**½/**** Image A Sound B+ Extras B-
screenplay by Alan Burnett and Todd Casey
directed by Lauren Montgomery
The First Lantern
screenplay by Michael Green and Marc Guggenheim
directed by Christopher Berkeley
screenplay by Peter J. Tomasi, based on "New Blood" by Peter J. Tomasi and Chris Samnee
directed by Lauren Montgomery
Mogo Doesn't Socialize
screenplay by Dave Gibbons, based on the story by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
directed by Jay Oliva
screenplay by Eddie Berganza, based on "What Price Honor?" by Ruben Diaz and Travis Charest
directed by Jay Oliva
screenplay by Geoff Johns, based on "Tyger" by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill
directed by Christopher Berkeley
by Jefferson Robbins The DC Universe direct-to-video animation series continues to earn its reputation, for good or ill, as a by-fans/for-fans endeavour. Producer Bruce Timm and company pump out Green Lantern: Emerald Knights as a kind of B-side to Martin Campbell's disappointing Green Lantern feature film--a supporting document, the sort of thing valued mostly by collectors and fetishists. DC Comics fanboys will thrill to a flashback glimpse of planetary invasions carried out by back-issue bad-guy species the Dominators; casual viewers will likely just think it's cool how the guys with the rings blow shit up with giant green energy swords in outer space.
And it is cool: The animation, carried out by Japan's Studio4°C under supervisor Takahiro Tanaka, resembles nothing so much as the fluid sensuality of Yoshi Kawajiri's Ninja Scroll (1993), with breaths of Miyazaki here and there. Movement is clean, backgrounds are rich and imaginative in the best tradition of sci-fi adventure, and action scenes (particularly in the entries helmed by director Jay Oliva) boast a thrilling choreography and continuity that's missing in the source comics today. It looks great, and in a way it's a valid primer for the cosmic sweep of Green Lantern as a character and a legacy--more so than the live-action theatrical film. But it's viscerally violent, a reminder that Timm, DC Comics, and DC's chief creative officer/enthusiastic "Lantern" scribe Geoff Johns are no longer interested in childish fun. (The first time I sat down to watch this Blu-ray, I did so with my four-year-old son. I think he'll be okay, but had I known...) Characters die by ingestion, bludgeoning, amputation, skewering, crushing in a gravity well, you name it. The blessing of the creative explosion of the 1980s is that Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and the like liberated superhero comics from decades of emotional and thematic immaturity. The curse is that this liberation was translated into relentless bloodshed in the comics of the 1990s, and there's no going back. In the act of adaptation, Timm and Johns tread all over creators who kept Green Lantern valid in the new era--twice in the case of Moore, whose stories "Mogo Doesn't Socialize" and "Tygers" figure heavily into the tales told here but are, at Moore's own behest, unattributed.
In the first three minutes of Green Lantern: Emerald Knights, a patrolling Green Lantern is consumed--literally dissolved in pieces, her head severed and still screaming--by caustic "shadow demons" spit out of a star. They're the harbingers of other-dimensional superentity Krona, who's gunning for the Guardians of the Universe--little blue Yodas from the planet Oa who exiled Krona way back at the birth of the cosmos and today govern the Green Lantern Corps. This corps, galactic cops representing hundreds of interstellar races, bear rings that harness the "green light of will" to build energy constructs limited only by the user's imagination. These typically take the form of unimaginative green space lasers.
Written by Alan Burnett and Todd Casey, the "Oa under siege" plot is mainly a wraparound for five tales of individual Lanterns, narrated by Earth's Green Lantern Hal Jordan (Nathan Fillion) for the benefit of new recruit Arisia (Elisabeth Moss) and largely adapted from one-off stories first appearing on the pages of the comic. There's the genesis saga of "First Lantern" Avra (Mitchell Whitfield, one of the best voices in the cast), who unlocked the power ring's creative potential; the quest of fearsome warrior Bolphunga the Unrelenting (Roddy Piper, the other great casting choice) to challenge the all-powerful Lantern called Mogo; the parricide committed by bloodthirsty Lantern Laira Omoto (Kelly Hu); the indoctrination of grizzled drill sergeant Kilowog (Henry Rollins, sounding thin and digitally processed); and the first battle between Jordan's predecessor Abin Sur (Arnold Vosloo) and megavillain Atrocitus (Bruce Thomas)--proving again that "Green Lantern" bad guys (Parallax, Sinestro, etc.) have some of the stupidest names in comics history.
