Wednesday, February 27, 2008

DVD Pick: Justice League - New Frontier

One of the best graphic novels of the past decade was writer/illustrator Darwyn Cooke's "Justice League: New Frontier," which re-imagined the classic superheroes during the 1950s-60s era - the beginning of the Silver Age of comics.

Notable for its distinctive, retro-style artwork, the miniseries introduced several familiar characters - Green Lantern, Flash, Martian Manhunter - through their diverse backgrounds, gradually bringing them together as they encountered an ancient, supernatural entity called The Center.

As great as the novel was, I didn't think it would be possible to recapture it onscreen when I heard Warner Brothers was doing a straight-to-DVD project. But I was wrong - sort of.

I was a big fan of the WB's "Justice League" cartoons, created by the same people who did "Batman: The Animated Series," "Superman," "Batman Beyond," etc. All of them, plus Cooke, are involved with "New Frontier."

The DVD truncates Cooke's graphic novel, streamlining it to a huge degree. On the one hand, it makes the movie more manageable, particularly if you don't have 60-plus years of DC Comics characters committed to memory. On the other hand, some of the flavor of the novel is lost a little bit.

The DVD focuses mainly on two characters: Hal Jordan (David Boreanaz), who eventually becomes Green Lantern, and the Martian Manhunter (Miguel Ferrer), an alien accidently brought to a McCarthy-era Earth where masked heroes like Batman (Jeremy Sisto) and the Flash (Neil Patrick Harris) are not trusted, while unmasked heroes such as Superman (Kyle MacLachlan) and Wonder Woman (Lucy Lawless) work for the government.

Gradually, each of the heroes becomes aware of the threat of the Center (Keith David), which threatens the entire world. The heroes must unite as one force to save the day.

This is not a kids-oriented film, to be sure. People get killed in New Frontier. Some of the language is not what you'd expect in a cartoon.

But the story, as voiced by an exceptional cast, is extremely fast-paced. Maybe a little too fast-paced, since I would have liked to have seen some more character development. And non-comic book fans may get lost.

If you do rent "New Frontier," watch the extra that gives a history of the Justice League first. It will give you some good background on a lot of the characters that will help when watching the movie.

With a live-action "Justice League" movie headed to the big screen in 2009, these are characters that will be in the public eye for a long time to come. "New Frontier" is a good way to introduce (or re-introduce) them.

WEDNESDAY'S BEST BETS: The Anne Heche dramedy, "Men In Trees" (ABC, 10 p.m.) returns to the air tonight, one of the few new things that aren't reality. It will go opposite a new "Law & Order" (NBC, 10 p.m.)

Of the reality fare, "American Idol" (Fox, 8 p.m.) turns it over to the ladies, once again, while "Project Runway" (Bravo, 10 p.m.) begins Part 1 of its two-part finale.


zodin2008 said...

With TV options like that tonight, I am relieved my next "Freaks and Geeks" and "The Wire" disks have arrived today from Netflix.

I will definitely add the new "Justice League" disk to my Netflix Que. I have to admit, for a while I was watching "Justice League" stuff through Netflix but there have been so many incarnations, I am not sure what I have actually missed or in what order?

Phillip Ramati said...

Well, New Frontier is going to be quite different from the JL series, but still worth the time.