John Carter on Blu-ray

Monday, 16 July 2012 00:00

John Carter out now on Blu-ray and DVDSince 1935, various filmmakers have attempted to bring the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel “A Princess of Mars” to the big screen. It was first intended to be an animated feature film from Bob Clampett of “Beany and Cecil” fame. If it had been made, it would have been America’s first full-length animated film, beating Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” to the punch, which premiered in 1937. Out now from Disney is their recent $250 Million budget “John Carter”, bringing to life what without doubt is a visually stunning new world which is obviously trying to become the next “Star Wars”.

Available on 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray and DVD, it didn’t match expectations at the Box Office, but has now clawed back $283 million worldwide. To put this in perspective, “Marvel Avengers Assemble” had a budget that was $30 Million LESS that “John Carter”, but has so far taken $1,500 Million (i.e, $1.5 BILLION) worldwide, and continues to climb. Even with this less than audacious performance, fans are calling for a sequel, and now it’s your turn to discover whether you think they’re worth backing in that quest!

2012 marks the 100th anniversary since Burroughs, the creator of “Tarzan”, first revealed John Carter and his extra-terrestrial surroundings to the people of the planet Earth. Academy Award®-winning Director Andrew Stanton (“WALL-E” and “Finding Nemo”), a fan of the ‘Barsoom’ universe since childhood, takes the reins on this first ever take on the classic science fiction action-adventure, set on the mysterious and exotic planet of Barsoom (or, as we know it, Mars). The screenplay is written by Stanton, Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon.

Without doubt, the majority of the effects are stunning, although just occasionally you raise an eyebrow as disbelief is not quite suspended – when you set the Bar(soom) so high, then anything short of perfection does grate easily. This is described by Disney as a family adventure, but one does have to occasionally wonder at the graphic level of some of the violence on display – children of a sensitive disposition may have to be made to give it a miss. 

John Carter stars Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”) in the title role, Lynn Collins (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” “The Number 23” – who in real life has strawberry blonde hair and fair skin) as Dejah Thoris, Willem Dafoe (“The English Patient,” “Spider Man”) as Tars Tarkas, and Dominic West (“300”, The Wire) as Sab Than.

The cast also includes Thomas Haden Church (“Sideways”, “Spider-Man 3”), Polly Walker (“Clash of the Titan,,” “Patriot Games”), Samantha Morton (“Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” “In America”), Mark Strong (“Sherlock Holmes”, “Body of Lies”), Ciaran Hinds (“Munich”, “There Will Be Blood”), British actor Dominic West (“300,” “Chicago”), James Purefoy (“Vanity Fair”, “Resident Evil”) and Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”). Daryl Sabara (“Disney’s A Christmas Carol”, “Spy Kids”) takes the role of John Carter’s teenaged nephew, Edgar Rice Burroughs.

In terms of the central character himself, John Carter is a war-weary, former military captain who’s inexplicably transported to Mars, and reluctantly becomes embroiled in an epic conflict as the planet hovers on the precipice of collapse. He finds himself with new powers and capabilities - in part due to the differences in environment between Barsoom and home planet Earth - and is heralded as a heroic warrior. It has to be said that actor Kitsch never quite convinces you that he believes what’s going on around him. In any epic of this nature, the lead character has to hold his own when surrounded by far more quirky and entertaining performances, and unfortunately, this isn’t the case with “John Carter”. Apologies to Mr Kitsch for saying this, but he is one of the weakest links in the film.

That said, Stunt Coordinator Tom Struthers has revealed that Kitsch did 98% of his own stunt work, including an 85-foot jump in the learning-to-walk sequence, a 65-foot jump in the arena, battling the ferocious white apes, and a 250 foot long series of jumps in the ‘Martian’ wilderness. I’m sure the movie’s insurers will be delighted by this news!

Filming of “John Carter” began in the UK on 4 January 2010. Over four months, the bulk of the movie’s stage work (along with exterior sequences set on Earth) was filmed at Shepperton Studios, London and Longcross Studios in Chelburn. Then production moved to Utah for an additional three months of shooting, with locations in Moab, Lake Powell, the Delta salt flats, Hanksville (where the American space agency, NASA, has tested robotic vehicles), and Big Water - a vast landscape of granulated shale and sandstone, set before a towering ring of red cliffs that border the Grand Staircase National Monument.

On 5 June 2010, crewmembers, working on location in Utah, found a large bone protruding from the ground. The Bureau of Land Management confirmed it was in fact a Sauropod bone - either a femur or scapula -from a dinosaur that could have been 60 feet long. An excavation has taken place to retrieve the rest of the prehistoric skeleton discovered by the “John Carter” crew.

Battling the extreme conditions of the desert, the film unit worked in temperatures in excess of 120 degrees in Hanksville, Utah, and consumed over 360 gallons of water per day. Lake Powell, Utah, the location used for the River of Iss in the film, is over 180 miles in length and has over 2,000 miles of shoreline - more than the whole of the west coast of America.

Also while filming in Utah, the film crew came across a small space centre called the Mars Society Desert Research Station. No-one was home, but their website reads: “Teams of hard-working volunteers, working in full simulation mode in the barren canyon lands of Utah, continue to explore the surrounding terrain, cataloguing more waypoints, and analyzing the geology and biology of this fascinating and remarkably Mars-like region.”

For the battle scenes between the Zodangans and the Heliumites, over 1,000 extras were given a professional, if slightly darker than average, St Tropez ‘fake tan’.

The Ancient Barsoomian typography carved into the walls of the sacred temples in “John Carter” took their original design from actual markings found on the surface of the planet Mars.  Working from the original source material, a linguist was hired to create the entire Thark Martian language, using just a few words mentioned in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels.

The actors playing the nine-foot tall, green Thark characters had to learn to walk on stilts to film the scenes with John Carter, giving the correct eye-line contact for the dialogue.

Over 120,000 Swarovski crystals were used in Dejah Thoris’ Zodangan wedding outfit, including her dress, the train, crown and cuffs, and each stone was applied by hand one by one.

Approximately 1,800 costumes were designed by Mayes C Rubeo for the film - 383 yards of material were used for just one of Matai Shang’s silver Thern robes, and the robe took approximately 250 man-hours to make by hand.

The extras on the Blu-ray set give the lowdown on the film and the behind-the-scenes. “360 degrees of John Carter” gives an insight to the daily routine of film-making, and there are some actually quite hilarious bloopers (such reels on many a release these days seem remarkably self-indulgent and sanitised – not the case here).

Both the Blu-ray and DVD carry an insightful extra focusing on the origins of John Carter by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and its influence on legendary filmmakers James Cameron and George Lucas, when developing their works “Avatar” and “Star Wars” respectively.

To summarise the stats, Blu-ray & Blu-ray 3D High Definition extras include:

  • “100 Years in The Making” (also on the DVD)
  • “Deleted Scenes” - with optional commentary by Director Andrew Stanton
  • “360 Degrees of John Carter”
  • “Barsoom Bloopers”
  • Audio Commentary - by Director Andrew Stanton and Producers Jim Morris and Lindsey Collins

“John Carter” has a ‘12’ certificate and a running time of 132 minutes approx, and is out now on Blu-ray (RRP £22.99), Blu-ray 3D (RRP £29.99) and DVD (RRP £15.99), or get any of these variants for less at www.culttvstore.com – it is also available to download on iTunes and VOD.

Last modified on Monday, 23 July 2012 09:24

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