Was "John Carter" deserving of failure at the box
"John Carter" is now available on Blu-ray.
Even filmmakers have heroes who inspire them. Writer Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote a series of books about a Civil War hero named John Carter who lived on Mars. The writer's imaginative books inspired filmakers early on, from Bob Clampett, to modern era directors such as George Lucas and Andrew Stanton.
Traces of Burroughs' fantasy elements can be seen in nearly every fantasy film we see today. The idea of an alien culture, spectacular battles on Mars, and super human abilities can be reasonably traced to Burroughs' books. Back when he wrote his books, those ideas were quite fanciful and exotic to readers. Little by little, filmmakers of the 20th century outright took those ideas and flourished. Most certainly George Lucas owes a lot of credit to not only the Saturday morning serials of "Flash Gordon," but to Burroughs.
Filmmakers have fought for years to bring the classic writer's books to the big screen. But why now? Especially since "Star Wars" in 1977, most ideas that were once fresh in Burroughs' books have become cliche. Such reverance to the master of modern fantasy and science fiction is respectful. But for audiences today, allegience to Burroughs is somewhat stale. Flying men are no longer really that intriguing to audiences today, except for the occasional "Superman" movie.
Disney invested a fortune into bringing the character of John Carter to the big screen. The acclaimed director of "Finding Nemo" and "Wall-E," Andrew Stanton, was given the task of co-writing and directing this massive ode to classic fantasy and science fiction. Ever since the film was released in theaters in March of 2012, it has been blasted for having lost a huge chunk of change for Disney. Apparently the film bombed so badly, especially in the United States and Canada, that Disney took a massive write-off.
I wanted to really enjoy this film. Stanton is an outstanding director. Many articles I've read about "John Carter" blamed part of the film's failure on Stanton. Articles stated that Stanton was a first-time live action director, therefore, he didn't know how to make a film of this scale. Nonsense. Stanton can direct animation and live action with no problem. "John Carter" is skillfully directed with an old fashioned epic feel. It's old fashioned cinema and Stanton should be commended.
But the film has many flaws. "John Carter" tries so hard to be a pulp fantasy with modern visual effects and a rousing score by Michael Giacchino, that it becomes buried under too many storylines and characters. In watching the film, I felt as though I needed a guidebook just to keep track of who was who and why they were fighting. At times, it was as if George Lucas was brought into the sandbox with his legions of toy plastic armies and was allowed to control playtime. You want to interject and say to Stanton, "Stay on target and don't pull a George. Less is more." But who's really going to tell an acclaimed Oscar-winning director what to do?
The film runs from one location and story device to another, then manages to put in some quick flashbacks of Carter's past. John Carter himself, played by Taylor Kitsch, isn't all that intriguing of a character. I didn't feel much empathy for him or his past. I didn't care if he stayed on earth to fight or went to Mars (Barsoom in the film) to kills legions of CGI warriors. I didn't care for the tough princess of Mars, played by Lynn Collins. The villains were as dry as any British accented villains we've seen in countless films. I lost track of the Thorks, Thacks, and Thads. I lost track of their names. I had no idea who the mystical hooded men were.
There were at least ten different relationships between the characters and bands of Barsoomians. There was the standard father-daughter conflict. There was a conflict between the hooded mystics and the main villain. There was the cool, but pointless Barsoomian dog-like creature. I thought that Willem Dafoe's character of Tars Tarkas was excellent but underutilized. In fact, he was more fun than John Carter.
I'm not trying to be harsh about "John Carter." The amount of talent involved with this film is astounding. But even the best filmmakers with the best intentions occasionally stumble. It also didn't help that that film was retitled. "John Carter of Mars" at least would've given the film some edge.
The Blu-ray picture is excellent. As with most Disney releases, the quality of the picture will no doubt make people happy. I guess I was more suprised that that overall look of the film didn't have a reddish tint. But I suppose that perhaps Mars (Barsoom) doesn't really look like that. Nevertheless, no complaints about the picture quality. I do applaud the decision to shoot the film with anamorphic lenses. That look has been far in-between for years, as many DPs and directors have opted to shoot in "Super 35" or digital. Anamorphic, sans tons of lens flares (I'm looking at you, J.J. Abrams) can look spectacular.
The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is excellent. The mix is dynamic and for a change in today's soundtracks, actually lets the audience ocassionally take a breather from all of the wall-to-wall sound with quiet passages.
Is"John Carter" the bomb? Depends on who you ask. Some people who saw it really enjoyed it. For myself, it has some fun elements, but just doesn't take off. Much of it felt like I'd been there and seen that numerous times before. Capably directed, it has all the elements of a popcorn flick. Unfortunately, the popcorn tastes a little stale.
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