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Green Lantern: First Flight

Warner Bros. (2009), Warner Home Video (July 28, 2009), 1 disc (plus digital copy), 77 mins plus supplements, 1.78:1 ratio, Dolby TrueHD/Dolby Digital 5.1, Rated PG-13, Retail: $29.99

Storyboard:

Test pilot Hal Jordan comes into the possession of a powerful ring , as he gets invited into an intergalactic peacekeeping force. He also gains a mentor, whose goals seem to contradict those of their superiors.

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The Sweatbox Review:

Green Lantern has long been a primary character in the DC superhero universe. A Green Lantern character was initially published by DC’s sister company All-American Comics in the 1940s, and it was this version that was a member of the Justice Society alongside the original Flash, Wonder Woman, and others. After The Flash was successfully reinvented in 1956 (thereby ushering in the Silver Age of comics), Green Lantern was given the same treatment three years later in Showcase #22. Seemingly (but disputably) heavily influenced by E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensmen stories, Green Lantern became a science fiction-based hero, a member of a galaxy-spanning police force gathered and directed by the Guardians Of The Universe. The Guardians gave their peace officers “power rings” capable of harnessing a unique green energy that could be bent to the will of the ring’s user, giving powers of light, protection, and the ability to create solid constructs.

The stories by writer John Broome and artist Gil Kane are some of the best regarded of the era. They built a wonderful mythology that spanned the cosmos and created source material for decades of subsequent comic creators. Right now in particular, Green Lantern is enjoying a comic book renaissance, with his series among the best selling in DC’s line. He is also getting a feature film, with Ryan Reynolds cast as the ring-slinger. Green Lantern has appeared in animation a number of times before, from a rotating segment on The Superman-Aquaman Hour in the 1960s, to various guest spots on Super Friends in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as appearances in more recent TV cartoons; but he had never headlined a project before now. With the advent of the direct-to-video movie, Warner Bros. now has the opportunity to do Green Lantern right. They had to first establish their movie line by putting out films featuring their “trinity” characters of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, but we all knew that the line would really start to shine once they began to explore characters that had not previously been given such emphasis. Personally, I was really looking forward to seeing what they could do with Green Lantern.

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We did get a peek in Justice League: The New Frontier, which could in itself be viewed as a Green Lantern origin story. The difference here is that New Frontier looked at who Hal Jordan was before becoming Green Lantern, then showed his first earthly mission alongside others who would form the Justice League. The new First Flight instead quickly gets past Hal’s fateful meeting with dying alien Abin Sur and then brings him almost immediately face to face with the Green Lantern Corps, who in turn bring him to meet the Guardians Of The Universe on the planet Oa. From there on, the movie takes place well away from earth, and the story is all Hal’s.

The other Corps members don’t immediately trust Hal, who seems to have been granted his ring without any sort of proper initiation. Nevertheless, Corps member Sinestro volunteers to the Guardians to be responsible for training Jordan. Sinestro appreciates Jordan’s skepticism regarding authority, but his special interest in Jordan also turns off the Corps members, especially Kilowog, who normally is responsible for training new Lanterns. Jordan learns more of Sinestro’s character on their first mission to find a being implicated in Abin Sur’s death. Despite being a rookie, Jordan does not hesitate to stand up to the more senior Lantern, and Sinestro realizes that his potential ally may in fact become an adversary.

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The depth of Sinestro’s true attitudes, and his relationship with intergalactic despot Kanjar Ro, become more evident as the movie unfolds. On the way, the viewer is treated with all manner of battles, both planetside and in outer space. A large cast makes for interesting storytelling, with Kilowog coming around to respecting Hal, and female Lantern Boodika figuring prominently in the plot. There is also plenty of conflict with the Guardians— no matter the state of affairs, they are always at odds with someone. The only unfortunate thing about the story is that, while there are a great deal of familiar Green Lanterns shown— Arisia, Tomar Re, crystal guy, vegetable guy, etc.— only a few get lines at all. Particularly disappointing is fin-headed Tomar Re, who showed great promise initially as voiced by John Larroquette, but ultimately he had only a bit role.

Of course, this is Hal Jordan’s story all the way, and comic fans should be very happy to see Hal shine like he never has before in animation. The style used in this movie is slicker and more modern than Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier, allowing for even flashier graphics and a harder edge. (The character designs also avoid the pitfall of aping Bruce Timm’s style, going for a much more realistic and detailed look.) Green Lantern’s uniform has been given a modern tweaking, using elements from the current comics, aspects of Jon Stewart’s Green Lantern uniform in the Justice League cartoon, and adding a suggestion of body armor. While there was really no great need to alter Gil Kane’s iconic design, I have to admit that the First Flight Green Lantern looks pretty darn sharp, and definitely offers suggestions for the upcoming live action version. The redesign that I found most disorienting was that of Kanjar Ro, who is now more alien than he ever was in his bug-eyed comic appearances. Purists may be bothered by Sinestro taking on his current yellow and black costume, rather than the traditional purple-blue-black jumpsuit, but the modern costume does have a great design and fits in well with the movie’s plot.

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Director Lauren Montgomery shows us that her Wonder Woman movie was no fluke. It’s pretty obvious now that Superman: Doomsday wasn’t all her fault (she was one of three director’s on that at-times abysmal production), as she shows great instincts for storytelling. With all the action in this movie, it might have been easy to skip past characterization, or to let the viewer get overwhelmed by the constant battles; but that doesn’t happen. This is a movie that thrills and entertains, and even asks some tough questions along the way. Above all, though, it’s a tale of a man finding his destiny as a hero.

