"Justice League: The New Frontier - Two Disc Special Edition" DVD Review
February 12, 2008 by James Harvey
As the movie opens, you know Justice League: The New Frontier will be something different. Whether you've read the graphic novel that inspired the film or have no idea what to expect, the opening scene is something special. The movie opens with a beautiful sequence showing the creation of a children's book, a rather ominous children's book, telling about the coming of The Centre, and its plans to eradicate all life from the Earth? As the author finishes the book, we see him put down his art utensils and reach over for a gun. Cue the gunshot and then cue the beautifully rendered opening credits. How's that for an opener? And it only gets better from there.
Justice League: The New Frontier takes viewers on an action-packed adventure, exploring the origins of the Justice League. DC Comics legends Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are all featured in the film, as well as Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter and The Flash, as they band together to form the legendary super team. Strangers at first, these very different heroes must overcome fear and suspicion to forge an alliance against a monster so formidable, even the mighty Superman cannot stop it alone. If they fail, the entire planet will be "cleansed" of humanity.
So there we go. That's the gist of the plot right there. Now, for those who have read DC: The New Frontier, you already know how everything is going to turn out. For those who are newbies to the story, you're in for a surprise. This is not the kind of Justice League story you'd fine on Justice League Unlimited. It's a movie with a tone all it's own, completely different than what we've seen before in both the level of maturity presented and even the content. While some may call Superman Doomsday a product of juvenile excess, this movie is a product of maturity. This movie approaches the topic of superheroes, and the subsequent ramifications, with such a level of maturity not seen before in animation. Maybe comparable to some of the live-action stuff, but nothing before in animation . . . at least the animation I've watched.
I have to hand it to both Stan Berkowitz's script and director Dave Bullock's steady hand for helping to achieve that level of sophistication here. Whether it's Berkowitz bringing together the abundance of plot lines or Bullock keeping the camera still so we can actually watch the scene develop, both manage to create a fascinating experience for this movie. There are also some scenes in here that have just a huge impact thanks to the excellent marriage of the script and the directing. There's the tense scene between Wonder Woman and Superman, and there's a touching moment between Superman and Lois, The absolutely crushing scene where Lois breaks down during a news report or the amazing scene where Batman faces down Detective John Jones. I could go on and on, but there's just an abundance of great scenes to be found, and both Berkowitz and Bullock deserve a lot of praise for them. Of course, those two can't take all the credit. There's a whole crew here that deserves a huge heaping of praise, and I'm going to get to them. Now, I'm not saying this movie is perfect, as I do have a grunt or two about it, but this is one of the best Direct-To-Video efforts I've seen. No lie.
What I really appreciate about this movie is the attention to detail. Whether it's the little cameos peppered throughout, the use of the actual "New Frontier" speech by John F. Kennedy, or the simple nuances in each character, this movie pays attention to every little detail. There's a short cameo by Robin. Jimmy Olsen appears. We get a quick visit to Themyscira. Hal and Carol kissing before he leaves for his mission. A boy being scared of Batman. The dead-on recreation of the 1950s. I could go on about all the little touches and scenes here and there, but I don't want to spoil the entire movie. All of these touches (and more), some from the original graphic novel and others original to this movie, really make the ideas of this one big universe housing all these characters believable. Not only that, but it helps to cement the time frame of the movie, too. I have to make note of the color palette and absolutely amazing design work done for the film. Everything here was done by scratch, and you can tell. Everything looks fresh and new, and the designs are just beautiful looking. The clothes look authentic, the cars look awesome, and the film just drips that 1950's class.
