In the list of DC Animation's string of direct-to-video movies, the comic giant’s Big Three properties – Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman – have each gotten their shots. The choice of which character should star in the next feature might seem – well, not odd, but a bit forced. Green Lantern, the guy with a ring that materializes solidified energy in any form he wants, had his origin story told in the earlier The New Frontier. Good as First Flight is, it still seems GL’s day has come largely due to an exercise in marketing.
First Flight recaps the aforementioned origin story with admirable speed, as test pilot Hal Jordan is singled out as the best candidate to receive the power ring of a dying Green Lantern who has crash-landed on Earth (it also serves to retcon that earlier origin story out of the Korean War era). Comrades of the deceased Lantern come to Earth and whisk Jordan away to the planet Oa, where the immortal Guardians of the Universe oversee their galactic police force, the Green lantern Corps.
The “best and brightest” of the Lanterns, Sinestro, takes the Earthling under his wing for a probationary period, but Jordan finds the lead Lantern’s bad cop routine to be more than a little troubling. Indeed, Sinestro is in league with some very nasty types who have sought out and captured the antithetical Yellow Element – the exact opposite of the Green Lantern Corps’ power – and plans to scourge the universe of all evil-doers, by which he apparently means "everybody but Sinestro".
First Flight is a rip-snorting sci-fi action movie that makes full use of animation to pull off sequences that would have been prohibitively expensive in live-action. DC Animation’s usual practice of casting celebrity voice talent turns this time more toward TV performers, with Christopher Meloni as Jordan, Victor Garber as Sinestro and others such as Michael Madsen, John Larroquette, Kurtwood Smith and William Schallert. The preponderance of familiar voices is actually quite fun.
If there is one thing that tarnishes this enterprise – and make no mistake, First Flight is an immensely likable, entertaining product – is its positioning as a marketing tool for DC Comics’ concurrent mega-event, The Blackest Night, a “super hero horror story “ launching even as the DVD hit store shelves. That the next DC Animation title (Superman/Batman: Public Enemies) hits a mere two months after First Flight only adds to the general feeling of haste hovering about the whole affair. A haste which becomes evident as we dig into the extras.
Simplicity has always been the watchword for menus on DC Universe discs, and this time is no exception; simple character portraits and text - it's almost refreshing. Given that animation largely resides insides computers these days, you can rest assured video and sound quality is high.
Also, the PG-13 rating is considered extraordinary enough to warrant its own Big Yellow Sticker on the wrapper.
Disc One is a fairly lean affair, starting with only two skippable previews for the last DC Universe entry, Wonder Woman, and the Smallville TV series box sets.Though there are numerous entries under "Special Features", most of them we've seen before - the extended previews for former DCU offerings, like Justice League: The New Frontier, Batman: Gotham Knight and Wonder Woman. A new preview for the next release, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is included and Blackest Night: Inside the DC Comics Event, likely gives us the best clue as to the timing of the disc's debut. Writers Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi, and Executive Editor Dan DiDio try to talk up DC's own zombie apocalypse without giving too much away.
(Given that, to all indications, The Blackest Night is selling quite well at comics outlets... well, I suppose you can't argue with good results)
There are also trailers for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Ben 10: Alien Force, Bakugan, and, yes, Batman: Gotham Knight.
The second disc is generally where the DC Universe series have shone; the in-depth history of the cultural impacts of DC's archetypal characters have been illuminating and informative, among the best DVD extras I've seen. It's a little disappointing, then, that our major extra is Green Lantern: Behind the Story with Geoff Johns, foregoing the usual format of interviews with multiple celebrities and experts for an oral, personal history via the character's current chief writer. Ditto In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night, which has two subheadings: SInestro and The Guardians of the Universe, which is more Johns and Tomasi talking over comic art, with an assist from one-time Lantern artist Neal Adams.
As is the norm on the DC Universe discs, there are supporting episodes from TV series, a little harder to do, in this case, since Hal Jordan was dead for many years (yeah, yeah, don't me started). An episode of the Duck Dodgers series, The Green Loontern, in which Daffy Duck acquires a power ring; and a two part season finale from the Justice League Unlimited: The Once and Future Thing, featuring Jordan in a cameo. The series itself featured the John Stewart incarnation of Green Lantern. Again, don't get me started.
And oh, yes - there's also the Digital Copy of the movie.
The animated portions of this set are very, very good - Justice League Unlimited was one of the very best iterations of super hero storytelling in the video medium. But unlike other DCU outings, this one does not have an audio commentary track, which were wonderfully informative as to the history of the characters and the amount of work which goes into an animated feature, and it is sorely missed.
Also sorely missed is a definitive-seeming featurette on Green Lantern, and doubtless adding to my grumbling about this is the fact that I even find myself grumbling about a writer getting an inordinate amount of face time in such an enterprise! Geoff Johns is the closest thing to a rock star to whom DC can claim exclusivity at this point in time, and the exposure is deserved. But lacking that hoped-for history piece, First Flight feels -however undeservedly - lightweight compared to earlier discs in the series.
Dr. Freex, 8/15/2009