New on DVD/Blu-ray: John Carter (2012)

Taylor Kitsch in John Carter (2012) Movie Image

Here’s a secret: Andrew Stanton’s “John Carter” is not nearly as bad as people would like you to think. In fact, it’s a very entertaining movie, with great special effects and a grand sense of adventure that is hard to resist. The film was a labor of love for first-time director Andrew Stanton, and it shows onscreen. Shake off all those reports of behind-the-scenes turmoil surrounding the film, and what you’re left with is a fun movie that really doesn’t deserve all the negative attention it’s gotten. If you decided to skip the movie when it opened earlier this year in theaters, here’s your chance to rectify that mistake, when “John Carter” arrives on DVD and Blu-ray courtesy of Walt Disney Video this June 5th, 2012.

From Academy Award(R)-winning filmmaker Andrew Stanton (Best Animated Film, Wall-E, 2008) comes John Carter — a sweeping action-adventure set on the mysterious and exotic planet of Barsoom (Mars). Based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’s classic novel, John Carter is a war-weary, former military captain who’s inexplicably transported to Mars and reluctantly becomes embroiled in an epic conflict. It’s a world on the brink of collapse, and Carter rediscovers his humanity when he realizes the survival of Barsoom and its people rests in his hands. Stunning special effects, great characters and villains — and complete with extraordinary bonus features — John Carter is a heroic and inspirational adventure that will thrill you beyond imagination.

Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote it decades ago, and unfortunately for Andrew Stanton, making his live-action feature film debut on “John Carter”, George Lucas already raided the Burroughs library for his first three “Star Wars” films. Even so, Stanton manages to put enough of an original spin on some familiar action set pieces to set “John Carter” apart.

Taylor Kitsch stars as John Carter, a former Confederate soldier trying desperately to find meaning in digging for gold in the American Southwest. When he’s approached by a local Union Captain to take on a Army commission to help fight Indians, Carter declines. After the death of his wife and child, Carter wants nothing to do with fighting. Unfortunately for him, saying No and staying out of it is easier said than done. Soon, Carter is on the run, and finds shelter in a mysterious cave where, as luck would have it, he discovers an amulet that sends him to Mars. Or Barsoom, as the locals call it.

Yup, Carter is essentially transported from one planet to another. Or, as we come to learn, only a copy of him was transported. Or something like that. Honestly, the film doesn’t really dive too much into this, so let’s just go with that explanation. Not that what happens to Carter’s body back on Earth matters much. Soon, Carter discovers that because of Mars’ gravity, he can jump like the Hulk and is much stronger than he used to be. Carter also befriends the leader of the Tharks, 8-foot tall Martians with six limbs. The Tharks are trying to stay out of an ongoing civil war between the human-like Red Martians. Carter wants nothing to do with the fighting, too; that is, until he rescues the comely Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), a Martian Princess who is fleeing an arranged marriage (I guess you can’t blame the guy here; Lynn Collins is quite the dish). The rest, as they say, is history.

Lynn Collins and Taylor Kitsch in John Carter (2012) Movie Image

A word of warning to the parents out there: “John Carter” is a lot more violent than you were probably expecting. The Martians use a combination of old-school firearms and bladed weapons, and are not shy about slicing, decapitating, and de-limbing each other throughout the movie. There is one sequence where Carter literally slaughters an entire army of Tharks. The film gets away with the CG slaughter thanks to, well, the fact that the Tharks are all CG and they spill green blood. At one point, Carter is literally drenched in the blue blood of some apes he’s just gutted. So yeah, be forewarned, parents.

The special effects are really good, and the Tharks are excellently rendered, and provide the film with a lot of amusing moments. Taylor Kitsch’s John Carter probably forgets his supposedly world-shattering grief way too soon once he lays eyes on Dejah, but that’s probably director Andrew Stanton’s fault. The guy is used to working with CGI characters, after all, and no doubt he spent most of his time trying to get the film’s many action set pieces just right. He definitely gets high marks for that, so if spectacle is what you’re after, “John Carter” absolutely delivers. You can see where all the film’s budget went; it’s too hard Mars makes for such lifeless scenery. The Martian airships are cool, though, and so are their retro, almost steam punk-inspired tech.

Taylor Kitsch in John Carter (2012) Movie Image

The Blu-ray combo pack comes with two discs, Blu-ray and standard DVD. Special features include:

- Second Screen: explore more of the movie through an app while watching it. This is probably a very groovy new feature, but honestly, it’s not exactly something I want to be doing while watching a movie. I guess once you’ve already seen the film once or twice, this could become a nice add-on experience.

- 100 Years in the Making: a 10-minute documentary about the life and times of John Carter creator/author Edgar Rice Burroughs, including interviews with Stanton, Jon Favreau (who was supposed to make his own version of the movie once upon a time), and others. Ten minutes is of course not nearly enough time to cover the man’s life, but it does give you a great idea of how he got started. Fun fact: Burroughs was so mortified at the prospect of being known as the writer of John Carter’s Martian adventures, that he published them under a pen name.

- Deleted Scenes: nearly 20 minutes of deleted scenes, with optional commentary by director Andrew Stanton. The scenes are in various stages, from completed scenes to ones that never made it past the storyboards. The most important deleted scene is probably an alternate opening with Dejah Thoris giving a speech that sets up the film’s civil war plot, along with Dejah’s invention, which really didn’t get much screentime in the movie.

- 360 Degrees of John Carter: a 35-minute documentary on all the behind-the-scenes stuff that goes into making a big-budget Hollywood event film. In a word: huge. Once you’ve seen making-of stuff like this, it’s pretty easy to understand why these movies cost hundreds of millions to make. They basically become their own mini-worlds, complete with highly specialized citizenry.

- Barsoom Bloopers: Two minutes of goofs, gaffes, flubs, and pranks.

- Audio Commentary: Director Andrew Stanton and producers Jim Morris and Lindsey Collins (not to be confused with actress Lynn Collins). In short, Stanton really, really wanted to make this movie.

The standard DVD disc also includes audio commentary and the “100 Years in the Making” documentary.

Buy “John Carter” on DVD or Blu-ray June 5th, 2012 from Walt Disney Video.

John Carter (2012) Movie Blu-ray Cover