As you would justifiably expect, John Carter is the beneficiary of a spectacularly resplendent hi-def transfer. The image is 2.40:1 and comes with an AVC encode that is blisteringly good to look at. It looks like film and its texture is breathtaking.
For such a visual extravaganza, what with its acres of FX and rolling landscapes, this disc, even in its 2D incarnation, reveals quite sumptuous depth and three-dimensionality. I saw the film theatrically in both 2 and 3D and can safely say that although the added depth of the post-conversion 3D was actually pretty good, the 2D option is the way to go. The image has enormous depth without any gimmicky bolt-ons needed. The huge sets and vast landscapes carry a wonderful sense of size and scale. The picture has a fine layer of very film-like grain, and there are absolutely no artefacts, or evidence of edge enhancement or artificial sharpening. No banding takes place and colours stay locked in place with plenty of subtle hue and shade gradation, and no smearing.
Detail is excellent all the way through. Facial texture is very revealing and crisp, from the intricacies of those red Barsoomian tattoos adorning the lovely skin of the Princess to the pores and crags and whiskers of the slumming thesps like Hinds and Purefoy and Strong. Costumes are also profoundly detailed, with spindly slivers of thread blowing wayward in the breeze, the coarse texture of Mark Strong’s robes, the dust caked-in to Carter’s cowboy attire and then his Martian loincloth (itchy, no?) and the patterns and weathering on the Heliumite or Zodangan armour very well defined. There is clarity to the splashes of alien blood, the flashes of laser-energy blasts and the clouds of sand kicked-up by crashing aircraft. We can see rough gradation on the rocks, grains of sand and good strong detail on distant mountain ranges. Writing is crystal-clear on paper or stone, whether it has been inked, scratched or is lit up in blue crystal-laser. The ranks of CG creatures also fare very well. When we witness legions of Tharks, there is incredible depth and detail to their rendering. Close-ups of Tars Tarkas and his entusked kind have lots of subtle texture and shading that looks astonishingly rich and appropriately “lived-in”. They don’t look cartoony. One or two FX shots betray their smooth digital origins, but the transfer can’t help revealing such things with this level of clarity.
Interestingly, the swooping overhead shots of the vast encampments or the stampeding armies, the people moving about the walking city and the mechanics of its working parts, or the aerial bombardment that strafes the scene of Carter’s moving last stand action, look astoundingly good. Their detail and intricacy is impeccably rendered and actively encourages you to peruse them.
Contrast and black levels are absolutely spot-on throughout. Oh, this sort of thing is deliciously revealed during the Barsoomian sequences of course, which are the majority of the film, but both core principles are wonderfully highlighted during the moment when John Carter walks into the telegraph office back on Earth at the start. Great shadows, boasting incredible and realistic depth, plus terrific light upon the post-master’s face, gorgeous warmth on the wooden furnishings and a sublime use of light filtration from the windows. This is then replicated with considerable style in the study of Carter’s mansion, with the golden illumination of the lamp casting a burnished glow across the desk, and then in the trading post out west, which is full of iconic shadows. It’s just a trio of small scenes, I know, but these shots show that the transfer is first rate. The blacks, as I say, are deep and strong, but there is absolutely no sense of any detail having been swallowed-up by them. Shadow-play is vigorous and very atmospheric as a result.
The palette is sun-drenched for the most part – gold and yellow. Bright vistas of rolling deserts are the order of the day, but this is not to say that the film is not colourful. Because it most certainly is. In fact, it is absolutely mesmerising to suddenly see those dragonfly-like airships wheel through the azure skies, their radiant colours scintillating in the sunshine, their silver solar-panels gleaming as they catch the light. Reds, blues and greens are bright and luxuriously saturated. The midnight blues and greys of the rain-sodden prologue are handled supremely well, and their warm summer-haze hue for the Barsoomian night looks quite enticing. But if you want to savour some blue, then just check out those iridescent contact lenses that Lynn Collins wears as the Princess. Now that’s beautiful … and hypnotic.
So what’s not to like about this image, then?
Well, not much, that’s for sure. However, I did notice a elements of shimmer and juddering during big camera pans – most notably during the shot when Carter, Thoris and Sola are paddling down the river and Stanton swivels the view from up and over the top of the cliffs to reveal the amassed army of Tharks poised for the chase. Now this may just be down the way my PS3 is handling things, but these instances did stick out like a sore thumb to me.
