Well…holy crap. I must say after the mediocre first attempt with Superman Doomsday, I was already wondering if this DC Universe line was going to take off at all. Then I watched The New Frontier footage and I began to get some hope again. Sure, we’ve seen the Justice League in animation before, but nothing like The New Frontier was going to be. This was going to be a return to the silver age, with gosh and golly gee’s thrown in for good measure. My reading of the original comic only furthered my excitement for the title and by the time the film arrived in my hands, I could hardly wait to throw that disc right into the DVD player.
In The New Frontier our Justice League has disbanded after questioning from the government over their tactics. While Superman and Wonder Woman still ally themselves with the US Government, other heroes like The Flash and Batman become vigilantes, despite their instance on doing good. It’s not until the advent of a new Green Lantern and the coming of a dark evil known as the Centre arrives on Earth do we see our heroes join forces once again to defeat the forces of darkness. With near a dozen heroes making appearances throughout, The New Frontier has set a stage for the DC Universe DTVs that I wonder if will ever be met again.
There’s so much to talk about with The New Frontier that I hardly know where to begin. My mind is racing, trying to remember every detail, every glorious detail, that is sprinkled throughout the film and even after three viewings I still don’t feel like I’ve had enough. The New Frontier is the first animated feature in a long time that I’ve felt completely satisfied while walking away from. With years of mediocre “adult animated” efforts by western studios that have very little pay off from what they hope to accomplish, I’m very happy to say that The New Frontier obliterates any feature length superhero film I’ve seen in recent years.
From the start you get the feeling that you’re into something special with The New Frontier. With a storyboard type intro that’s treated as if it were comic book panels being drawn and colored before our eyes, the film does sacrifice the original comics dinosaur island intro, but as stated on the commentary, it would have added quite a chunk of runtime to the film had it been included. Regardless of what was left out in the film, either from the beginning, middle or end, The New Frontier ultimately remains faithful to the original comics in more ways than one. There’s just something about the films intro with the still panels and the like that just makes for a rousing intro to the world we’re about to experience for the next hour and twenty minutes.
Without a doubt the films strongest points reside in the character designs and animation that accompany them. While I found Wonder Woman to break model to the point where she just seemed overly awkward at times, everyone else remained dead on throughout. The costumes worn throughout are really a treat to see in animation and I can’t explain what makes them so wonderful—it’s just a beautiful sight to see after seeing the same old animation styles repeated and reused for superheroes in the past decade or so.
One thing that I truly enjoyed about the film was that it earned its PG-13 rating not because of the violence or language but because the story was more adult. It wasn’t like Superman Doomsday where Superman had the snot kicked out of him and that was the extent of the “adult” areas of animation. With The New Frontier, there’s politics involved and the mention of presidents and just a general sense that what we’re viewing isn’t meant for little kids. Although there’s nothing too objectionable in the film that little kids wouldn’t be able to see, it’s just refreshing to be able to watch an animated superhero film that feels like its written for an older audience. That’s the benefit that the DC Universe DTV line has—if it continues to adapt strong and mature storylines such as The New Frontier (and not something like Superman/Doomsday) then it has a good chance of being able to be entertaining as well as thought provoking.
Of course the film manages to pack in its fair share of brutal mayhem and destruction. Amid the adult themes with Superman and Lois and the moral struggle that Hal Jordan struggles with in and out of the Korean War, The New Frontier drips with action that is bolstered by the films use of animation that is more impressive than anything I’ve seen as of late. At many times in the film it felt panels from the comic book and the way the film plays with the shadows is simply astounding to me.
Moving on past the eye candy we also have one of the strongest array of voice actors I’ve ever heard. Despite being so used to certain voice actors portraying the superheroes we see in this film, I didn’t have any real adjustment to make while listening to these guys talk through these avatars that I’ve seen used so many times before. Kyle MacLachlan’s Superman sounded perfect from the start and Jeremy Sisto’s Batman created a deep and dark voice that I never imagined possible for The Dark Knight. While Batman did take me by surprise a bit, by and large everyone pretty much nailed their roles from the start. Neil Patrick Harris as The Flash and Lucy Lawless as Wonder Woman were no-brainers and Miguel Ferrer and Keith David’s bass filled role as Martian Manhunter and The Centre respectively made for an aural delight through and through.
