Disney adapted the 100-year-old story “The Princess of Mars” to film with the nondescript title “John Carter.” The film was perceived as a box-office failure, but it’s got quite a bit to recommend it, especially to fans of the book.
“The Princess of Mars” is the first story featuring former Confederate captain John Carter; it appeared in the pulp magazine All-Story in 1912. It was written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, known for creating Tarzan.
After the Civil War, Carter has become a prospector, seeking gold in the caves of Arizona.
He awakens 48 million miles away on Mars, called “Barsoom” by the natives. The lesser gravity of the planet gives him powers beyond those of the natives. Despite this, he’s outnumbered and taken captive by the Tharks, a fierce, six-limbed race. Willem Dafoe voices the CGI Tars Tarkas, who leads the Tharks.
Carter’s tenacity eventually wins over the Tharks, and wins him the heart of the red-skinned Princess of Helium, Dejah Thoris. Dejah’s people are in trouble, her city-state near being conquered by their enemies the Zodangas. Dejah is promised in marriage to Zodanga leader Sab Than (Dominic West), himself under the control of the Therns, a sneaky race with access to advanced technology manipulating all sides for their own interests.
Despite leaving his planet and its conflicts behind, John Carter finds himself drawn into another war.
The film is epic, visually appealing, and enjoyable, despite the rough box-office reception.
Kitsch is a little too bland as Carter, though Lynn Collins is sizzling as Dejah Thoris. And the pacing is uneven in places. But “John Carter” plays largely true to its source material, which could have been part of its box-office problem. “John Carter” will come off as derivative to modern audiences precisely because it was so influential — everything from Superman to “Star Wars” to “Avatar” owes something to it.
Extras on the Blu-ray include audio commentary, featurettes, bloopers and deleted scenes. The Blu-ray also contains a “Disney Second Screen” that allows viewers to explore John Carter’s journal to find out more about the mythology of the movie; and “360 Degrees of John Carter” which takes viewers through multiple aspects of the filmmaking process.
— Matthew Price
From Friday’s The Oklahoman