With Green Lantern experiencing a major resurgence in the comics lately, and with a live-action big screen adventure on the way, it’s the perfect time to give this popular hero his own animated feature, and Warner Home Video delivers on that idea. Green Lantern: First Flight is the latest feature from the DC Universe Animated Original Movies line and it’s definitely a rousing tale. It’s not perfect, which I’ll get into after the synopsis below, but it’s definitely a movie that brings most of Green Lantern’s colorful history to life. Green Lantern: First Flight has its up and down, but it still manages to come together to create a fantastic outer-space romp.
When pilot Hal Jordan accepts a mysterious, powerful ring from a dying alien creature, it transforms him into a Green Lantern, one of an elite force of heroes who patrol the universe to ensure peace and justice under the leadership of the Guanrdians of the Universe. Unsure of their newest recruit, the Guardians assign Hal to their most-honored Green Lantern Sinestro for training., unaware that Sinestro wants to overthrow the Guardians and create a new order he’ll control. It’s a battle of might and willpower as Hal must prove his worth by defeating Sinestro and saving the Green Lantern Corp. Voiced by a stellar cast including Christopher Meloni, Victor Garber, Tricia Helfer and Michael Madsen, this DC Universe original animated adventure bursts with action-packed shakedowns, showdowns and spectacular visuals as Green Lantern uses his powers and imagination to make the impossible real!
As described countless times before, this movie is essentially “Training Day in space.” Our hero Hal Jordan is taken under the wing of veteran Green Lantern Corp member Sinestro and, as you can expect, things get pretty complicated really fast. Jordan finds himself way over his head, enveloped in a conspiracy that could bring down everything. It’s not the most original story, but it works for this character, adding a welcome new wrinkle to the Green Lantern mythos. While the comics have leaned on the more law enforcement trappings of the Green Lantern lore for some time, writer Alan Burnett is able to to make it feel pretty fresh by using that angle as our introduction to this world, and it’s pretty successful.
While the film does have some problems, which I’ll get to in a little bit, I found the creative team did a good job putting everything together for Green Lantern: First Flight. It’s a straight-forward movie, one that doesn’t deviate from it’s path one bit. Heavily based on the police procedural theme you’d find on nearly any channel on any given night in prime-time, Green Lantern: First Flight follows Jordan and Sinestro through a host of creative designed alien locales, each peppered with unique designs and solid visuals. To keep fans on the edge of their seat, most of these scene are peppered with action sequence, usually involving explosions or chases. Again, it’s the standard fare, but it’s bolstered by the beautiful animation, solid directing, and enjoyable script work. We’ve all seen these scenes before in dozens of other places, but for all of them that feel the same, you just can’t beat seeing Hal Jordan taking out a suspect with a chair constructed from his ring. That’s the way to do it! And we follow these beats as the story unfolds rather predictably, but still enjoyable.
However, as a result of the straight-forward story-telling, any character development in the movie comes from the plot itself, and given how basic the story is, there’s not too much to be found. However, leaning toward the basic archetypes of the characters does help the movie’s plot even if the audience isn’t as emotionally invested as it should be. Since the movie is pretty jam-packed as it is, any attempts to fully flesh out these characters probably wouldn’t have worked. That being said, the more one-dimensional portrayals do hinder a couple aspects of the movie, robbing a couple moments of that extra punch, but it’s nothing too damaging. There’s one scene in particular toweard the end, when Jordan comes face-to-face with one of the traitors within the Green Lantern Corps that feels like there should be more to the relevation, but comes up a bit short-handed since the audience doesn’t have that strong of an emotional connection to the characters.
In terms of the films’s overall tone, nothing ever feels too gratuitous here. While it’s still be a bit odd to hear some of my favorite comic characters spouting off the occasional bad word, despite this becoming a more and more frequent occurrence in today’s comics, it never feels like it was included for the sake of it. Same with the action. The intensity is notched up, and we get some pretty graphic scene, including one impalement and one broken hand that actually made me wince upon seeing them, but it never feels like it was put in there for the sake of the PG-13 rating. Not once does it seem like Green Lantern: First Flight is pandering to a certain audience. It’s quite obvious that Alan Burnett had a certain story and tone in mind from the get-go and stayed true to it. The film definitely earns the PG-13 rating, but nothing seems forced.
