DC: The New Frontier
Have we the nerve and the will? Can we carry through in an age where we will witness not only new breakthroughs in weapons of destruction, but also a race for mastery of the sky and the rain, the ocean and the tides, the far side of space, and the inside of men's minds?
That is the question of the New Frontier.
When it was released in 2004, Darwyn Cooke's graphic novel DC: The New Frontier proved to be an almost immediate success. A counterpoint that was suggested in James Robinson's The Golden Age , it was a hard look at the beginnings of the next heroic age, spanning the late 1940's through the early 1960s. Capturing a new heroic age at a very tentative time (summarized by John Kennedy's 1960 speech to the Democratic Party), New Frontier was an example of graphic storytelling at its best.
I had some mixed feelings when New Frontier was announced to be a made-for-DVD animated movie. I thought that Superman: Doomsday was a colossal disappointment, eliminating many of the necessary strands of plot, taking questionable voice casting chances (sorry, but Anne Heche does not work as Lois), and turning a meditation on losing a key hero into a basic plot. On the other hand, New Frontier seemed to lend itself to a much more cinematic treatment - its wide ranging time span, its gradual plot build, it appeared to be a great - although unlikely - choice.
I am very happy to announce that New Frontier, although it's not a straightforward adaptation, is a pretty strong entry in DC's direct-to-DVD line. So strong, in fact, that I encourage all of you to go out and add it to your video shelves.
Everything about the film connotes that early Cold War vibe, from the Saul Bass -style title sequence (serving to provide some exposition) to the Bernard Herrman -esque score. Although it takes some liberties with the plot, it deftly moves some pieces in clever ways - for example, the book's Dinosaur Island introduction is integrated into a scene in the Batcave. But ultimately, the movie not only hits the high points of Cooke's graphic novel, it also provides a great meditation on the nature of heroism and the dangers of an us vs. them mentality. It would be easy to describe this as a superhero version of Good Night and Good Luck (which is referenced in one scene), but that diminishes both pieces. The art is evocative of Cooke's art on the graphic novel without being slavishly devoted to it.
In addition, there are great Silver Age references that could have been easily ignored. We see Adam Strange and the Challengers of the Unknown - granted it would have been easy to lose these references, known only to a chosen few. The fact that they were included - and with some key changes (for example, Nate Adams becoming Larry Trainor), this is a great example of why the Silver Age was so great. Of course, some key pieces (such as the John Henry Irons) sequence were cut, and the film kind of suffers from a limited time span. (And if someone could please let me know - why 75 minutes?)
But most importantly - the vocal performances simply sparkle, with a great mix of straightforward and unexpected choices. For example, Lucy Lawless as Wonder Woman is obvious, but Kyle McLaughlin as Superman? Works perfectly. David Boreanaz makes a perfect choice for Green Lantern, but one might see Neil Patrick Harris as the Flash as more of a disaster...but Harris handles the Flash wonderfully. Although Brooke Shields and Kyra Sedgwick perform admirably as Carol Ferris and Lois Lane, Jeremy Sisto deftly handles Batman both dark and light (or, "pre- and post-Robin") and Miguel Ferrer - known more for his tough guy roles - demonstrates a surprising vulnerability as the Martian Manhunter.
But Keith David - who plays "The Center", or the main adversary - steals the film. He's not a very well known actor, but as his IMDB entry indicates, he has a great resume. You'll know him when you hear him.
But ultimately, Bruce Timm has placed another feather in his cap with the animated New Frontier. The great thing about this movie - and you are more than welcome to discuss this in our forums - is that is serves as a great launch pad to consider other movies. Let's face it, we need an animated Challengers of the Unknown. Or a more space-operatic version of Adam Strange. Or an animated Doom Patrol film.
Personally, though, I'll settle for an animated version of The Golden Age.
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