Review by KC Carlson
This has really been Green Lantern’s year. His ongoing comic book is one of DC Comics’ top titles; he’s starring in this year’s DC Big Event, Blackest Night; actor Ryan Reynolds has just been announced to play GL in 2011’s big-screen theatrical release; and he’s debuting in the full-length animated feature Green Lantern: First Flight.
GL: First Flight is great fun and extremely well-done — one of the best films in this series of DC Universe original movies. (Only Justice League: The New Frontier tops it.) Yet the DVD package itself is not as good, with skimpy original extras and next to nothing about the film itself. A frustrating situation for such a good film, and disappointing in comparison to previous releases in this great series of animated films.
The Good Stuff
As the title implies, GL: First Flight is the Secret Origin of Hal Jordan as he becomes a Green Lantern. It also investigates the fascinating relationship between Hal and his trainer, Sinestro, the so-called “greatest Green Lantern of them all”. He’s ultimately destined to become so much more and affect Hal’s entire career as a GL. Screenwriter Alan Burnett (many, many DC animated projects) has built his screenplay around developments between Hal and Sinestro that have been presented in the comics over many decades and yet made the material seem fresh with new twists and turns aplenty of his own to add to the mix.
It’s very difficult to discuss the actual plot of the film without giving up some of the more delicious twists, betrayals, and seeming impossibilities that Hal and the other members of the intergalactic Green Lantern Corps must overcome to prevent the destruction of the Corps itself, as well as their mysterious leaders, the Guardians of the Universe. But suffice to say if you want cosmic intrigue, impossible-to-win battles, heroic sacrifice, over-the-top fight scenes, and more, it is all here, and all handled with great style and power.
Besides Hal (voiced by Christopher Meloni — Law & Order: SVU) and Sinestro (Victor Garber — Alias, Eli Stone), the other main characters include GLs Boodikka (Tricia Helfer — Battlestar Galactica), Kilowog (Michael Madsen — Reservoir Dogs), Tomar Re (John Larroquette — Night Court, Boston Legal), bad guy Kanjar Ro (Kurtwood Smith — That 70s Show, 24), and Guardians Appa Ali Apsa (William Schallert — hundreds of things, including The Patty Duke Show) and Ganthet (Larry Drake — L.A. Law and much voice work). There are smaller roles for many other GLs throughout the film, including fan favorites Ch’p and Arisia. The Weaponers of Qward also appear. And your trivia-nerd credit for the film is: Bruce Timm plays Bug Boy.
All of the voice work is great. Bonus points for Victor Garber, who summons up that wonderful evil, holier-than-thou voice for Sinestro, which made him such a great prick of a father to Sydney Bristow. Also, points for William Schallert for sounding like a Guardian who’s probably millions of years old. Wonderful casting! My only (minor) disappointment with the voices was Christopher Meloni — normally one of my favorite actors — but here I thought that he played Hal just a little too laid-back. He also doesn’t scream all that well, something really needed here, as the story really puts Hal through some hell. Or maybe he was just overshadowed by Garber’s performance.
First Flight was directed by Lauren Montgomery, who also directed Wonder Woman and Superman/Doomsday. I thought the direction here was a big improvement over Wonder Woman, as this is a visually stunning film, with many breathtaking spacescapes and settings throughout. The opening sequence and credits are especially impressive. I still have some trouble with some of the human designs here (I think the heads are too elongated and the faces a little too chiseled), but that’s not as noticeable here, in a film full of alien beings, most of which are very well-designed. The notable exceptions are the re-designs for both Abin Sur and Kanjar Ro (who now looks more fish-like than bug-like). I don’t really see the need to re-design them, but then again, they keep messing with Kanjar Ro in the comics — still not successfully — so why not?
(Frankly, I don’t understand the desire to move away from Bruce Timm’s designs for these movies. Timm brought something unique and special to the animated TV series he worked on. Often, the designs of these animated films look more superhero-generic and like a lot of other action series animation. I suspect new directors/designers want the opportunity to “make their mark” on their films, but I believe that the Timm designs were one of the key reasons the TV series were so hugely popular and still highly thought of today.)
Despite these minor reservations, I felt that Green Lantern: First Flight was a more-than-worthy addition to the growing ranks of DC animated films. And here’s my vote for more films starring characters other than Superman and Batman (although the upcoming Public Enemies sounds pretty good and has a lot of great guest stars!).