Overall, this gets a 9.5 from me … which comes back down to an official 9 out of 10. It is excellent, though.
A lot of reviews that I’ve seen regarding this 7.1 DTS-HD MA mix have been absolutely glowing, and awarded it top marks. The audio mix it delivers is very good, that’s true, but I don’t think it comes near to reaching the full potential of a totally top tier presentation. It certainly isn’t sensational. Though what it brings to the experience is still very enjoyable.
This definitely wants to be an aggressive and very detailed sound design – you can unmistakeably sense that - and the transfer doesn’t muck about with the source. High ends glisten, the mid range is varied and warm, and the .LFE has a couple of moments that can be rewardingly thunderous. But this is a track that attacks mostly from the front and does not, I feel, really endorse the sort of total immersion that you might expect from a brand new, high-energy lossless 7.1 mix for a big SF/Fantasy. The surround activity is there, but I was rarely ever blown-away by its wraparound inclusion and, to be honest, would struggle right now to come with any stellar details of either its power or its finesse. Aye, there’s plenty going on around you – energy gunshots skittering about as characters duck and dive, and the roar of crowds in the cities or around the arena - but nothing that carries any wild distinction worthy of praise. When the action scenes kick-in, there are plenty of explosions and impacts, and the track is very good at disseminating and distributing the finer details of spinning shrapnel, clicking solar-panels, the mass chinking of swords from the mob and the high-speed spattering of Woola’s scampering paws. There are a few effects of energy pulses that threaten to engulf you, but nothing to properly boast of.
Yet this remains a thoroughly exciting track that boasts soaring action, vivid detail and a couple of deep, grinding impacts, even if the track is not quite as bass-intensive as you might have thought. For instance, the fight in the arena with the White Apes has the mighty beasts almost bludgeoning the sub, but just when you expect the floor to tremble beneath you, the mix seems to hold back on the heavy bombardment. The big machine legs of the walking city deliver a little bit of oomph only as an aside as Carter tries to pilot his way through them, the impression of colossal size and relentless mechanical power only barely convincing. And when various craft crash through the windows of the temple to disrupt the wedding, there may be sparkling broken glass chiming and tinkling with clarity across the front of the soundscape, but there is precious little actual weight to the impact. Perhaps this is another example of Disney keeping their audio “safe” and non-neighbour-worrying. But, to me, there seems to be a sort of lid held down over the whole experience, denying it the raw bombast that this adventure cries out for.
The wacky dialogue is always clean and clear, and we can easily hear the snorting and snuffling of Woola. Cross-channel movement is decent enough, with vehicles and thundering hoofs (or whatever those beasts of burden have) following the action quite effectively. And Michael Giacchino’s ace score gets plenty of depth and passion with which to breathe and spread its orchestral wings. The choral elements that he includes don’t dominate, but they do feature an agreeable sweep within the mix.
I found that I had to crank this one up more than usual to get a properly appreciable level of enjoyment, so I believe that John Carter could, perhaps, have done better with a home audio mix than this.
8 out of 10 from me.
Providing you have the inclination, there is an app for Disney’s John Carter that you can download so that you can enjoy what’s called Second Screen which can you synch up with the movie via your iPad or laptop to discover the title character’s Journal, and more background gubbins.
In 360 Degrees of John Carter you watch a day in the shooting schedule whittled down to 34 minutes of detailed and quite enjoyable behind-the-scenes footage. The day in question occurs during the filming of the big (but brief) battle at the end, during the sabotaged wedding ceremony. We meet all the cast and crew as they go through makeup (hats off for the extensive coverage of Lynn Collins getting Barsoomed), run through camera set-ups and they have at one another with swords. The FX are discussed and we see some practical stuff – explosions and the like – being set-up and then fired-off. Stunts and fight choreography are revealed. The catering gets a look-in, and we hear from Stanton and his visual FX people, as well as the fun-loving extras (including a couple of really annoying wannabe stars), who even indulge in an impromptu Heliumite vs Zodangan footie match. Hinds, Purefoy, Strong, Collins and Dafoe are all present and correct, with lots of input from the Princess and the Thark as they go through the motions of a crucial set-piece. This is a surprisingly engrossing feature that just about avoids being too trite and back-slapping, but it will slightly aggravate with everyone being so damn happy and luvvin’ their work especially for the supplementals camera.
