I didn’t get a chance to see John Carter in the theaters, but by box-office accounts, I wasn’t the only one. Panned for multiple reasons, Disney’s John Carter left theaters pretty quickly — to the point that one of Disney’s highest executives resigned — and then promptly released on Blu-ray 3D. Curious rubberneckers suddenly had the chance to watch John Carter for themselves, without fear of being seen by friends, to either look at the trainwreck or question what all the trashing was for. Having watched John Carter on Blu-ray 3D, I find myself somewhere in the middle of those two sentiments. No, the story isn’t exactly stellar, but the 3D effects are actually quite good in spots, making this a film worth seeing on Blu-ray 3D if you haven’t done so already.
I won’t rehash the plot too much here, both because there are much-longer film reviews that will do that for you, and because the plot itself could easily be labeled a “rehash.” Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version: a guy named John Carter who lives in the U.S. Civil War era is inadvertently transported to a futuristic vision of Mars, where he finds himself embroiled in another sort of civil war. During the course of his time there, he falls in love, but just before everything ends happily ever after, he’s transported back to his era and loses his love forever. Or does he? I’m not going to spoil everything here. At any rate, it’s really hard to follow the film, there’s little connection to the characters even after 30 minutes, and it doesn’t have enough sci-fi oomph to really entice the machismo side of the brain rather than the narrative one. The film does follow some funny parallels with Dances with Wolves, though, which is hilarious because the role of “Indian” is played by aliens.
As for the 3D, John Carter kicks off with a bang. The opening sequence with an airship battle looks great, with ships darting in and out of obstacles and presenting a great 3D effect. Once they hit the sandstorm, the scene loses some of its sense of depth because the sand in the sky eats away at the distance between objects. The depth comes back pretty fast, though, once you hit the opening credits, whose animations and constellation-like maps have more depth than even that opening sequence. If Blu-ray 3D films won awards for opening cinematic depth, John Carter would win the 3D Oscar.
Interestingly, the film breaks some 3D conventions in a few areas, though not necessarily in a good way. When John Carter first arrives on Mars and struggles to acclimate to the low-g environment, he stumbles through the air in a pseudo-flying motion. Normally, the best 3D effects in a Blu-ray 3D film happen when an object exists entirely within the frame of the screen, thus appearing to float unimpeded in front of the rest of the background. Although that’s the case in this sequence, this early scene actually has the least amount of depth in the first 20 minutes of the film. I chalked it up originally to a monochromatic background, but watching it again, I can’t quite put my finger on it.
This lack of depth appears again later, although the explanation is a bit easier. In this scene, the Jeddak of Helium is speaking with his daughter. The camera angle clearly places both characters well within the confines of the frame, but the background is so obviously green-screened that the depth is lost entirely.
Generally speaking, though, the 3D effects are great. Some of John Carter’s best 3D effects come in one of the film’s most rapid-fire sequences, when John Carter, Sora and Princess Deja are traveling to the River Iss and the camera pans over the landscape. The desert environs mixed with computer-generated ruins dotting the sands look lifelike in both quality and depth, and it connotes a sense of place better than any singular instance in the rest of the film. Unfortunately, the scenes are far too brief, lasting no more than two seconds per pan of the camera. Extending the scenes would’ve made zero sense whatsoever, but from a 3D perspective, it would’ve been nice to see those sequences lengthened considerably. Now, once they’re at the River Iss, the slot canyon imagery and perspective of the boat going through the river is phenomenal, reminiscent of the outstanding Grand Canyon Adventure Blu-ray 3D I reviewed in November 2010.
During a climactic monologue-type scene later in the film that explains the backstory, the camera pans around the actors showing the city and world in the background. The dimensionality of this scene is remarkable, and although you can definitely tell the background was CG, it still looks great, albeit a bit “separate” from the real-life actors. The climactic battle scene is absolutely epic as well, with a large-scale field of war, flying aircraft, gunfire, swordfighting, and generally solid 3D throughout.
On the whole, I recommend the John Carter Blu-ray 3D for its execution, even though some of the people who saw it in theaters might suggest otherwise. Plus, if you get it now, you’ll get a great last-minute preview of Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie, which hits theaters in October. The film looks to be fantastically funny, and the preview makes great use of 3D to boot.
Buy John Carter on Blu-ray 3D from Amazon.com using this link: John Carter (Four-Disc Combo: Blu-ray 3D/Blu-ray/DVD + Digital Copy).
– Jonas Allen