Sunday, September 27, 2009

DVD Review: Green Lantern: First Flight

Perhaps you've noticed a delay, as of late, in our reviewing of direct-to-DVD features.  The Middle Room, we fear, has grown spoiled, and has adopted the attitude that movies should not, as a rule, cost more than seven dollars.  As such, we have come to hesitate when first they are released, waiting for their price to fall to more reasonable levels.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause our readers.

Green Lantern: First Flight, originally released in the heart of summer, is a worthy follow-up to last winter's Wonder Woman.  Both movies transform their source material into accessible stories which shy away from the tone and trappings of superheroes.

This isn't to say they abandon these traditions altogether; merely that they focus more attention on other genres.  In the case of Wonder Woman, it was a romantic comedy first, an action/fantasy second, and a superhero film third.  Likewise, Green Lantern was more a science fiction story and a cop drama than it was a superhero picture.

This revelation raised some eyebrows in The Middle Room, and the question was raised, "Who is this aimed at?"  The answer, particularly in the case of Green Lantern, is far from clear.  Dozens - if not hundreds - of characters, settings, and ideas were imported from the comic, suggesting a tip of the hat to fans.  But many of the designs and concepts were altered into something more palpable to those familiar with standard science fiction, suggesting it was intended to pull in new viewers.

Consider the rings, themselves: while the comics pay the same lip service to a super-science explanation, they are fundamentally magical devices with nearly unlimited power.  But, in the movie, they are treated as weapons.  In fights, members of the Lantern corps are defeated - in some cases killed - as a result of laser fire.  The rings are still powerful and versatile, but they feel like technological marvels in a complex universe, rather than objects rising above it.

The makers of Green Lantern: First Flight walked a perilous path between these extremes: we have seen many movies and properties fail because they could not maintain balance.  But, in this case, the film was graceful, succeeding in using the history of Green Lantern to tell a strong, modern SF story.  While it felt more like Star Wars than the Green Lantern we're used to, the movie delivered an exciting, suspenseful experience.  And there was enough of the characterization and ideas we know and love to keep us from being disappointed.

In effect, this was Green Lantern adapted for film, the way it would be done if this were being made for a theatrical release.  While this may seem obvious, we would remind you that there was no need to have followed this model.  The assumption is that the majority of those purchasing these DVD's are fans of comics: there is no expectation that these need to be accessible to others.  Justice League: New Frontier, which remains the best of these released in recent years, did not take the same path at all.  While there were certainly changes from its source material, New Frontier was very much a comic book superhero story which seldom paused to bring its viewers up to speed.

But both First Flight and Wonder Woman felt like they were attempting something different from New Frontier.  We earlier posed the question asking about the target of these movies, and we would now offer a possible answer.  More than anything else, these felt like a demonstration of what high-budget, big screen adaptations of these properties would be like.  It seems that, in some ways, these may be aimed at higher ups in Warner Bros.

This is, of course, irrelevant to discussions about the movie's quality.  And there can be little doubt that this was a very good film, though there were a few missteps.  The character of Sinestro was a bit too sinister a bit too quickly, particularly in his constant side comments about the Guardians.  Likewise, the use of a sort of miniature "Death Star" towards the end of the picture was more absurd than it was scary.  If this animation company has one weak spot, it's their reliance on incorporating CG at inopportune moments.

But the directing, writing, designs, and voice acting made up for these minor flaws.  Like most every piece of animation relating to the DC Universe these days, this was a solid movie.  If Warner Bros. ever decides to make a live-action Green Lantern movie, the blueprint has been laid out for them.  If they are to remain timid about their properties, however, we might suggest another alternative that would put their superheroes on the big screens: stop releasing these directly to DVD.  Just increase the animation budget and give these the wide release they deserve.

With the exception of Gotham Knight, any of the DC animated movies could have sustained a big screen release with minor enhancements to the quality of the animation.  We can't help but wonder if Warner Bros. is missing an opportunity here.

And so, like Hal Jordon, we come to the stars.  While it's very different than Wonder Woman, we feel it's of a similar quality.  Therefore, we shall honor First Flight in the same manner: with The Incredibles held up as a five star picture, First Flight receives three and a half.

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