Green Lantern: First Flight (V)

(2009) *** Pg-13
78 min. Warner Premiere. Director: Lauren Montgomery. Cast: Christopher Meloni, Victor Garber, Tricia Helfer, Michael Madsen.

/content/films/3494/1.jpgIn brightest day, in blackest night
No evil shall escape my sight
Let those who worship evil's might
Beware my power, Green Lantern's light!
--Green Lantern Oath

With Warner powering up the Green Lantern for a big-screen adventure to star Ryan Reynolds, the timing couldn't be better to give the superhero his own animated feature from the DC Universe Animation team. Green Lantern: First Flight takes another quick whack at Hal Jordan's origin story (previously seen in the DCU Animated Movie Justice League: The New Frontier), and then it's off to the races for an action-packed outer-space epic. Taken purely on its own terms, this is an impressive showcase for the character's universe, but Green Lantern: First Flight fails to replicate the success of February's Wonder Woman at making its leading character not just kick-ass but fascinating. As such, the latest DCU flick may skew to a younger audience.

The trick with these DCU movies is to cram into less than 77 minutes a superhero's mythology, character development, plenty of action, and a moral message. Alan Burnett's script does reasonably well on these scores, but test pilot Hal Jordan (Christopher Meloni)--the man who becomes Earth's Green Lantern--comes off as a standard-issue wisecracking man of action. He's defined by his behavior more than what he says, but his unfazed quickness to adapt to the paradigm shift that aliens not only exist but are recruiting him to be a spandex-clad super-cop wielding a magical ring speaks more to a rushed storyline than any kind of psychological realism. If that inherent drama was to be largely swept aside for greater concerns, perhaps this shouldn't have been framed as a "first flight" story at all.

Get past this one not insignificant concern, however, and First Flight has a literally colorful action-adventure plot (with a villain that overshadows the hero). When chosen by predecessor Abin Sur, Jordan quickly joins the Green Lantern Corps, "an elite intergalactic force from the planet Oa" that harnesses the power of the "green element" to power their multi-purpose rings. The Green Lanterns include Sinestro (Victor Garber), Tomar Re (John Larroquette), Boodikka (Tricia Helfer), and Kilowog (Michael Madsen), among many others; each represents a different alien world and patrols a "precinct" of the universe. Their actions are overseen by a benevolent but naive council of Guardians. (Non-comic-book fans will relate when Jordan wonders aloud, "Should I be taking notes?") Sinestro insists on giving the new recruit an on-the-job crash course in being a Lantern, in what amounts to the DCU version of Training Day. (Kurtwood Smith provides the voice of familiar baddie Kanjar Ro.)

Garber brings heft to Sinestro; with a name like that, it's no spoiler to mention that his ethical compass doesn't exactly point due north. Screenwriter Alan Burnett depicts Sinestro employing torture as a means of gathering intelligence, and plotting worse for his righteous but misguided cause of remaking the Green Lantern Corps in his own image. When Guardian Appa Ali Apsa (veteran actor William Schallert) admonishes, "The Green Lantern Corps is an ideal, Sinestro. You don't save it by ignoring what it stands for," the analogy to American politics will be unmistakable for adult viewers.

/content/films/3494/2.jpgAs Sinestro's plot is brought to light, the movie builds to an extended epic climax. Director Lauren Montgomery again proves her adeptness with large-scale action sequences. A look at the film's credits confirms that you're not imagining the film's anime influence, and scenes set in labyrinthine space stations and an alien bar signal an unmistakable Star Wars influence.

Still, the core of Green Lantern: First Flight holds all the trappings of sixty-nine years of Green Lantern comic books, cheerily given an up-to-date spin. Again, heroic action tells us something about Jordan where words fail. As his power ring conjures a folding chair for a wrestling-style attack or a golf club to drive threats away, we understand that Jordan is a guy's guy who holds onto his sense of humor even in a crisis. It's this kind of space-fantasy novelty that has always made Green Lantern a distinctive alternative to Earth-bound heroes.

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1

Street date: 7/25/2009

Distributor: Warner Home Video

Warner's Blu-ray of Green Lantern: First Flight features a dazzling hi-def transfer that's practically perfect in every way. Color is vibrant but never bleeds, and detail is razor sharp. The film's swift movement never presents a problem, and the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 sound mix pumps up the intensity beyond the realm of the usual action "cartoon."

Though the extras package disappointingly lacks any content presented in HD--and is the first DCU title not to include a commentary track by the film's makers--the disc does cram in a fair amount of added value. "Green Lantern: Behind the Story with Geoff Johns" (8:41, SD) finds Green Lantern writer Johns discussing the character he knows so well, and how the film fits into a nearly seventy-year legacy.

"I Am the Ring" (22:31, SD), for my money, is the best bonus feature on the disc. It's the latest in a series of fascinating featurettes Warner has commissioned that place comic-book heroes into a context of centuries of mythology. Green Lantern is discussed in terms of his magical talisman and the tradition of rings, in particular, as well as his heroic role as the greatest representative of Earth. Interviewees include the great comic book artist Neal Adams, DC Comics Senior VP & Executive Editor Dan DiDio, Our Gods Wear Spandex author Christopher Knowles, DC President & Publisher Paul Levitz, Once and Future Myths author Phil Cousineau, The Writer's Journey author Christopher Vogler, CSU Northridge Professor of Anthropology Sabina Magliocco, Superheroes and Gods from Babylonia to Batman author Don Locicero, and CSU Northridge Associate Professor of English Scott Kleinman.

In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night: The Green Lantern Corps includes "Sinestro" (4:01, SD) and "The Guardians of the Universe" (3:40, SD). These brief briefs on key characters include comments from Johns, Adams, and Green Lantern Corps writer Peter Tomasi.

Every DCU Movie on disc includes a preview of the next film on the slate. "A First Look at Superman/Batman: Public Enemies" (7:49, SD) includes very little actual footage, but character designs zip across the screen, and the creative team chat up what promises to be a very exciting movie. Tim Daly (Superman), Kevin Conroy (Batman), Clancy Brown (Lex Luthor), Xander Berkeley (Captain Atom), LeVar Burton (Black Lightning), Ricardo Chavira (Major Force), John C. McGinley (Metallo), DC Comics SVP Creative Affairs Gregory Noveck, executive producer Bruce Timm, script writer Stan Berkowitz, director Sam Liu, and voice/casting director Andrea Romano each add their two cents. (The disc also repurposes the "First Looks" for Justice League: The New Frontier, Wonder Woman and Batman: Gotham Knight)

"Blackest Night: Inside the DC Comics Event" (8:52, SD) is also pretty cool, effectively drumming up interest in the major comic-book storyline DC is about to drop. Interviewed are Johns, DiDio, Tomasi, Golden Apple Comics GM Ryan Liebowitz, and Golden Apple clerk Mike Phlaumer.

As per tradition, the disc also includes a handful of WB Animation episodes related to the feature. These include the Duck Dodgers episode "The Green Loontern" and five of "Bruce Timm's Top Picks" from Justice League episodes featuring Green Lantern ("Once and Future Thing," Parts 1 and 2; "Hearts and Minds," Parts 1 and 2; and "The Return"). Lastly, a second disc houses a Digital Copy of the movie for easy portability of playback.

Though I'd like to see Warner Premiere support HD for their video extras (and bring back the commentaries!), Green Lantern: First Flight is another great value for superhero fans, especially in its crystal clear Blu-ray edition.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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