Green Lantern: First Flight DVD

Russell Burlingame Reporting

Title: Green Lantern: First Flight
Producer: Bruce Timm
Director: Lauren Montgomery
Writer: Alan Burnett
More info here

Green Lantern: First Flight finds Hal Jordan recruited to join the Green Lantern Corps and placed under the supervision of respected senior Lantern Sinestro. The earthling soon discovers his mentor is actually the central figure in a secret conspiracy that threatens the philosophies, traditions and hierarchy of the entire Green Lantern Corps. Hal must quickly hone his newfound powers and combat the treasonous Lanterns within the ranks to maintain order in the universe.

Since it's screening at San Diego this weekend, I figured now would be as good a time as any to talk about Green Lantern: First Flight--Warner Premier's most recent direct-to-video movie coming out of the DC Universe and the third (after Batman: Gotham Knight and Wonder Woman) to feature a completely original story.

The style is a semi-coherent mish-mash of traditional and computer-generated animation, but it's clear whenever it appears on the screen that the CGI was rushed. And mediocre, obviously-not-real CG is worse in an animated feature than it is in a live action one. The CG problem was most evident in every single scene that dealt with the central battery, which is so entirely different from anything surrounding it that it's jarring, ugly and takes the viewer out of the scene completely.

The film itself is...well, it is what it is. Tinkering with the character's history (and, bizarrely, with the character designs for Abin Sur and the Weaponers of Qward) is kind of one thing--it's almost expected when you carry the comic into a new medium. What's more disconcerting is the complete reversal of Hal Jordan's and Sinestro's roles. Where in the comics, Hal introduces compassion and humanity to the Guardians--who condone Sinestro's cruelty in the name of an unemotional approach to law enforcement--in First Flight it's Sinestro who is out of favor with the Guardians from nearly the beginning, treated as a rogue because his brutality offends their hippie-commune mentality.

In terms of origin stories, I think I would have preferred a more direct adaption of Emerald Dawn, or even of the more recent Secret Origin. While Kanjar-Ro is a great choice for a villain, the desire for cool, fun action sequences seems to have outweighed the story demands in a 70-minute movie and so Hal's period of adjustment--wherein he gets used to his ring and has some growing pains with it--takes about four minutes here.

The haste to get this movie made also seems evident in the choice of aliens--except the main characters, who are pretty well designed, all of the background aliens (the "extras") are pretty shapeless and visually uninteresting. In the early scenes in particular, the generic look of the life forms in the film actually shakes you out of the movie's reality, having the opposite effect of the early scenes of Star Wars: A New Hope.

Boodikka is an interesting choice here; it seems to me that it would make more sense to develop a character who--I dunno--HADN'T already been ruined in the comics by last year's Final Crisis insanity. If you're going to release a DVD and hopefully bring in some new fans, getting them attached to a character who no longer exists doesn't seem like the wisest course of action.

My last problem (as this seems front-loaded with complaints and so I'll finish that out and move along to the movie's strong points) is the lack of any emotion. While Blackest Night in particular and Geoff Johns' run in general have cemented the role of willpower, fear, etc., as essential to the Green Lantern mythos, the movie has taken it in an entirely different direction, relying on a generic "green element"/"yellow element" approach that's more akin to Alan Scott's magical battery, at least in terms of having no explanation whatsoever beyond "there's a really powerful THING inside the battery and we all charge off of that." It certainly cuts down on the need for backstory and explanation (a must ina 70-minute feature, I guess), but leaves a bit of a sour taste in my mouth as someone who feels like that element of the mythos is being used to greater effect right now than ever before. Also, apparently this one, massive crystal that powers the battery is layered in such a way that it can (and is, at one point) be completely depleted, but restored with a little, ahem, percussive maintenance.

The voice acting, on the other hand, is top-notch. While the decision to give the Guardians helium-infused "elfin" voices is a little on-the-nose for my tastes, Victor Garber's Sinestro is every bit as effective as you would think. And while Hal is ably voiced by Wet Hot American Summer's Christopher Meloni, he's overshadowed by Michael Madsen't pitch-perfect Kilowog and a surprisingly effective (if brief) turn by Kurtwood "Red Forman" Smith as Kanjar-Ro.

While most of the characters got little or no actual characterization, I expect longtime GL fans to be pleased by the presence of Corpsmen like Arisia and Tomar-Re in the movie. In the interest of making Hal obviously the most kickass Lantern ever, and upping Sinestro's menace-factor without having to introduce the yellow impurity, most of them are dispatched pretty easily in most of their scenes...but there they are, anyway, proving that the designers and director have the fans and the Green Lantern mythology in mind. And in terms of that mythology, there's one particular moment, late in the movie, that brings Hal back into action after a brief break. Without spoiling much, it's fair to say that readers of Crisis on Infinite Earths will have a little catch in the back of their memories.

Overall, the movie is pretty enjoyable. It's no Justice League: The New Frontier, but it's no Superman: Doomsday, either. If I had to make a recommendation it would be to rent the movie--or wait a few weeks and buy it on the 3/$20 rack at your local Blockbuster. It's worth a viewing, but probably not worth the full retail.

Related Links:

First Flight Encore

GL/Public Enemies @ SDCC

First Flight @ SDCC

Romano on GL: FF

Madsen Talks Kilowag

Burnett on First Flight

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Green Lantern: First Light

Green Lantern: First Flight

Green Lantern: First Flight

Green Lantern: First Flight Trailer

Russell Burlingame is a journalist and columnist living and working in New York City. In high school, Russell interviewed Elliot S. Maggin for a review of the Kingdom Come novelization, and since then has worked consistently in and around the comics industry. He interned for Wizard magazine, and has freelanced for Wizard and Newsarama, in addition to a number of non-comics publications, Russell is currently working on a graphic novel based on Cap'n Internet, the comic strip that ran in his college newspaper; and a graphic biography of folk singer Phil Ochs with artist Marion Vitus.

Currently, in addition to his freelance work and his comics projects, Russell writes a number of columns for ComicRelated, including Conscientious Sequentials, The Gold Exchange, What's Perhappenin', Closing Statements, Reflecting 'Pool and To See or Not To See. Russell also takes point on the Hot Shot of the Week feature.

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