The packaging for the DVD states that there are “over 2 1/2 hours of extras”. Technically true. But if you are a regular purchaser of DC Universe animated DVDs, you’ll find that the total amount of new, original material is only about 30 minutes — with an extra 22 minutes if you’re feeling generous and include the new-to-DVD episode of Duck Dodgers which features Hal Jordan, Sinestro, and many of the Green Lantern Corps and Guardians. Sadly, none of the original bonus material has much (or anything) to do with the GL: First Flight feature. There is no commentary at all, nor any “Making Of” featurettes. There is actually more about the making of this feature on the previous Wonder Woman DVD (an Exclusive First Look) than there is here.
Many of the extras on this disc are specifically intended to get you to buy other DC DVDs, especially the inclusion of the previously available “Making Of” featurettes for the previous three DC animated films (Justice League: The New Frontier, Batman: Gotham Knight, and Wonder Woman).
Also previously presented on DVD (on the Justice League Unlimited Season 1 set) are two Bruce Timm Presents episodes, The Once and Future Thing, Parts 1 and 2. Two of the best — and quirkiest — stand-alone episodes of the series, Part 1 has Batman, Wonder Woman, and GL John Stewart traveling to the Old West to meet Jonah Hex, Bat Lash, El Diablo, and Sheriff Ohiyesa Smith (formerly known as Pow Wow Smith). Part 2 finds the Leaguers in the future meeting the Batman Beyond cast, as well as an aged Static, and John Stewart learns that he is destined to be a father. The two episodes are presented “as is”, with no additional introductions or commentary by Timm.
So what is new? There’s an eight-minute preview of this fall’s Superman/Batman: Public Enemies release. It shows very little completed animation but includes sound bites with most of the impressive voice cast. Tim Daly, Kevin Conroy, and Clancy Brown are back as Superman, Batman, and Lex Luthor, respectively. (Longtime Warner Bros. Voice Casting Director Andrea Romano sounds very relieved!) The preview shows all three voice leads in the booth at the same time — rare for these kinds of projects! Public Enemies is written by Stan Berkowitz (Justice League: The New Frontier) and directed by Sam Liu (The Batman), based on the Superman/Batman story arc by Jeff Loeb and Ed McGuinness.
Blackest Night: Inside the DC Comics Event (9 minutes) features writer Geoff Johns, executive editor Dan DiDio, and writer Pete Tomasi discussing the GL-centric event currently appearing at your local comics shop. Green Lantern: Behind the Story With Geoff Johns (8 minutes) is pretty much exactly what is says it is, except most of the focus is on Johns talking about writing the comic and working with his collaborators, with a brief mention about working with film director Richard Donner. There are also two very brief (4 minutes each) profiles on Sinestro and the Guardians of the Universe with comments by Johns, Tomasi, and Neal Adams (excellent to see him included, but kind of wasted here). These come across as electronic press kit sound bite promo clips. There’s not much to sink your teeth into if you’re looking for a good documentary on the rich history of Green Lantern. Sadly, there’s not one here.
And that’s it for the new stuff, except for the goofy fun Duck Dodgers episode. (I love the way Dodgers keeps messing up the GL Oath: “In happy days, In tightest tights…”) I suspect that hardcore GL folks will be scratching their heads at the silliness of it all. Dodgers ends up with the GL outfit and ring (in the pocket) after a mix-up at the dry cleaners. Yes, Hal has his uniform dry-cleaned — and at the same place where Daffy Duck has his laundry done! I loved it! And Warners, where are those Duck Dodgers DVD season sets?
The skimpiness of this set has my head scratching! The movie is great, but the not-as-great-as-usual package makes me think that it was rush-released to make the San Diego Comicon deadline. Say it ain’t so, DC/Warner!
But wait! There’s more! (But just for some of you!) There’s also the now obligatory inclusion of a “secret code” for a free digital download. But take note, Apple Mac and iPod users — it’s for Windows users only. It’s interesting to note that the digital copy of the previous DC animated film Wonder Woman was Mac-compatible. (sigh)
Given this, if you want to see the film, the single-disc edition may be perfectly satisfactory, unless this is your first DC animated purchase. Green Lantern: First Flight is also available on Blu-ray.
(A complimentary DVD copy for this review was provided by the studio.)