It’s something or a cruel irony that, despite being the first space-faring adventurer – predating the likes of Flash Gordon and James T. Kirk by several decades – Edgar Rice Burroughs’ heroic Civil War veteran-turned-Martian savior, John Carter, will likely be remembered more for the $200 million hole blown in the Disney balance sheet than for his enduring influence on the genre heralded by his arrival. Though largely uncelebrated upon initial publication (the series only gained notoriety after Burroughs newfound fame over Tarzan), Burroughs’ swashbuckling, otherworldly adventure solidly laid the groundwork for virtually everything that has come since.
Liberally pilfered from by everything from Superman to Star Wars the carcass of the now one hundred-year-old literary source has been picked clean like a slain buffalo in the prairie sun, and yet it remains largely unacknowledged outside the cult world of pulp sci-fi. Getting there first, it seems, is everything, and while John Carter might have been first on the page, it is last on the screen which makes that which a century ago was bold, fresh, and groundbreaking appear safe, stale, and unimaginative. When the likes of George Lucas have already taken us to a galaxy far, far away…Mars just seems a little trite really. John Carter is late to his own party.
To be fair, his cause wasn’t helped by the folks at Disney who despite dropping the GDP of a small country on the marketing campaign somehow failed to inform anybody of what the story was actually about. So he’s on Mars, but he is actually of Earth? He’s an American civil war soldier, but he is fighting for an army of Martian rebels? The evil empire look human but they are actually a race of people called the Zodanga? The story is set in 1868 but is actually being read out of a dead guy’s journal in 1912? Huh? Perhaps dropping the “…of Mars” from the title was a mistake, making the story sound less like a science-fiction epic and more like an advert for a chartered accountant. Then again, no film with the word “Mars” in the title has ever made money. Seriously, not one, you can look it up.
While he is never going to win himself an Oscar, Taylor Kitsch is actually not half-bad as the impossibly-ripped Virginian with good ol’ boy sensibilities and a jaw you could land a helicopter on. Actually, much of the cast do a fine job with Cirian Hinds and James Purefoy providing the kind of charismatic aristocracy you can simultaneously love and hate that they brought to the likes of Rome. Willem Dafoe brings a bluster to the multi-limbed natives, the Tharks, which helps to lend them some much needed definition. The problem with John Carter lies primarily in the simple fact that it’s just dull, with the largely uninspired set pieces coming few and far between, as if too much action would confuse the story. Yeah, right!
Blu-ray Special Features:
Extras include ‘Disney’s Second Screen’ which allows you to match the action with excerpts from John Carter’s journal. ‘360 Degrees of John Carter’ takes you through a day’s production on the set. There is also a commentary track from director Andrew Stanton and a host of deleted scenes and bloopers. Bonus features on the DVD include a making-of journey featurette and additional commentary tracks.