The notorious John Carter gets a new lease on life on Blu-ray and DVD (Walt Disney Home Ent.). Andrew Stanton took a big financial and creative risk, but I, for one, took the leap of faith with him. Now we can revisit the Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptation more closely. Not surprisingly it looks and sounds great in the home theater and there are plenty of informative extras, from the in-world experience to the “360 Worlds of John Carter” production journey to the deleted scenes (including the original opening that was deemed too stiff in which Princess Dejah explains the Barsoomian wars).
Stanton admitted that what drew him to Burroughs was the primal stranger in a strange land premise: “[You're] reading about this ordinary guy that’s suddenly extraordinary on another planet, he’s got the coolest best friend, the coolest pet, and he’s winning the heart of the most beautiful girl in the universe, that’s like a checklist of everything you’ve ever wanted.”
Thus, despite any narrative deficiencies and an all too familiar mash-up of fantasy/sci-fi/western/sword & sorcery, Stanton at least delivers the mythical goods: using all the recognizable iconic imagery and symbols as a shorthand to finally tell the tale of John Carter, the war-torn Civil War vet, who finds a cause and a new lease on life on Mars (or, rather, Barsoom). Indeed, the sequence with Carter on a violent rampage on Barsoom intercut with the painful memory of burying his wife and child is Stanton at his best.
And Double Negative and Cinesite raised their own personal VFX bars in terms of creature animation and environmental work, respectively, in helping Stanton pull off his naturalistic vision. Now Stanton has a better understanding of the hybrid playbook, much like Pixar colleague Brad Bird (Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol) as he moves forward with his career. And, yes, Willem Dafoe’s performance-captured Tars Tarkas provides the emotional core because the acting and animation are so believable, and the loyal lizard-like dog, Woola, steals the show also because of the elevated animated performance.
Thanks to Stanton for rescuing Burroughs’ influential tale from obscurity.