Director: Andrew Stanton
Budget: $250 million
Gross: $72,587,881 (domestic) + $209,700,000 (international) = $282,287,881 (worldwide)
The live action debut of director/writer Andrew Stanton, director of Pixar's Finding Nemo (2003) and WALL-E (2008).
The film's failure at the box office led to the resignation of Rich Ross, the head of Walt Disney Studios.
Originally planned as the first film in a trilogy, those plans are officially on hold.
Blu-ray release date: June 5 2012
Someday, James Purefoy is going to be a superstar.
The man has more charisma in his little finger than Taylor Kitsch will ever have. And this film lives or dies on what the title character brings to the game. Taylor Kitsch brings nothing but wet teenage panties and is the ultimate source of everything wrong with this film.
Seriously. He should take all of the blame and fall on his sword.
The script isn't bad. It's a little overly serious for a swashbuckling adventure on another planet, but there's enough leeway in the words on the page to allow for the actors to make something of the roles. Case in point, Purefoy.
His character, Kantos Kan, is barely in the film, but with every scene he takes part in, there's an infectious energy that makes you wonder why the rest of the film isn't that enjoyable.
Dominic West's performance is another strong point. He's a roguish lout in the right place at the right time to become a planetary Overlord. Sab Than isn't that smart; he's impulsive, crude, and violent. He's what you want for a villain in an adventure story like this.
But then we have wooden Taylor Kitsch, who could have been replaced with a cardboard box with abs painted on it and the same exact performance would have been produced. Taylor Kitsch, who apparently never read a line of dialogue that he couldn't deaden and turn into a slumber-inducing drone. Taylor Kitsch, whose performance here condemned this film to failure despite every best intention of the rest of the creative team and every other actor in the production.
That might not be entirely true, but I’m standing by it.
You see, part of the reason this film failed at the box office, was that for some reason, no one knew how to market it. Yeah, John Carter has been around for a hundred years, but he's not a mainstream name. He's not Tarzan. He's a civil war soldier who gets zapped to Mars, discovers that in that atmosphere he has amazing strength and abilities, wins the heart of a Princess, allies two races, and saves the motherfucking planet.
He's Superman before Superman. It's Star Wars before Star Wars. It's got flying ships, crazy monsters, sexy ladies and gents, big battles, and everything that kids should want to see, including four-armed giant white apes! So where were the toys? Where were the restaurant tie-ins? Where was Mars in the goddamn title?
Okay, that last one I get. Stanton wanted the film to be about John Carter becoming John Carter of Mars, and I get that. Seeing that come up as the end titles made me a little giddy. But if nobody knows who John Carter is, just calling it John Carter is like calling it Joe Smith. Boring and easily ignored. Hell, A Princess of Mars, the name of the freaking book it's based on would be better. It captures the imagination. It makes you think, hmmm, what's that about?
So I blame the marketing gurus and the cardboard cut-out cast as the lead.
But what about the movie, you ask? How did it turn out?
The effects are phenomenal. Willem Defoe as Tars Tarkas and Samantha Morton as Sola, two green skinned, tusked, four armed aliens feel realistic and are fully integrated into their every scene. Even the weird Martian dog-thing Woola exuded personality and he was a huge six-legged, floppy-tongued I-don't-know-what zipping around the landscape like the Road Runner.
The settings were beautiful. Amazing cities, amazing flying ships, amazing everything. The attention to detail right down to the gorgeous tattoos adorning the bodies and faces of all of the red-skinned Martians was impressive as hell. The sheer amount of thought and design that went into the creation of this film is astounding.
The script, as I've said, takes itself a bit too seriously, missing out on the swashbuckling tone that one would expect from this story. I admit, when I first read A Princess of Mars, it didn't really stick with me, but damn if those classic Frank Frazetta and Michael Whelan painted covers didn’t capture the perfect tone. And even if the film shoots for a PG-13 rating, it does its best to capture that sexy vitality.
