Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Written by Kirk Baird
John Carter is now out on Blu-ray and DVD. The film is best known for being perhaps the year’s biggest flop, an honor more dubious perhaps than merited.
I didn’t care for the film on the big screen. But movies in theaters are bigger than life, which tends to magnify any flaws (like putting a magnifying glass over someone’s face).
On the new Disney Blu-ray release, though, John Carter wasn’t half-bad. Which is a polite way of saying it was only half good.
The trouble with John Carter has a lot to do with redundancy. The film is based on a series of pulp novels from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ written roughly a century ago. The story concerns a Civil War vet named John Carter who finds himself teleported to the dying surface of Mars, where he helps lead the resistance against a war-minded nation.
The book series was popular among the science-fiction crowd, which means a lot of current directors read them growing up and were, in turn, influenced by them. Pixar’s Andrew Stanton, who ultimately directed John Carter, being one of them. These filmmakers also copied from Burroughs’ work – or, at least, borrowed liberally.
That’s a point of praise for Burroughs. It’s also a serious flaw in the John Carter film. We’ve seen so much of its imaginative settings and sequences before in the Star Wars movies, Stargate, Avatar, to name a few, that John Carter feels stale and old – even though the movie was released only in late March. There’s very little wow factor at play in the two-hour-plus film, which is not what you expect of a movie budgeted at $250 million.
Perhaps that’s why it grossed less than $75 million of that domestically. If you account for worldwide revenue, John Carter at least did respectably with nearly $210 million – which would push the film past the break-even point, in theory.
The film is also hindered by the rather unimpressive feature-film debut of Taylor Kitsch. Nice kid, good actor in small doses and certainly on the small screen on Friday Night Lights, which is what he’s known for. But as the centerpiece to a big-budget effects and action-driven film, he lacks the requisite charisma. Kitsch is like a pretty vase placed on a football field: he is swallowed up by the surroundings.
Lynn Collins, who plays his love interest Dejah Thoris, the princess of Mars, isn’t much better. Lovely actress, but she cannot carry the role.
And these problems are amplified on the big screen. In the comfort of a living room, though, these flaws seem less significant; it’s easy to dismiss the criticism of John Carter as overblown and another instance of a film snobbery pile-on. And that’s not incorrect. We critics can harp on a film. And when there’s blood in the water (meaning a film is dying at the box office), we become even more vicious.
While I believe the collective dismissal of the film was correct for the theatrical release of John Carter, on Blu-ray/DVD the new format and smaller screen merits a do-over.
John Carter isn’t a great film. But it’s not a bad either. And certainly not worthy of the “box-office bomb to end all bombs” tag it’s been saddled with. It is worth checking out, if only to see what all the criticism and bad press was about. And then decide if it’s true.