If there were any flaws to be found in The New Frontier it would be the films rapid cutting between scenes. Occasionally we would be given a random sequence with Martian Manhunter then cut to another hero for whatever reason. It was done to keep us updated on each of the heroes as the story progressed, but it just felt odd at times to transition so fast. There were also times it felt like we were supposed to have a commercial break, which made for a weird sensation as well. I don’t know if it’s leftovers from working in TV animation for so long or what, but those were the only two real hindrances I saw the film struggle with. I realize a lot of the cuts were done because there was so much story to tell, but I’m struggling to write a review that isn’t just simply filled with a slew of positive things to say.
Where would a movie be without its soundtrack? The New Frontier has such a terrific and monumentally awesome score by Kevin Manthei that captures the spirit of the film in remarkable fashion. I’ll wait to expand on the score in the review for that when the soundtrack hits (March 18th), but I will say that I can definitely foresee myself listening to it fore a couple weeks at least.
The thing with The New Frontier, however, is that even in its weakest moments it simply obliterates anything like it. While I absolutely love Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, there are things in The New Frontier that are simply new and fresh feeling. It’s a truly terrific film that I simply love—it will likely be one of the best animated efforts for all of 2008, although with another DC DTV still on the horizon for this year, it may encounter some competition.
I wish there was more I could say about The New Frontier, but I’m afraid if I start wandering through the plot piece by piece I’ll be here for another twenty pages. There are moments in animation that stick out to me, however, and the portrayal of Hal Jordan and the voice work that David Boreanez does for that character will remain in my mind for a long time. Combined with the Kennedy speech closing of the film with absolutely beautiful stills that again look like they were lifted from the comic book, The New Frontier is something that will stay in your mind long after you shut the DVD player off. Highly Recommended.
Warner Home Video shocked the DC Animation fan community by announcing that not only would be receiving The New Frontier on Blu-Ray and HD-DVD, but we would also be seeing a two-disc DVD release, packed with even more extras. As if that wasn’t wonderful enough, they also opted to give us to commentary tracks. Purely from a words-on-paper standpoint, it looked like this release would blow away what we got on the Superman Doosmday DVD.
First up on this release is the packaging. A standard amaray case with the two discs housed inside without any insert aside from a DC Direct advertisement booklet. An exterior slipcover is included on the two-disc edition which has a foil reflective coating to it, giving it a nice sheen. Not quite as fancy as the 3D image on the Doomsday slipcover, but still a nice touch. The disc art inside is what you’d expect: the first disc is identical to the single disc release mirroring that cover art, while the second disc in this set mirrors the two-disc art. Moving onto the menu system, everything is static with music over the main menu only. The menu system is a variant of the single disc cover, with a bit more tan colors thrown about. The menus for both discs are nearly identical and are simple and easy to navigate.
Next up is the video and audio transfer. Those that read my Doomsday review no doubt remembered my complaints about the lack of any bass in the 5.1 track. I’m happy to report that Warner upped the ante a bit on this release, as it’s got a bit of a kick in some instances, though still not quite as powerful as I had hoped. Still, it’s a satisfactory track that even employs the satellites on more than one occasion. The video transfer is also flawless, although due to the images cleanliness, compression rears its head a bit more than I would have liked. Still, it looks pretty awesome and really shines on a nice LCD. I’m sure the HD versions of this film will simply floor the viewer—I may actually pick up a Blu Ray copy at some point, whenever I buy a player.
Moving onto the extras we find a nice wealth of information here on the first disc. Firs up is a documentary titled “Super Heroes United!: The Complete Justice League History” (41:02) which delves into the history of the Justice League through all of the ages of comic books. This feature is oddly light on The New Frontier details, although Cooke does get a bit of screen time to talk about how and why he chose a certain era of characters to portray in his series. It’s a great documentary, packed with words from a slew of DC head honchos and writers. For some reason the animated Justice League/Unlimited series didn’t get much of a nod (although there was music used from the show quite frequently in this extra). Even weirder is there are three episodes on the second disc from Justice League Unlimited, so the omission is very strange. I’m not sure why they insist on leaving giant bits of information out of these extras…they did a similar thing with Superman Doomsday. I mean I get that they focus on the comic books in these extras, but these extras are on a DVD with a film that was produced by the writers and creators of the original Justice League show—you’d think they’d get a bit more face time.
After the documentary we get two audio commentaries. The first is with executive producer Bruce Timm, supervising producer Mike Goguen, voice director Andrea Romano, director David Bullock, screenwriter Stan Berkowitz and DC Comics Senior Vice President/Creative Affairs Gregory Noveck. This is certainly a packed track in term of participants, but Noveck and Timm take center stage here and do most of the talking. Romano will pipe up about a voice actor occasionally and Berkowitz will add a nugget of information, but I don’t remember hearing too much from Goguen or Bullock. There was only a few periods of no talking, but those were often quickly remedied by a sudden burst of information about the production of the film.
