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John Carter is an expensive, hugely advertised and CGI-heavy adventure film, and these days that pretty much guarantees it will be shown in 3D. Though the movie wasn't shot in 3D, everything else in the movie is so cutting-edge that Disney is promising the best post-conversion 3D experience you can get on this one too. But if you buy a ticket to visit this version of Mars-- oh, excuse us, Barsoom-- do you need to pay the 3D surcharge as well?
That's what we're trying to figure out in the latest installment of To 3D or Not To 3D, in which we go down the list of all the things you look for you in your 3D movie experience and decide if John Carter fits the bill. We're not judging the quality of the film here-- you can read Sean's review for that-- but looking exclusively at the 3D to see how that part panned out. Read below for our thoughts on the 3D, and vote in the poll at the bottom to let us know which ticket you'll buy.
Does It Fit?
Live-action films converted to 3D can be a crapshoot, though generally the more CGI that's involved, the better the chances of it looking OK. John Carter is a large-scaled sci-fi epic in the vein of Avatar, which set the standard for modern 3D, but it's also not as visually vibrant or as specifically tailored for 3D as James Cameron's film. There are big action scenes with lots of depth and CGI characters that lend themselves well to the dimensions of 3D, but also dialogue scenes set in the dull, sandy desert that would be perfectly fine in 2D too. It's not perfect for 3D, but it's not especially meant for it either.
Fit Score: 3/5
Planning & Effort
Andrew Stanton and his team of collaborators planned every element of John Carter for years, even decades-- he, his producer and his co-writer have all produced drawings they made as children of Tharks and Barsoom residents. But nobody on the production team planned for 3D. Disney made the decision to post-convert the movie into 3D around the same time they dropped Of Mars from the title, and while Stanton has defended the title change, the most he's been able to come up with about the 3D is the wan statement "I have no say over whether it's in 3D in the release of it." If the director didn't particularly want to see his movie in 3D, why should anybody else?
P&E Score: 1/5
Before the Window
This section is generally where we account for the most gimmicky elements of 3D, but also the most fun-- the images or characters that lunge out of the screen at you, proving that 3D can make you leap out of your seat. It's almost impossible for a post-converted 3D film to pull this off, and John Carter doesn't really try; despite scenes of characters or war ships flying toward the screen, none of them really pop out. To be honest, this isn't really the kind of movie that lends itself to that-- it's a funny movie sometimes, but not really jokey in the way movies that take of advantage of this are. But if you're coming in to John Carter looking for something to fly at you, you won't find it.
Before the Window Score: 1/5
Beyond the Window
This is where John Carter really ought to be able to shine-- we use this category to describe the 3D effect of looking through a window into a real space, getting a sense of depth in landscapes or, in the case of John Carter, epic battle scenes. And it does work at times, especially toward the end when you've got airships and Tharks running all over the dusty desert landscapes. But even here, the 3D feels more like a veneer painted over what's already there than something that enhances the action. Sure, you get slightly more depth from the action in John Carter, but it's often so minimal you might not even notice it.
Beyond the Window Score: 3/5
When you put on 3D glasses in a movie theater, you're essentially putting on a pair of sunglasses-- sure it'll let you see the 3D, but it will darken everything on the screen in front of you. Good 3D compensates for this, and John Carter does as well, making sure the colors and the lighting look pretty much as you'd expect them to without the glasses. But taking place on a desert-like planet with a lot of dusty browns and grays as part of the color palette, it's hard for John Carter to really pop either.
Brightness Score: 4/5
The Glasses Off Test
This is where you can really separate post-converted 3D from the real deal; take off your 3D glasses in the middle of a particular scene, and see how blurry the image is. The blurrier it is, the "more" 3D you're getting, and the more it will pop when you put them back on. As a post-converted 3D movie John Carter has the telltale slight blur when you take them off that says you'll see a little bit more 3D with the glasses on, but also that you're not getting that much. The 3D in John Carter looks fine, but when you take off the glasses you really realize how minimal that effect is.
Glasses Off Test: 2/5
Here's the one good thing about post-conversion 3D that's not doing much-- it's unlikely to make you sick either. Sometimes when 3D is applied badly as a post-conversion the layers of the images can be shaky, and sometimes if the action moves too fast the 3D will make you nauseous, no matter how well it's applied. But John Carter is much more about classical framing and action scenes that obey geographical logic, so no matter how much the camera moves, it's not going to make you sick to watch it happen.
Health Score: 5/5
Final Verdict: 19 out of 35 is pretty much right down the middle for a 3D score, and that's really where John Carter falls. The 3D is not so egregious that it'll make you sick, and not so great that it enhances the action-- it's so competently put together but also useless that you probably won't notice it at all. You kind of understand why Andrew Stanton felt kind of ambivalent about 3D being applied to his film, and get the feeling that given the chance, he'd pick the 2D version too.
Will you see John Carter in 2D or 3D?
For more 3D analysis, visit our To 3D Or Not To 3D archive right here.