Review: John Carter 3D BluRay

I haven’t been to a movie theater in years, and I don’t intend to go so long as I can reproduce a more comfortable and convenient experience in my basement for a few thousand dollars — which I can with my high-definition, LED-backlit 3-D screen and surround sound system.

Disney sent me an early release of their quarter-billion-dollar production John Carter on 3D BluRay. Rather than add to the whirlwind of full reviews of the movie, I’ll just make one note and a few random critiques:

  • 3-D makes this movie worth watching: It turns it from a story into a spectacle, and makes up for the heavy-handed, irritatingly cliched screenplay and humorless acting. But surprisingly the 3-D isn’t as seamless as it should be: In many “outdoor” scenes that looked fine in 2-D the 3-D made it glaringly obvious that the actors were on a soundstage. Guess cinematographers still have some work to do on refining live-action special effects in 3-D.
  • Most of the movie is set on Mars, where the force of gravity is only a third of that on Earth. A great deal of what makes John Carter, an earthling, an action star is his relative strength to overcome this reduced gravity. I can grant the producers some artistic license to overplay this strength, but what was exceptionally irritating is that even though almost all action in the movie is computer-generated they didn’t bother to depict gravity as a realistic force, even though the equations of motion are the stuff of high-school physics. I.e., if it suits the screen go ahead and deflate the force of gravity, or give John Carter a superhuman vertical leap, but why not at least depict all ballistic bodies accelerating at a constant rate towards the ground? Granted, this complaint applies to a lot of sci-fi action movies. I guess I was just hoping that since the change in gravity was an explicit and central part of the plot they would go to the trouble of maintaining some fidelity to real physics.
  • There are so many trained and gifted story writers in the world: Once a company has committed to spending at least 7 figures on a film, why doesn’t it as a rule spend a few fractions of a percent on screen writing to ensure that the basic elements of story-telling aren’t lost in the translation? Pathos and motive are referenced in this movie, but they make absolutely no sense. From beginning to end it is unclear why John Carter does anything he does. The antagonists, a clan of immortal shape-shifters, are explicitly asked by the protagonist for their motives and still we get no hint.
  • Another gripe not unique to this movie: Inconsistent/arbitrary accents. The female lead sports a particularly muddied British accent. The accents of actors playing her fellow citizens, and those of an enemy human city, are all over the map. If accents are going to be used they should serve a specific purpose. For example, this plot had some easy parallels to the American Civil War and western Native Americans. Why not give one human Martian city Yankee accents, their enemies southern accents, and the primitive Martian tribes some degree of American Indian accent?

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