In Brightest Day

17-Jun-11 10:51 AM by
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This is a day that will be long remembered: the release of a highly anticipated film adaptation of one of the most popular comic books ever.

When I started reading comics in 1996, I was immediately drawn to a superhero I wasn't very familiar with. His abilities and adventures were stunning and made me an instant fan. I've long hoped to see him brought to life by Nathan Fillion, and someone in power must've seen the fan trailer that demonstrated the power of that union, as he's been cast in a direct-to-DVD animated film. But the live action take on this storied character debuts today with an entirely different cast:

Yes, I want to see Green Lantern — but the casting and the reception have both been poor. So I'm psyched to see the perennial favorites from Sesame Street ride the wave of public awareness to promote their upcoming film. The above is one of many misleading trailers that suggest terrible films in alternative genres. Here's the romantic comedy approach:

SImply named The Muppets, the film returns Jim Henson's creations to the silver screen on November 23, 2011.

DC Superheroes Duke It Out on DVD

06-Apr-10 1:03 PM by
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DC, the animation house responsible for Batman and Superman, have in the last few years brought their stable of superheroes to life in a series of direct-to-DVD feature films. From the aforementioned mainstays to less popular heroes Wonder Woman and Green Lantern, each has gotten a crack at the spotlight. But despite extended length compared with their television series and PG-13 ratings, I found that two recent installments don't always do their heroes justice.

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is based on the first six issues of the Superman/Batman comic book that launched in 2003. When Lex Luthor is elected president, one of his first acts is to declare his two arch-nemeses enemies of the state. With villains out to collect the bounty and vigilantes-turned-soldiers determined to follow the letter of the law, Batman and Superman have few places left to turn.

The plot consists mostly of blows being traded among a cavalcade of DC superheroes. While this who's-who of the DCU can be fun for fans of the comics, it doesn't leave much room for character development. There are a few insightful moments, be it in dialogue or in cooperative battle tactics, that reveal Superman and Batman's relationship and ability to work as a team, but mostly it's just one action scene after another.

But the presentation of this film is fantastic, with a vaguely anime-like look. Kevin Conroy and Tim Daly reprise the titular roles they've become famous for in the last two decades, while Clancy Brown and Allison Mack (the latter of Smallville) turn in admirable performances as Lex Luthor and Power Girl, respectively. Unfortunately, the script doesn't afford Power Girl much respect, leaving her a weak-willed woman. (Can you spot LeVar Burton's cameo?)

Batman and Owlman

Batman and Owlman face their counterparts.

Public Enemies was followed this February with DC's seventh and most recent video release, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, in which our heroes — Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, and Martian Manhunter — travel to a mirror universe, where heroes are villains and vice versa. Such an encounter could be a fascinating opportunity to delve into what makes someone be good or evil, but the running time of just 75 minutes affords little opportunity for backstory or character development. The most screen time is given to the trinity of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman and their evil counterparts: Ultraman, Owlman, and Superwoman, but the only meaningful dialogue is given to Batman and Owlman. There is a superficial love interest for the Martian Manhunter, but it's not explored in any real depth.

Being such a short film, the plot has to move fast. The Justice League's first melee with the Crime Syndicate occurs just 12 minutes into the film, resulting in an exciting airborne battle. In this scene and throughout the film, the Justice League fight mostly random super-powered troops; the movie doesn't pit our heroes against their equivalents until about the one-hour mark.

Again, the animation is top-notch, though there remain instances where CGI is not as seamlessly integrated as they could be. It would've been clever had Batman, Owlman, or both been played by familiar voice actors, such as Kevin Conroy. But we do instead get excellent performances with James Wood as Owlman, Gina Torres (Firefly) as Superwoman, Bruce Davison (X-Men) as the POTUS, and Kari Wuhrer (Sliders) as Black Canary.

Both movies feature trailers and featurettes that we've seen on DC's other DVDs, which doesn't make for very "special" features. A notable exception is Crisis on Two Earths, which includes an original short film starring The Spectre, the DC universe's manifestation of God's spirit of vengeance.

These two animated films feature top-notch production values and are true to their comic book origins without requiring viewers to be familiar with their other animated incarnations. But I couldn't help but feeling that the PG-13 rating was used not to explore mature themes and characters, but to show grittier slugfests. I don't need "mature" to mean "dark", but I do want to see characters embark on a journey, tackling issues with more than their fists.

Cartoons That Should Come to Life

28-May-09 12:48 PM by
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This summer will see the release of Transformers 2 and its Sunbow counterpart, G.I. Joe. They are two representatives of a trend to translate animated cartoons to live action, an effort that was not met with great success in the 1987 release of He-Man (starring Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella, and Robert Duncan McNeill). Considering how poorly I received the 2007 Transformers film, I wonder if any animated property can result in a successful transition to live action.

Some enterprising fans are not waiting for big-budget studios to get their grubby mits on their childhood memories and are instead making their own trailers. Rather than cast second-tier actors, these independent producers have repurposed existing media and have masterfully manipulated them to their own ends, allowing for some creative and recognizable casting decisions.

First up is Thundercats, featuring the feline humanoids of the planet Thundera in a show that employs elements of both fantasy and science fiction to good effect. The Thundercats remind me of another team of super-powered beings… wolverines are cats, aren't they?

On July 28th, DC Comics releases straight to DVD the animated feature Green Lantern: First Flight, the latest in a series of such DVD hits. We previously saw Hal Jordan's superhero origins in Justice League: New Frontiers, the difference being the upcoming film focuses on his solo adventure, rather than part of a group. Regardless, I think it's time to take Hal in a new direction, don't you? And who better to take up the mantle than Nathan Fillion?

There's no guarantee that these adaptations would prove any more successful than others based on animated franchises — heck, they could still stink. But kudos to the folks who love and respect these characters for being the first to bring them to life.

(Hat tip to Superhero Hype!)