Saturday, March 01, 2008

Twelve-step review (with bonus video): Justice League: The New Frontier

So, true to their word, the fine folks at M80 sent me a preview copy of the new Justice League: The New Frontier DVD to review. (It didn't look anything like the image to the left; the package was different and there was only one disk. I think I might have the Brazilian version, since the alternate language is Portuguese. )

I decided to try something a little different and invite five friends over to watch the movie and offer their comments. We have a wide range of perspectives represented, from an old-school comics fan who has read the New Frontier comics to someone who is not a comics fan and hasn't ever laid eyes on the original story; their relative exposure to the genre and the story are reflected in their "scores" on the video. Check it out and see for yourself. (Oh, yeah, and I guess there's a spoiler alert for this whole thing._

As for my take on it:

1. For the record, I loved the original. It spoke to my personal experiences and coming-of-age and had a design sensibility that I enjoyed, as well as presenting what I thought was pretty good story even without all the insider stuff.

2. The video does a pretty good job of telescoping the plot down to a manageable level; some history and some characters are sacrificed, but it would have been unwieldy otherwise.

3. The condensation of the plot reduces minor roles to cameo appearances: Mlle. Marie makes a few brief appearances and has one line; the Challengers of the Unknown are never named and appear solely as purple jumpsuits walking on a dead pterodactyl; the Blackhawks glower and shout "Hawk-aaa," but that's about it; and Green Arrow doesn't even get any lines.

4. The upshot of this characterization shorthand is that the viewer only gets it if they already got it; some of the best throwaway bits are wasted on the non-fan. It seems this would limit the movie's potential audience.

5. The movie also reveals that superhero dialog that works great on the page is often not as impressive when acted out. Batman's "penny for a book of matches" line and Farady's "real men wear pants" are two good examples.

6. Darwyn Cooke's retro design sense clearly informed the art, but there was still a little too much of a Diniverse vibe to it for me. In addition, there was too much Burns-effect panning across still images.

7. In particular, the backgrounds felt awfully skimpy sometimes. The Las Vegas sequence is a great example of this; it started out strong visually, but then got a bit sketchy as it went on.

8. Other visual bits suffered the same shorthand-itis as the characterization. Details like changes to Batman's costume are lost on non-fans without any explanation.

9. The Martian Manhunter arc was very sturdily constructed and made perhaps the best sense of J'onn's origin ever; it clearly establishes the character as, if not the first hero of the Silver Age, the critical bridge between the ages. (With just a wee bit of script doctoring, this could be a Martian Manhunter movie.)

10. The Hal Jordan arc seemed less integrated and not as tightly written; Barry Allen and Iris West are delightful. The Trinity all represent well, with Diana a bit feistier than she is often portrayed - and taller than Superman!

11. The devil is in the details, and some worked better than others: the cameo by Kennedy was a bit lame, but seeing Lex in a fifties-era "Lexco" office was brilliant.

12. Overall, I wish the movie had had twice the budget and been half-again as long. With a little boost in production values and a bit more time to spin the story, The New Frontier could have been as mainstream as a superhero movie could get; as it is, it's a nice diversion for fans.


John said...

Great job Walaka... in hosting the party, and editing the video reviews so quickly!

Quick feedback... I think you wrote "comics" in the opening instead of "comments".

"Lexco" is cool specifically because it was different than writing "Lexcorp" on the office.

Lastly, I LIKED the Kennedy speech, but it was too tacked on. There was a lot of emphasis on the country's political situation throughout, so it fit... but it would have fit better if other speeches or historic events had been depicted.

John said...

Also: the scores you give people in the video... the comic geek score makes sense but the NF score doesn't... I, for example, would have given the film a 5, not a 9.

Walaka said...

Fixed the typo.

I want a "Lexco" t-shirt.

I, too, loved the Kennedy speech and how it fit with the themes of the movie; I just didn't like the little drop-in scene itself. It seemed pointless and the president didn't look much like Kennedy, either. I would have preferred a voiceover with a montage.

The NF score was not how you rated the film, but how much you knew about the source material. It's a little obscure, yeah. You might could suss it out from my intro (but you were distracted by the typo).

Thanks for playing!

Captain Infinity said...

Nice review job. I've been on the fence about buying this without seeing it, but it looks like I'll have to pick it up.