It’s taken exactly 100 years for Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic story to make it to the big screen, so obviously a lot his influential ideas and character archetypes have become age-old staples of the science fiction genre. However, Pixar’s Andrew Stanton was a great choice to bring the adventure to new life. Though not on the same level as FINDING NEMO and WALL-E, CARTER still showcases the same strong storytelling and spark of wonder as with his preview films. Stanton excels at world building, and although Barsoom does initially come off as a tour of the American southwest, he uses the different characters and alien races to slowly build up the unique culture of Burroughs’ books. There’s also some truly great sequences here, like Carter first learning to “walk” on Barsoom, the brilliant scene where the soldier bravely fights off an immeasurable number of aliens against flashbacks to his wife and son, or anything with Woola. Things like that automatically make John Carter more worthwhile than most big budget blockbusters.
Taylor Kitsch seemed like a bizarre choice for the title character, and while he isn’t a bastion of charisma, the actor does better with the material than I assumed based on his work in WOLVERINE. (I haven’t seen “Friday Night Lights.”) His gravelly John Carter voice sounds a bit forced, but he does bring a certain brash American ruggedness to the role which works in the story, and as he acclimates to Barsoom, you also acclimate to him. Willem Dafoe is inspired casting for the four-armed Thark Tars Tarkas and you can definitely feel the actor through his CG counterpart. There are others who make less of an impression, like Samantha Morton, Bryan Cranston or Mark Strong as one of the mishandled Therns, but the one person/character who does stand out in JOHN CARTER is Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris. As executed, the Martian princess is probably one of the great female heroes of recent cinema. She’s regal as royalty, strong as a warrior that can hold her own alongside Carter, smart as a Martian scientist, and sexy as the girl on the cover of Burroughs’ novels. And Collins pulls off each of those elements surprisingly well.
The main thing that keeps JOHN CARTER from being a complete success is the pacing and the length. At over two hours, the movie is long and definitely feels like it. Perhaps it’s the close adherence to its older source material, but the film is slowly paced and noticeably drags in its long second act. It’s never boring and does eventually build to an exciting ending, but watching it a second time through I could feel myself getting restless for large chunks of time. Overall, I think JOHN CARTER is still worth the journey in the end, but it’s not an effortless trip.
Commentary with director Andrew Stanton and producers Jim Morris and Lindsey Collins: Stanton is passionate about the world of JOHN CARTER and a joy to listen to, as he is on his other commentary track. He and his producers have no shortage of material to cover, from the source material’s history to the quickfire production and the difficult visual effects. An entertaining track overall.
Deleted Scenes (19:02): These ten scenes vary from completely finished to rough sketches and come with optional commentary by Stanton, but there’s ultimately nothing of major consequence. There’s an alternate opening that combines the history lesson and Hall of Science sequences, a bit of backstory of Ned and a couple more action beats.
360 Degrees of JOHN CARTER (34:32): This is a very cool and unique feature that gives you an all-access pass to a single day of the production. It starts at 5 a.m. as they fire up the catering trucks and finishes with the final stunt shot of the day. You get to see all aspects of a movie set, including the extras being corralled, Lynn Collins in hair and makeup, Willem Dafoe on stilts, costumes, fighting and the actual filming itself. At over a half an hour, it does a good job showing you the crazy schedule and hard work that goes in to a film and all different talented people doing different jobs.
100 Years in the Making (10:43): This gives you a quick overview of Burroughs and the history of John Carter through first person narration from Burroughs own words as well as interviews with cast and crew, Jon Favreau, author Michael Chabon and other science and history experts. There are some cool stuff, like some test footage from a 1930s animated attempt to adapt the story.
Barsoom Bloopers (1:56): Your basic gags and cast and crew zaniness.
Second Screen: This interactive experience connects to your iPad or laptop (if you have the app downloaded, which presents John Carter's journal chock full of extra info and trivia.
Extra Tidbit: Previous directors that attempted to make JOHN CARTER include Robert Rodriguez, Kerry Conran (SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW) and Jon Favreau. Actors that almost got the part included Jon Hamm and Josh Duhamel.