Title: John Carter

Format: Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Directed by: Andrew Stanton

Written by: Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews, Michael Chabon

Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Dominic West, James Purefoy, Willem Dafoe

Studio: Walt Disney Home Entertainment

Film Rating: ★★½☆☆

Blu-ray 3D Rating: ★★★☆☆

Review by: Bill Jones

The Film

John Carter may be best known in retrospect as a bad business decision. One that saw a lot of money spent and not nearly as much made. And that comes, I think, primarily from its source material.

John Carter is the kind of fiction that has attained a certain cult status – an incredibly loyal contingent of followers staunchly stand by the Edgar Rice Burroughs sci-fi adventure – but may be entirely unfamiliar to general audiences. And ultimately what happened is a group of those loyal followers pushed to get this made, and the mass audiences just weren’t there.

But that doesn’t necessarily speak to the quality of the film. Financial success doesn’t always speak to quality, of course, but in this case there does seem to be a connection. What John Carter struggles with most is finding, or creating, an identity for itself. By the end of 132 minutes, we’ve all seen a lot of fantastic things but are left caring about very little of it.

John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is something of a misfit on Earth, a former captain who mostly seems drunk and in trouble nowadays. It’s like he’s trying to play the rogue but doesn’t have the skills to pull it off. In the opening minutes of John Carter, he’s trying desperately to fashion an escape, only to be knocked out several times for comedic effect. The filmmakers mistake this humor as a reason to care about the character, but it just doesn’t work.

So when he is mysteriously transported to Mars – where he can apparently breathe with no problem but the change in atmosphere and gravity allows him spectacular strength and jumping ability – we’re still not fully invested in his character. We watch in wonder at the fantastic things he does and the special effects of the film – as he tries to save the planet and its people from an intergalactic threat – but we don’t care about the person at the center of it all.

To the same degree, there’s a lot of weight-of-the-world stuff going on in the plot, but again we’re not invested in this new planet, or the people or creatures who are battling over it. With all due respect to director Andrew Stanton (Wall-E), it is like someone saw much better sci-fi films but didn’t quite have the skill to pull one off that matters as much.

That said, John Carter can still be good fun. Visually, there is plenty to take in and be excited by. There’s plenty of action to behold. And at times it’s even fun. John Carter does a decent job of playing its role as mindless entertainment; viewers just shouldn’t expect anything more.

The Blu-ray

The Blu-ray 3D pack comes with four discs. The first is simply the film in 3D, and thus the first disappointment. The film is clear in 3D, but for as much money as went into this film and as much attention as Disney has placed on its 3D elements, it doesn’t do much more than add depth. While many may appreciate the lack of jump-out-of-the-screen gags, its depth also does not do anything special and is therefore rather unnecessary.

The second disc replicates the feature film in 2D on the second disc. That’s also where all of the special features are contained. There are a few ho-hum featurettes on the film, deleted scenes (with optional commentary) and bloopers. There is also the Disney Second Screen experience and a standard audio commentary with the filmmakers. But there are a couple of major problems here.

The Second Screen feature was a nice novelty when it was initially introduced. It synced via audio cues and allowed the users to utilize a second screen to view special features alongside the main film. But at this point it seems like more of a hassle than it’s worth. Picture-in-picture pre-prepared for the viewer is always easier, and the Second Screen features are now interactive, when frankly I’d rather have a passive experience than having to choose different elements while I try to watch them.

So then there’s the audio commentary. It’s the usual chatter about how the filmmakers loved the source material, stories behind how the film was made and even chatter of a (gulp) sequel. It was probably recorded before the film’s release, as these things often are, but the biggest disappointment (especially with the sequel talk) is that there’s no acknowledgement of the film’s box office failure. Again, this is common among films – which glorify rather than acknowledge defeat – but it’s something that would have actually made this interesting. Instead, it’s another heartless extra for a film without much soul, rounded out by a DVD copy of the film (with select special features) and a Digital Copy.

For more info, disney.go.com/johncarter

Pads & Panels received a copy of the Blu-ray courtesy of the studio for review purposes.