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John Carter

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/06/2012 (3771 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

John Carter

IN its theatrical release, John Carter became synonymous with “turkey.” It was the kind of expensive box office disaster the online trolls love to hate.

The Sting

Having belatedly caught it on Blu-ray, one can understand how the movie represents Hollywood folly. With a reported budget in the neighbourhood of a quarter billion dollars, there was no way it was going to be profitable, given its dense plot, its not-exactly-A-list stars, and source material unknown to most contemporary audiences. There is also the matter of the most comically generic title since Scary Movie.

The surprise is that John Carter is a decent action-fantasy that contributes to the science fiction genre in one notable way. It gives Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs his due as an important science fiction pioneer.

Burroughs unveiled this story a century ago as A Princess of Mars. (“What’s wrong with that title?” you may ask, and you’d be right.)

Its hero is in fact John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), a Civil War veteran who only wants to be free from the destructive realm of armed conflict.

But conflict appears to be in his cosmic cards. Upon discovering a subterranean alien lair, he is transported to Barsoom (a.k.a. Mars), where reduced gravity and his own molecular density make him a kind of proto-superman. He finds a home among the savage, four-armed, tusked Tharks, befriending leader Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe provides the voice).

Carter intervenes in a battle of the planet’s humanoid factions, earning the admiration of a comely princess (Lynn Collins fails to make much of an impression in a role that should have made someone a star), and also attracting the attention of a sinister, powerful Mars puppet master (the inevitable Mark Strong).

A doc on the Blu-ray DVD titled 100 Years in the Making succeeds in showing why genre fans should care about John Carter, explaining the back story of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s creation, inspired by the belief of some early 20th-century astronomers that “canals” were visible on the surface of Mars. It also duly recounts failed attempts to turn the story into a movie, with concept art by animator Bob Clampett for a planned animated feature that, alas, never launched.

Director Andrew Stanton (Wall-E) may not have made the sci-fi classic he intended, but this entertaining interplanetary adventure is emphatically not the embarrassment some are suggesting it is. ‘Ö’Ö’Ö

The Sting

FOR its 100th anniversary, Universal Studios has been releasing a multitude of its best movies in deluxe Blu-ray collectors’ editions, and George Roy Hill’s 1971 hit The Sting is the latest beneficiary of that marketing.

That’s a good thing. The movie looks great, and it’s a treat to show it to people unfamiliar with the intricately conceived con game at its centre.

The DVD extras on the film go a long way to reclaim the reputation of its director George Roy Hill. The film was made at a time when stylists and mavericks such as William Friedkin and Francis Ford Coppola were reinventing the Hollywood feature film, which tended to place Hill in the camp of fusty, old-fashioned Hollywood dinosaurs by comparison.

Hill may not have been a rebel, but his considerable skills as a storyteller are in every frame of the movie. ‘Ö’Ö’Ö’Ö

Act of Valor

ON a DVD making-of extra, directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh explain that actors playing elite Navy SEALs could never bring a sense of veracity to a movies that the real-deal SEALs could. Hence, actual active SEALs were cast as the movie’s heroes.

That should greatly annoy the actual actors in this movie, any one of whom might point out that real Second World War vets such as Lee Marvin could play the hell out of dogface soldiers without coming off as effete, manicured thespians, thank you very much.

Anyway, any flirtation with documentary realism is decisively waylaid in the opening minutes of the movie proper when a) a full-bearded terrorist blows up a playground full of kiddies in an International School in Jakarta, and b) a beautiful female doctor (Roselyn Sanchez) working among the poor in Costa Rica is captured and brutally tortured by the minions of an evil arms dealer.

The SEALs participate in a couple of impressive takedowns. In fact, the movie peaks in an early sequence in which the good doctor (who happens to be a CIA spy) is rescued from the arms dealer’s fortified encampment, giving the hero-worshipping directors a chance to show how a crack military team handles an operation and deals with any number of contingencies that may arise.

But any points for realism are quickly sacrificed in a script that portrays the bad guys in such over-the-top terms, one longs for the subtlety of an ’80s Chuck Norris movie. ‘Ö1/2

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Randall King

Randall King

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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