Another hindrence Green Lantern: First Flight suffers from is the same problem as some of the previous DC Comics direct-to-video animated features – the running time feels too short. At 77 minutes, it seems as though the movie is rushing to get through so much that it skips over chunks here and there. I completely understand why the creators behind the film rushed Hal Jordan into space, to give us this great big space-police adventure, and it works for the most part. That being said, giving us the Coles Notes version of his origin, specifically his meeting with Abin Sur and how he learned to use the ring, falls short. Even if they used the opening credits to gloss over all of that, it would’ve worked better then just not mentioning it. Based on the impression I get from the movie, it seems incredibly easy to figure out how to use and weild one of these rings, since Jordan seems able to do it mere minutes after receiving it. While I give props for the film finding away around the overbearing “this is how everything began” origin stories that have held back so many other movies, I actually wish we spent just a bit more time on Earth for the sole reason of seeing Jordan figure out the ring, as well as just more information on the ring itself (including the need to charge it, the color spectrum, etc.). I believe it would’ve helped considerably.
Jordan also seems to be the least bit shocked about anything that happens in the movie, accepting everything in stride. Whether it’s his first meeting with an intergalactic being, heading out into space to join an intergalactic police force, watching his partner nearly murder someone, etc., Jordan always seems remarkably calm about everything. Given how epic in scope this movie is supposed to be, and how this is Jordan’s “first flight” into space, you’d think the creative team would’ve played up that aspect at least a little more. It should be surprise after surprise for him, and it actually would’ve added a great character angle to Jordan, but this is likely another casualty of the all-too-short running time.
To piggyback off the previous paragraph, I found the film also had a few problems with pacing likely due to the aforementioned running time. We jump around considerably, leaving explanations for most of the events presumably on the cutting room floor. Assumptions and reveals are made too quickly, but the story is relatively simple to follow (and I don’t mean that in a negative way) and should easily entertain the casual fan or the die-hard fan with an open mind. It’s a deceptively simply story that does contain more than a few subtle nuances here and there. The film moves ahead so fast that it would be understandable if viewers are stricken with confusion here and there, but the rapid-fire pace of the movie shouldn’t be a problem for most.
Even though the film may struggle against character and pacing problems, it’s easy to push all of that aside and just get lost in the amazing animation. Looking a little more anime-ish than usual, I couldn’t help but be stunned by some of the really breathtaking animation on display. Explosions looked utterly beautiful, the battles looked perfectly staged and executed, and nearly every scene has a great flow to it. There was the odd hiccup here and there, particularly during one sequence the film gets slathered in this drab orange/brown hue, but this is a really gorgeous looking animated feature. Really, really gorgeous. And while I wouldn’t call the blend of 3D animation and 2D perfect, I never found it distracting but more complimentary of each other. Whether it’s something small, like the twisted look of a broken hand, or destruction on a grand scale, Telecom Animation really hit it out of the park here with Green Lantern: First Flight. I understand that each film is set to look different, and that may lend itself to some animating easier than others, but you can’t deny how great this film looks.
As what should come as no surprise, the voice cast assembled here is top-notch, without a weak link in the bunch. Victor Garber is pitch-perfect as Sinestro. Garber has that smooth, sturdy voice that really adds to Sinestro’s overall character, helping avoid any of the damaging one-dimensional trappings this character could easily fall under. Sinestro’s cold and superior attitude is perfectly captured by Garder. Same goes for Christopher Meloni, playing Hal Jordan/Green Lantern, who really seems to put his back into every single line. Meloni gives off a very confident, no-nonsense persona for his Jordan, making for a very believable character. Once again, voice director Andrea Romano is able to nail every character and finds the perfect voice for each. Even some skeptical casting, like Kurtwood Smith as Kanjar Ro or Michael Madsen as Kilowog, just fall into place so well.
Once again, time and time again, I feel the need to make note of the great score by Robert Kral. These direct-to-video animated features have resulted in some amazing scores, and Green Lantern: First Flight is no different. Whether it’s great, lifting score over the main titles credits or the bizarre background music heard during Sinestro and Jordan’s visit to a scummy alien bar, Kral compliments the action on the screen without ever overtaking it. Easily toping his work on Superman Doomsday, Kral creates another piece of solid work that definitely adds to an already enjoyable movie.