100 Years in the Making is nothing more than a ten-minute love-letter to Edgar Rice Burroughs from the likes of Stanton, Michael Chabon and Jon Favreau. We hear about his life and his literary talents and the effect his stories had upon these people and upon the genre, in general. This is okay, but merely fluffy set-dressing.
Don’t go looking for anything rib-tickling in the two-minute Barsoom Bloopers. It’s all cut together very rapidly and some of the muffed-lines, rebellious costumes and gaffs just aren’t that amusing.
19 minutes of Deleted Scenes come with an optional commentary from Andrew Stanton, but they don’t add much due the incomplete nature of their presentation and the rather ramshackle manner in which some of them have been thrown together. Some new ideas, including an alternate opening, are offered, but these are best left on the cutting room floor.
The full-movie commentary from Andrew Stanton is pretty decent, but it stops massively short of addressing the calamitous fate that awaited the movie upon release – and this is certainly something that we all want to hear about, straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were. As things stand, this is packed with praise for the material, the performers, the stunts, the FX, the music and the sweep of what they were able to bring to the screen. It doesn’t, therefore, pack any major wallop, insight or revelation. He does, in fact, speak around the concept the film becoming a trilogy – something that now looks very doubtful. But, apart from this, the chat, in which the director/writer is joined by producers Jim Morris and Lindsey Collins (though sadly not Lynn Collins) is more than decent and offers a good exposé of what it took to rein this epic into a workable feature. Oh, and it also provides more evidence to back my friend’s assertion that every American movie has chickens in it – either seen, heard or referred to in some way. Stanton suddenly asked for chickens in one scene, never expected any to be available, and then, hey presto, they were there and ready to act only a moment later.
This 2D release also carries a DVD with the main movie, plus the commentary and the 100 Years in the Making featurette.
A rich, colourful and exciting combination of Lawrence of Arabia, Planet of the Apes and The Trigon Empire, and very possibly everything in-between, Disney’s John Carter is sheer, unadulterated entertainment from start to finish. Of course it is camp and full of ridiculous dialogue, but what riotously imaginative space adventure isn’t? Aye, the uninformed may erroneously believe that Andrew Stanton is riffing on Star Wars and Avatar but that’s their problem, and they’re welcome to it. John Carter on Mars came first, by a long, long way, and fate has not been kind to its path to the big screen, teasing and torturing it every step of the way. There was even a distinct possibility that we may have actually set foot on the red planet, itself, before a fully authorised film version was ever made. But now that it is here, it is neither the masterpiece that fans had hoped for, and it is most definitely not the disaster that many seem determined to have you believe. It is infinitely more enjoyable and less pretentious than Avatar and vastly superior to any of the SW prequels and I only make these comparisons because that’s what everyone else seems to be doing.
Stantonably delivers the fabulous world that Burroughs created, makes Barsoom believable and even entrancing, whilst eschewing its more outrageous locales in favour of setting somewhat simpler. He provides us with ravishing visuals (take a bow, Lynn Collins) and engaging characters (take another bow, Lynn Collins). And, above all, he fashions a rousingly old-fashioned adventure in spite of all the latest technology employed in its construction. Carter, himself, may seem like every other chiselled and reluctant haunted hero, but the film still allows his odyssey to feel remarkably fresh, genuinely exciting and happily fulfilling.
Kitsch is great in the title role, although a sappy, one-dimensional performance in Battleship (now there’s a dud, folks!) has not done him any favours.
Disney’s 2D release is the more authentic way to see John Carter, and the transfer is excellent. Personally I don’t think that the audio mix is as good as some people make out, but the image is very rewarding indeed. Extras-wise, we don’t get that much. The commentary is fine, but neglects the sore points that all involved must feel at the global response to their endeavours. The day-in-the-life feature is pretty interesting too, but we could have done with a proper look at the making of the film and its critical treatment. To have heard those responsible giving an honest account of what they think went wrong would have been enormously interesting.
After one of the genre’s biggest hitters dropped the ball so badly with his hotly anticipated return to the universe that made his name, it is great to see again the genesis of practically all the heroic fantasy and SF that we’ve been enjoying ever since Edgar Rice Burroughs flung a man to Mars in 1912.
The cosmic Confederate has many more adventures ahead of him … and I know that it may now never happen, but if it does, then please let us see them in as wildly enjoyable a fashion as this.
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