Like I said, Purefoy and West knock it out of the park. Ciaran Hinds isn't given much to do as the king of Helium, but when he's allowed to, he also brings his A-Game. The Rome reunion of Hinds and Purefoy made me very happy. Defoe and Morton make fully CGI characters seem alive with nuanced performances you wouldn't believe. And Lynn Collins as the Martian Princess Deja Thoris is everything one could hope for in the role. She's sexy, smarter than anyone in the room, and kills bad guys with a sword and a bloodlust that was exhilarating.
Unfortunately the film has a blank cypher in the role of John Carter at the center of everything. And everything fragments from there. The center cannot hold.
There were times while watching that I was amazed that this wasn't a hit. And then Kitsch would wander onto a scene, mutter his lines with no inflection other than an occasional sense of frustration – like he's having trouble understanding the lines or doesn’t know why he's there – and the illusion was shattered.
He drained the life out of every scene he was in. And he's in almost every scene.
There's also some plot about magical energy that could revitalize Mars, and a secret race of magical bald guys led by Mark Strong. That was always a bit of a stretch
and seemed to be pushing elements into the story that didn't really need to be there. Why not just tell a big swashbuckling tale and leave the mystical stuff out of it? Keep it simple, stupid.
Or, if you're going to introduce a concept like that, keep them in the background. We didn't need to see the Emperor in Star Wars. We had Darth Vader to keep us occupied. Then, when the Emperor appeared in Jedi, he was a credible threat. If they had any faith in their trilogy ambitions, then they shouldn't have thrown everything into the first film, cluttering up what should have been a cleanly elegant adventure.
That said, the Blu-ray experience is an excellent one. The 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer is pristine. There's not a single complaint about the presentation of this film. The colors are vivid, the details are crystal clear, the blacks are smooth and deep, and the edges are crisp and just perfect. I have no complaints with the audio either. Action and dialogue are mixed well, making it unnecessary to struggle to keep up with changing levels of volume from scene to scene.
This is how a sci-fi action adventure epic is supposed to look and sound on your TV.
Audio Commentary: Director Andrew Stanton and producers Jim Morris and Lindsey Collins discuss the making of the film from every stage of the production. It's lively and entertaining, especially if you're interested in the film making process of a major tent-pole production for a major motion picture company.
Disney Second Screen Interactive Experience: Download the app to your iPad or laptop, sync the film and get access to additional content as the film plays.
Deleted Scenes with Optional Director's Commentary (HD, 19 minutes): 10 deleted scenes in varying stages of production. There's not a lot to like here, as the scenes really didn't add a whole lot to the film overall. Included here is the alternate opening, which apparently confused the execs and caused a new, more action-oriented opening to be implemented.
100 Years in the Making (HD, 10 minutes): Yup. 100 years in 10 minutes. There are actually some very interesting and informative bits here as the film makers look at the life of Edgar Rice Burroughs' and the history of John Carter in literature and on film (almost on film, anyway). A nice way to spend ten minutes. Should have been expanded to a half hour to make it worthwhile.
360 Degrees of John Carter (HD, 35 minutes): Also interesting, but kind of tiring. This drives home how tedious the film making process is on a day-to-day basis. Lots of hurry up and wait situations and I don't think we really needed this included. Although, I will admit, it made me feel bad for not enjoying the film after seeing how much work they put into it.
Barsoom Bloopers (HD, 2 minutes): I thought this was funny. More enjoyable than the film when everything is said and done.
So much potential; so little payoff.
One can only wonder what might have been if this film had been marketed intelligently and hadn't been hampered by casting a charisma black hole in the title role. I'll say it right now: Instead of letting the desires of teenage girls influence the casting, they should have gone with a more adult focus and cast James Purefoy as John Carter.
This was tiresome from start to finish and only showed any life when either Purefoy or West was on-screen. The two them facing off would have elevated this to heights worthy of the imagination that went into the look and feel of the film.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to Shot for Shot, Streaming Pile O' Wha?, and Classic Film/New Blu, all here at Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is on sale now for Kindle US, Kindle UK, and Nook. You can also purchase his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation at Amazon US and UK. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.