52% Rotten with critics, 66% liked by audiences
Box Office: $72.7 million domestic, $209.7 million foreign
What are the vitals on the disc?
Studio: Disney / Buena Vista
Release Date: June 5, 2012
Edition Reviewed: Blu-ray 3D
Number of Discs: 4; 1 x 3D BD, 1 x BD, 1 x DVD, 1 x DVD Digital Copy
Digital Copy: Yes, on disc
Runtime: 132 minutes
Video: 108- MPEG-4 MVC, 2.40:1 Aspect Ratio
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 7.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
How does it look and sound?
For a film lathered in digital creations, there's a classic, filmic quality to the Blu-ray transfer here that's quite striking. As a side effect there are occasions where the real world elements only serve to outshine the weaker CG elements, as with the Thark's newborns, but that's a fault of the nature of the animation, not the actual Blu-ray transfer. The work here is exemplary and only further shines a light on the sheer creativity that's gone in to creating the world of Mars.
Naturally on a tent pole film like this, the Blu-ray looks as good as it sounds. The Earth segments are abuzz with an audio atmosphere we've come to expect from period pieces, but the disc really shines when it beams over to Mars. That's when the sound design is particularly inspired, where alien sounds such as Tharks gesturing with four arms never sound gimmicky and subtle use completely suck you into the universe Andrew Stanton has crafted.
What about special features?
This isn't as quite a feature-packed set as one would hope, but between the commentary and the excellent 360 Degrees of John Carter segment, it does have some quality goods worth watching. There is however, a surprising and curious lack of Carter himself, Taylor Kitsch. He's seen but very rarely actually heard from in any of the below.
Commentary: Andrew Stanton and two of his producers, Jim Morris and Lindsey Collins (both of whom produced WALL*E) turn out for this active and jovial track. It's an entertaining listen mainly because all three are quite candid about their experience producing a live-action feature for the first time, but it's not quite as technically-minded as one would hope from a movie as technically complex as John Carter. There are plenty of interesting anecdotes about what the story means to them, how it got greenlit, and how it was cast, but the trio often get caught up in the fun of reminiscing about on-set stories and use broader terms that allude to the process (instead of explaining it) when discussing the film's more complicated sequences.
Deleted Scenes (19 minutes, HD): As Stanton mentions in the commentary, the first cut of John Carter ran about three hours long, and these ten scenes would have all been included in that cut. A few redundant walk-and-talk type scenes that didn't make it into the second cut of the film are just a rough combo of pre-vis and live-action, but the sequences that did make it into the second edit of the movie are a bit more polished. None are particularly mind-blowing revelations, but their excision (and Stanton's optional explanations) does offer an insight into how a film as big as John Carter is not only put together, but trimmed down.
360 Degrees of John Carter (35 minutes, HD): Speaking of how a film as big as John Carter is put together, this is a really great feature chronicling a day in the life of the production. It starts with Lynn Collins in the makeup chair and spirals outward from there, showing all the simultaneous feats the production must pull off just to get ready to shoot a scene. A must watch for anyone keen to learn more about film production.
100 Years in the Making (10 minutes, HD): A look at the life and legacy of Edgar Rice Burroughs. It's short but packed with a detailed overview of the writer's motivations and lasting impact on science fiction and pop culture. Plus one of the contributors is Jon Favreau, the last big director close to making a John Carter of Mars movie (Stanton and company also talk about Favreau's attempt on the commentary track).
Barsoom Bloopers (2 minutes, HD): A quick distraction with an eye-roll inducing dance number, which is silly enough that it might just make you smile.
Disney's Second Screen
John Carter's Blu-ray debut isn't packed to the gills with special features, but the extras that are present (about an hour in total, not counting the commentary) all do a nice job of complimenting this flawed-but-entertaining fantasy film. Don't let the negative buzz dissuade you: the live-action debut of WALL*E director Andrew Stanton is indeed worth your attention, and it looks and sounds stellar on BD.