It must be difficult to go from the world of animation to live action, Brad Bird handled it rather wonderfully last year with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, taking what he had learned from working with Pixar and making it work in a live action format. Sadly the same cannot be said for director Andrew Stanton with John Carter (not of Mars). John Carter (Kitsch), a civil war veteran, is a man out for himself; he has no interest in fighting other people’s wars and just wants to find his mysterious cave of gold. It is not until he is accidentally teleported to Mars (or Barsoom as it is known) and meets the Princess of Helium, Dejah Thoris (Collins) that he learns that the needs of the many might outweigh the needs of the few.
This film should have been animated. It’s just that simple, it has a director who is comfortable with animation, a plot that could be served well with animation and in the end; it feels like a live action adaptation of an animated film. There are sequences that just don’t work in live action, Carter’s interrogation with Colonel Powell (Bryan Cranston), Carter learning how to use the gravity on Mars to his advantage, even the final fight; something feels so off about these sequences, they have not been captured on film in a way that feels comfortable to watch. The way it’s edited, shot and even the character designs of the Tharks look like they would be most at home in an animated picture. Not that it doesn’t look wonderful at points, the choice to shoot on location in the desert to double for Mars was a smart one and it really pays off (though one might wish there was a tad more of the colour red used). Sadly the locations used and the choices of filming rarely gel well together resulting in a bizarre effect.
Taylor Kitsch isn’t a movie star. He’s fine on Friday Night Lights but he doesn’t have enough charisma to lead a movie like this. Whilst he growls his way through his role, he is surrounded by very strong talent in the shapes of Willem Dafoe, Mark Strong, Dominic West and Samantha Morton but none of them seem to be able to muster up a performance that is up to the level they are used to. The plot is fine and easy to follow but it just seems a little basic. Due to this being one of the earliest science fiction stories, many others have drawn from it and this is hurt because of that. The gladiator scene feels like it’s right out of Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones and the premise of John Carter being able to leap great distances is very tame when compared to the plethora of superhero films we’ve had of late.
The film is enjoyable to watch, but with the amount of prestige it seemed to have around it, it is just not enough. There is a good film to be made out of the John Carter stories, but it feels like a story that is crying out for an animated adaptation. Disney was clever in getting Andrew Stanton to direct, it’s just a shame that they let him do it as a live action picture. It’s not a bad film, it’s just not much more than that.
There’s nothing wildly exciting in the line up here. A smattering of deleted scenes that add little to the movie (maybe would add more if you’re a fan of the books) and are mostly unfinished. The two featurettes are interesting enough (more so the 100 Years in the Making) but for a film like this an in-depth documentary is required and much that is covered here is also covered in the audio commentary. There is also a blooper reel that contains more sighs than laughs.