Just as Ryan Reynolds was wrong for the live-action Hal, Fillion is wrong for the voice of the fearless test pilot acclaimed as the greatest of the Lanterns. The Hal Jordan of Green Lantern: Emerald Knights is far from the centre of the action, and Fillion's native wryness has no outlet in the role. The well-cast Moss, on the other hand, grants his pupil Arisia an appropriate, feathery naiveté. Jason Isaacs as Sinestro is basically a rented English accent; close your eyes in the scenes between him and the South African Vosloo's Abin Sur and they come across as nearly indistinguishable. The script, in this case written by Johns, does them no favours, either: Abin Sur and Sinestro's shared history, which underlies Sinestro's ultimate betrayal of the Corps, is clumsily thumbnailed in.*
That obeisance to franchise history casts a long shadow over the project. Timm is today tasked with mining this cache rather than reinventing it, as he was allowed to do as head of DC's animated TV series from the early-'90s on. Moreover, he's answerable to people like Johns, who've made hugely successful careers based on resetting superheroes to their Silver Age high points. As with the earlier video adaptation of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's All-Star Superman, Green Lantern: Emerald Knights is not so much a movie as a trailer for what you're really missing out on by not reading DC Comics and/or hustling to the theatre to see Ryan Reynolds in CG tights. This frustrates because, with DC's vast cosmology and universes, nay, multiverses of storytelling potential, this anthology simply travels old (comics) ground in a new (animated) medium, indulging fanboy expectations and bloodlust without propelling the Green Lantern legend anywhere. For a digest of stories fifty (or seventy, depending how you count) years in the making, it's too quickly forgotten after the disc spins down.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
Green Lantern: Emerald Knights takes place entirely against alien backdrops, rendering them with appropriate hue and texture in a 1.78:1, 1080p transfer. (The Blu-ray comes in a DVD combo pack carrying a downloadable Digital Copy of the film.) In a BD presentation that involves a lot of swooping and hurling, the image capably avoids the pitfalls of motion blur and banding. And as stated, most of the action scenes are flawlessly exciting. The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track throws most of its strength behind the score by Christopher Drake, a leading light in DC's animation soundtracks who lends many of these projects a heft they don't otherwise merit. Unfortunately, his work herein doesn't quite meet the standards set by his music for All-Star Superman or Batman: Under the Red Hood, instead seeming to ape the motifs used by Lolita Ritmanis, et al in Timm's old "Justice League Unlimited" TV series. Drake's score commands all the channels when it opens up, though the back speakers also get some exercise whenever Jordan provides voiceover for the individual Lantern tales. The best sound outlay for nonmusic F/X may come during Bolphunga's final confrontation with Mogo, which he is of course fated to lose. Otherwise, it's a front-loaded mix all the way.
"What other superhero is part of an army in space that fights a guy standing on the sun?" asks Geoff Johns, in his feature-length commentary with DC co-publisher Dan DiDio. (Oops, spoiler.) The two men analyze relatively little of the action unfolding in front of them, other than to trainspot moments lifted from the comics. Indeed, they have more to say about the comics they manage than the animation that resulted. DiDio talks excessively about story "beats" in a way that suggests he doesn't quite know what the term means, and praises one particular beat that Johns introduced while reviving Hal Jordan from the dead in a 2004-2005 story arc: Green Arrow asks if it hurts when Jordan uses his power ring and Jordan replies, "Every time." DiDio thinks that's a masterstroke; I think it's a dead plagiarism of an exchange from Bryan Singer's X-Men, released four years earlier.
Extras beyond that point begin with an 11-minute sneak peek at the forthcoming direct-to-video Batman: Year One, an adaptation of yet more groundbreaking work by Frank Miller. Oy vey. Bryan Cranston is the inspired choice for the voice of a semi-young James Gordon; Ben McKenzie is the headscratching pick for the fledgling Bruce Wayne. In lieu of finished video, we get original comics panels, character-design portraits, animatics, and shots inside the voice booth, where actors like Katee Sackhoff, Eliza Dushku (Catwoman, natch), and Alex Rocco lay down their vocals. The preview is standard-def, like all the extras, including a similar sneak peek at All-Star Superman (11 mins.). The recurring supplement "Bruce Timm's Picks" offers one three-minute segment and one full (23 mins.) episode of the now-cancelled "Batman: The Brave and the Bold". Two features dubbed "From Comic Book to Screen" profile the characters Abin Sur (3 mins.) and Laira Omoto (4 mins.) by way of classic comics panels. I can't help noticing that Laira, a product of the Liefeldian ’'90s, is depicted largely through a series of crotch shots.
"Only the Bravest: The Tale of the Green Lantern Corps" (32 mins.) finds Johns, DiDio, and other talking heads discussing Hal Jordan and the like in the context of the hero's journey. It even trots out Joseph Campbell acolyte Phil Cousineau to explore the mythological ramifications of a man whose defining character trait is fearlessness. Ramming this point home are recurring images from John Boorman's Excalibur, just as excerpts from Philip Kaufman's The Right Stuff illustrate the wet-kiss hagiography "The Talent of Geoff Johns" (18 mins.). The main menu contains no chapter headings, which is pretty silly for a title that's essentially a collection of vignettes, but go there to peruse ten pages of Johns's "Green Lantern" issue no. 1, published in 2005. (Even on my HiDef display, it's way too tiny to read.) Ads for DC's digital comics collection and Mattel's toy catalogue are here as well, while previews for the big-screen Green Lantern, All-Star Superman, and the Blu-ray combo pack of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 play upon launch. Originally published: August 23, 2011.
84 minutes; PG; 1.78:1 (1080p/MPEG-4); English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, French DD 5.1, Castilian Spanish DD 2.0 (Stereo), Latin Spanish DD 2.0 (Stereo), Italian DD 2.0 (Stereo), German DD 2.0 (Stereo); English SDH, French, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, Italian, German subtitles; BD-50; Region-free; Warner
*Comics fans love to gripe about continuity; find fresh meat for that as Timm is freed of any mandate to keep his mythology coherent from one dtv project to another. Lantern nemesis Sinestro betrayed his team within hours of Hal Jordan getting his ring in Green Lantern: First Flight two years ago. Here, he's right by the hero's side, with his destiny as scourge of the Corps apparently still far in the future. return