Looking at the movie overall, the pros do outweigh the cons when it comes to Green Lantern: First Flight. Where the pacing and story may have some problems, they can be overlooked (to an extent) with amazing animation, an awesome score, and a great cast. Casual fans will definitely find some fun things to latch onto with Green Lantern: First Flight, but die-hard enthusiasts may need to keep a more open mind concerning some of the omissions and changes made to the Green Lantern lore here and there. I don’t feel underwhelmed by Green Lantern: First Flight, but I wouldn’t call it a home-run smash. If I had to directly compare it to any of the previous DC Universe Animated Original Movies, I’d have to compare it to the likes of Wonder Woman. Green Lantern: First Flight works in some of the same ways, by introducing us to these characters and their world, but it also suffers from some of the same drawbacks, such as the story awkwardly jumping ahead from time to time. The story is good, don’t get me wrong, but the running time seems to take a toll on it. But, despite the flaws, I’m still going to tout this animated feature as Recommended. It has problems, yes, but I still found myself having a blast with Green Lantern: First Flight from beginning to end.
A highly-anticipated release, Warner Home Video has taken a cue from Universal Home Entertainment and has packaged the one-disc Green Lantern: First Flight Blu-ray release in a green Elite case housed in a very shiny foil-enhanced cardboard slipcase. If Warner was trying to make sure this release stood out on the shelves, they definitely succeeded. However, digging into the release, it’s disappointing to discover a mixed bag of overall quality
Starting with the audio and video transfers, Warner Home Video really hits it out of the park with the video but stumbles slightly on the audio. Green Lantern: First Flight features some really gorgeous animation and the stellar transfer adds a boast to the already great-looking movie. The 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer is to die for here, and I can’t find a single fault with the transfer. Warner Home Video definitely deserve praise for their work on the transfer, as compression, pixelation, color banding, etc., is nowhere to be seen during the entire feature. That being said, I did find the audio transfer, specifically the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track, a bit underwhelming. The dialogue is crystal clear and easy to make out, but more of the bigger moments lack punch. Explosions, battles, and the like are occasionally muffled in order to emphasize dialogue, resulting in track that lacks significant power. I found HD audio transfer did a good job directing action from speaker to speaker, given a nice inclusive effect, but at times it doesn’t seem to go as far as it should. It’s a really good audio track, great even, but it’s not as grand as it should be.
Moving on to the Blu-ray bonus features, Warner Home Video has given a nice collection of features, but underwhelming overall. All told, the majority of the features are merely promotional in nature, with a handful containing actual information. Disappointedly, there is no audio commentary.
In terms of featurettes, first up is “Behind the Story with Geoff Johns,” providing an abbreviated look at the Lantern and a quick glimpse at his personal history. It essentially covers Johns’ run on Green Lantern beginning with the acclaimed Green Lantern: Rebirth mini-series up to the oncoming “Blackest Night” event. After that is 23 minute-ish “I Am The Ring,” a surprisingly detailed look at the imagery and themes of the Green Lantern lore mixed in with actual mythology. A host of talent from the comics, animated features, and beyond provide their thoughts the key symbolism and elements found in the Green Lantern mythos. After that we get four minute look at the character of Sinestro, providing background information from the comics. After that we get a similar four-minute look at the Guardians of the Universe, giving a brief overview of these characters and their importance to the Green Lantern world.
Following that is an extended “Superman/Batman: Public Enemies First Look ” promo piece, running about eight minutes and providing a general overview of the story, the cast and crew involved, and the comic story from which it is adapted from. Standard details in the same vein as the Batman: Gotham Knight, Justice League New Fronter, and Wonder Woman promo pieces also included on this title. And extended trailer for the “Blackest Night” DC Comics event is also included. The release also includes a host of bonus episodes, including the Duck Dodgers episode “The Green Loontern,” the Justice League two-part episode “Hearts and Minds,” and the Justice League Unlimited episodes “Once and Future Thing, Parts 1 & 2 and “The Return.” The disc is rounded off with a standard definition Digital Copy of the film.
The Blu-ray release of Green Lantern: First Flight is definitely the best way to experience the movie, even if the overall package is a bit disappointing. We get a strong video transfer, a good (if albeit slightly disappointing) audio transfers, and a mixed bag of extras. The lack of commentary is very evident here, and comes as a glaring omission for the release. We do get some featurettes looking at both the main feature and comics from which this animated feature spawned, but the majority of extras here are either extended promotional pieces or bonus episodes. Looking at the other home video releases for Green Lantern: First Flight, the Blu-ray is easily the best way to go and comes Recommended to own.
Green Lantern: First Flight hits single-disc and two-disc DVD and Blu-ray on July 28th, 2009.
More details on Green Lantern: First Flight are available at The World’s Finest.