Movies like this show off what we comic fans always knew. Our superheroes can be as cool as anything when treated right. With the origin out of the way, I hope that we shall see Green Lantern appear in another movie… maybe alongside Green Arrow?

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Is This Thing Loaded?

All of the extras are shown in standard definition.

Green Lantern: Behind The Story With Geoff Johns (8:41) features a talk with the man who has done the most to shape the modern incarnation of Green Lantern in the comics. Johns may have his critics, but most consider him to be the biggest bright spot at DC Comics the past few years, and he does have the ability to hone in on exactly what makes a character tick. To this end, he discusses here just what makes for a proper Green Lantern story.

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Mythology concerning talismans in general and rings in particular is brought to light in I Am The Ring (22:31) (this is a Blu-ray exclusive). Various scholars and authors share their knowledge of literary characteristics while we see clips from superhero shows and Bakshi’s Lord Of The Rings animated film. It may have little to do with the actual movie we just viewed, aside from relating the Green Lantern character to other examples in mythology, but it’s fairly interesting.

Johns and Green Lantern Corps scribe Peter Tomasi, as well as legendary artist Neal Adams, discuss the character of Sinestro (4:01), then we get similar commentary on The Guardians Of The Universe (3:40). Johns, Tomasi, and DC executive editor Dan Didio then talk about DC’s latest all-encompassing storyline in Blackest Night: Inside The DC Comics Event (8:52). Well, that’s one way to advertise comics, eh?

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A First Look At Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (7:49) shows off some footage and design work from the next DC animated movie, based on a comic by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuiness. While much of Loeb’s comics writing (apart from his work with Tim Sale) is atrocious, this was actually a fun story, albeit with Loeb’s trademark “What the heck?” moments. The movie version looks like a ton of fun, and it looks like it keeps most of the story’s many guest stars. There are also similar previews for three of the other DC Universe movies.

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A few years ago, the Duck Dodgers TV show did a special episode, written by Paul Dini among others, that saw the Daffy Duck alter ego come into possession of a Green Lantern uniform and ring, leading to an adventure with the Corps and lots of fun for comic fans. It’s one of those projects that you can’t believe they actually completed, but that episode is here on the disc. Duck Dodgers: The Green Loontern (22:22) is here in its loopy entirety. You can’t believe how grateful I am to have this on disc. Even after watching it, I had trouble believing what I had watched. It’s not just a parody; they use the actual characters in a real Green Lantern Corps story. Just… wow.

Finally, Bruce Timm again chose some Justice League Bonus Episodes to round out the set. We get the two-parters Once And Future Thing (great time travel story, and the only League episode to give a glimpse at the Hal Jordan Green Lantern) and Hearts And Minds (the Corps vs. Despero, very cool), as well as The Return (more of the Corps, and even an appearance by the Kyle Raynor Green Lantern, last seen on Superman: The Animated Series). Good choices, although In Blackest Night would have been a good choice too.

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Case Study:

The Green Lantern: First Flight Blu-ray comes in a green Blu-ray case, a shade darker than the one the Incredible Hulk movie was released in. A slip inside gives a code for WB Insider Rewards, and on the other side there is information for downloading a digital copy of the movie. (Um, isn’t this waaaaaayy better than saddling us with a digital copy DVD that most of us will never use? Please, other movie studios: Do it this way!) The outer o-sleeve replicates the cover art per usual, but the additional reflecting powers given to the o-sleeve really works nicely, giving the impression of Green Lantern’s ring shining out at you.

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Ink And Paint:

I know these reviews can get redundant when it comes to this section, and Warner is being of no help. The picture is perfect. Every time I think that the picture is about to break up and become pixilated, or whenever I suspect that moiré patterns will appear, or shimmer is about to start… it doesn’t. The 16:9 image is beautiful to behold. Colors are bright but stable, and no signs of artificial enhancement or compression are noticeable.

Note that the screen grabs here are not fully indicative of the Blu-ray image.

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Scratch Tracks:

I love how the sound mixes on these direct-to-video movies can be just as exciting as in a theatrical feature. Sound designers at the studios must have a lot of fun mixing for full 5.1 sound. Suffice it to say that the sound lives up to the image, lending plenty of force to the story, yet allowing dialog to remain totally intelligible.

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As usual, Andrea Romano has come up with a superb cast for this animated outing. Christopher Meloni brings both authority and an appropriately flippant attitude to Hal Jordan, and Victor Garber outdoes everyone else as the villain Sinestro, who sees his goals as noble and just about convinces others— until he does something really nasty. John Larroquette showed great potential as the underwritten Tomar Re, and I hope he’s given more work by Romano in the future.

Final Cut:

Publicity for this film has promoted how writer Alan Burnett found inspiration in the Denzel Washington/Ethan Hawke drama Training Day. The comparison is obvious upon viewing First Flight, but only in the initial plot set-up. From there, we are treated to an amazing, galaxy-spanning story, with fierce battles and nicely realized sci-fi concepts. Green Lantern fans couldn’t ask for better. Add in Warner’s usual high standards for hi-def presentation, and a bunch of nice extras (even if they have little to do with the actual movie), and you have yourself a winner.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

MAIN FEATURE
SUPPLEMENTS
VIDEO IMAGE
SOUND TRACK
OVERALL DVD

 

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