John Carter [Blu-Ray] Andrew Stanton

John Carter [Blu-Ray] Andrew Stanton
Many of the special features on this top-notch Blu-Ray release of thrilling and pulpy sci-fi epic John Carter focus on the prescience and influence of Edgar Rice Burroughs's century-old source story. As notable as that is, the compulsive parroting of this information by the filmmakers smacks a bit of proprietary desperation. Yes, every massive scale space opera, from Star Wars to Avatar, has borrowed, or outright stolen, from the stories of a civil war vet who's mysteriously transported into the middle of a similar conflict on Mars. Even the character of Superman is obviously informed by John Carter ― an alien who gains physical advantages due to the environmental conditions of the foreign planet he finds himself on. But reminding audiences that this story is the goose that laid those golden eggs just undermines the entertainment value of this exhilarating and wonderfully comic production. Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights) displays a gruff charm akin to young Harrison Ford, being convincing as both an emotionally wounded, reluctant hero and sarcastic, quip-slinging lady-killer. His comfortable on-screen presence is an essential anchor point for audiences becoming familiar with the overly dense mythology of Barsoom (the native designation of Mars). Handling the glut of names, races and historical conflicts of the red planet is an area where director Andrew Stanton (WALL-E) errs on the side of over-explaining. Do we really need to know the entire story set-up and planetary jargon before the protagonist does? Front-loading exposition dilutes the sense of mystery inherent in discovering this alien environment along with Carter. In the deleted scenes, there is an entirely different and even more dialogue-heavy introduction, showing that at no point was less mythological handholding considered. Stanton provides commentary for these residents of the cutting room floor, speaking as openly (about the transition from animated to live action filmmaking) and hopefully (for an unlikely sequel) as on the feature commentary track with producers Lindsey Collins and Jim Morris. "Barsoom Bloopers" shows the jovial on-set vibe, with Stanton engineering spontaneous dance parties, sometimes mid-take. The supplemental highlight is "360 Degrees of John Carter," a look behind-the-scenes during a full 13-hour day, covering everything from catering to costuming, stunt work to stilt training ― Willem Dafoe is impressively nimble at the height required to play Thark chief Tar Tarkas ― and, most amusingly, some of the games extras invent to keep themselves entertained between takes. A little brief, but absorbing while it lasts is "100 Years in the Making," in which Stanton and the producers discuss how they first discovered Burroughs's books, interspersed with cynical audio bites from the author detailing his emergence as a pulp writer and quick looks at the various failed attempts to get this story on screen over the years. I would assume that "Explore John Carter's Journal with Disney's Second Screen" is an info-packed enhanced viewing experience, but since it requires the downloading of an app to a computer or Ipad, it feels like an unnecessary step that'll discourage many viewers, such as this one. Even so, John Carter is a well-above-average Blu-Ray package to complement an exceptional piece of broadly enjoyable and exhilarating popcorn cinema. (Disney)