The second commentary is a solo track with Darwyn Cooke. While the first track with Timm and Company was interesting, Cooke’s track is easily the highlight of the two. Cooke comes in full of information to spill about the film, ranging from the production of it, how it came about and his feelings towards it. He frequently notes things that he feel didn’t work quite as well as he had hoped they would, but also is quick to mention just how beautifully it all came out to be. It’s a really great commentary track that was just a delight to listen to, due to its highly informative nature and how easily Cooke entertains the listener with just words.
The final extras on the disc are some trailers and a “Sneek Peak – Gotham Knight” (10:08) featurette that, quite frankly, has me really jazzed for the Gotham Knight DTV. The amount of detail in the cities and character designs for that film look absolutely breathtaking. I’m definitely going to enjoy watching those shorts, if only for a visual element. Not a whole lot of detail is given about the DTV, but there’s plenty of storyboards and actual animation to view. As much as I loved The New Frontier, I think I may be more excited for Gotham Knight now, purely from a visual and artistic standpoint.
Moving onto disc two we first have a “revealing documentary” titled The Legion of Doom: Pathology of the Super Villain” (33:55) and is narrated by Malcolm McDowell. Now I’m not entirely sure why this extra is even included on this set, as the Legion of Doom had nothing to do with The New Frontier, aside from some short appearances by Captain Cold and Gorilla Grodd. It’s a relatively light featurette, but its fun to watch just for a quick history lesson.
Next we have “Comic Book Commentary: Homage to the New Frontier” (10:13) which is the best extra on this second disc. While it’s a 16×9 image in a 4×3 frame (all other extras were in anamorphic widescreen—why did this one get the shaft?), it’s a great extra that is all visual clips from the film as well as stills from the comic book. Cooke narrates about the changes that were made from the comic to the film and what things were switched around to better accommodate a feature film. This extra, even in its short run time, is worth the price of the second disc alone. It’s a really great piece that is very interesting to watch, especially since I’d forgotten that so much was removed from the film (granted, I hadn’t read the comic since this DTV was originally announced a year or so ago).
Finally we have a trio of Justice League Unlimited episodes. “Dark Heart”, “To Another Shore” and “Task Force X” have all been released on DVD via the Justice League Unlimited volume releases before, so their inclusion here may confuse some. There’s no explanation on the DVD as to why these were chosen for this set, but executive producer Bruce Timm mentioned on our forums that they were done as they related, in some way, to The New Frontier. I’m sure viewers will find the parallels between the film and the episodes easily enough, but a short intro might have helped. Also, for some strange reason, the episodes are in fullscreen (4:3), while the original DVD releases had them in their proper 16:9 frame. Why? I’ve not a clue. Nearly everything else on this DVD is in anamorphic widescreen, not sure why these episodes were chopped down. Kind of sucks too, as I’d hoped they would bring in a few new fans, but the lack of the widescreen presentation might throw some off.
The only disappointment on this release that I found was the general lack of making-of for the film. Aside from the commentaries and a lone extra on disc two, we don’t get any focus on the film itself. None of the voice recording sessions from the original preview from the Superman Doomsday DVD are included, so those hoping to hear from Boreanez or Lawless will be let down. It seems odd to have this much star power in a film and then not show them off in the extras.
Still, even in its low points, the two-disc edition of The New Frontier is an extremely solid DVD release. It certainly is one of the more packed DC Animation DVD releases I’ve seen from Warner Home Video, I just hope that they make some more feature-focused extras in the future, rather than spending an hour on the comics that inspired the story that inspired this film.
Fans of the DC Universe will find this film hard to pass up, let alone passing up this the two-disc or HD editions. It’s certainly one of the strongest pieces of DC Animation I’ve ever seen and I’m hoping that the bar is continually raised after this. With Gotham Knight looking promising, it seems that my initial worries after viewing Superman Doomsday (which, while I enjoyed, didn’t feel it hit all of the marks it could have) were unfounded. The New Frontier is a supremely crafted film that fires on all cylinders and has only a few drawbacks. Don’t hesitate to pick this one up—comic fan or not, there’s plenty here for a wide range of audiences to enjoy. This is Justice League at its finest. Highly Recommended.