Justice League: The New Frontier is really ambitious, and you can tell that by how they approach the look of the film. The movie has huge set pieces, wardrobe changes, character flares, all of it. It all works. Toss on a really excellent script by Berkowtiz, who does an amazing job at squeezing a rather large graphic novel into a 75 minute run time, and some superb direction by Bullock, and you have a movie that, overall, is excellent. Again, I mentioned this above, but I feel that it warrants mentioning again, and that is Bullock's directing. I want to specifically point out two instances. There are two sequences, one a fight between Batman and a bunch of cult members, and the second being the huge aerial battle at the end between the good guys and The Centre. Instead of rapid cuts, Bullock lets the camera sit and watch the action unfold. We don't get a bunch of quick cuts, but we get to see the action unfold naturally and gracefully and it really seems . . . old-fashioned. Movies today are filled with quick cuts and rapid-pace editing, but here? No, Bullock lets the camera linger to allow the scene to unfold and it works beautifully. Hats off on Bullock's superb directing choices (and his amazing work on the film's opening credits).
Now, thankfully, Berkowitz and Bullock are in good company for Justice League: The New Frontier. Not only is the creative team sharp, but the voice talent is just top quality. And, before I go any further, I want to say that Bruce Timm was right. Jeremy Sisto was just amazing as Batman. Not only him, but the rest of the cast are top-notch. Neil Patrick Harris brings the perfect sound to the Flash, mixing youth and doubt. Miguel Ferrer is pitch-perfect as the Martian Manhunter. He brings such a quality to his performances that you feel for the Martian. He really added depth to a character that could have been easily overlooked. Lucy Lawless is great as Wonder Woman, absolutely flawless. She really brings a commanding presence to the role that I haven't heard anywhere else before. Kyle McLaughlin and David Boreanez are superbly cast as Superman and Green Lantern, and get the most face time among the big-name heroes. McLaughlin has this quality about is voice that makes his Superman sound classic while Boreanez really brings a 1950's-vibe to Lantern. Keith David's brief role as The Centre is also very exceptional; his voice really commands the presence of a deadly threat that will eradicate everyone on a whim. Overall, the casting is sharp across the board. And before I forget, Brooke Shields and Kyra Sedgwick deserve special shout-outs for their roles as Carol Ferris and Lois Lane.
It's this superb casting, the excellent directing and script, the amazing attention to detail that help Justice League: The New Frontier overcome a couple of its flaws. And I suppose, in a way, it's even a bit unfair to call these flaws, but more like limitations pushed onto the creative team of the movie.
The first one, and probably the most damning, is the limited running time. Like Superman Doomsday before it, here we get 75 minutes, including credits, to tell a rather large tale. And, yes, it does hinder the movie. I think whether you've read the book or not, you're going to notice that some scenes or characters were very truncated in the film. And due to the running time, a lot of the story from both DC: The New Frontier and the actual movie had to be cut down. As I recall Timm stating in the commentary track, it came to the point where if they included on extra scene, another would have to be excised, and you can tell in the final product. Now, I could be seeing this through biased eyes, as I've read DC: The New Frontier, but I think it's something that even casual viewers may be able to notice. However, it's not as damaging as one may think. The story still flows, very briskly at times, and everything manages to wrap itself nicely, but some relationships are cut down to the bone. There are moments where I wish they could've just let the scene stay for a couple more beats.
Thankfully, in one way or another, Berkowitz was able to at least reference a lot of the cut material. Whether it's through newspaper headlines or news reports, we do get references to some of the material from DC: The New Frontier that just can't completely fit into the movie. A lot of the stuff wasn't necessary to the plot of the animated movie, but did expand upon the era and the characters, so it is a shame to lose. It does cut back a bit on the character development for the movie, but I can understand why it cut. However, it's all in the book so, after checking out this movie, go read the books if you haven't already. I can only imagine how difficult it was to trim and alter the material to make it fit within the 75 minutes running time and I applaud Berkowitz for making it work. Still, I can't help but wonder what those extra few minutes may have brought.
My other complaint is that, sometimes, the animation does seem a bit average. Now, mind you that this is few and far in-between, but there are moments where it's not strong, and it's even noted from time to time in both commentaries. Now, again, this is something that is generally out of their control so I can't really slight them; they do try to fix up the odd mistake, but there are a couple moments that I thought really could've used some stronger animation. Thankfully, it is only a handful of moments. The two that seem to distract me are Superman's arrival for an outer-space rescue and Green Lantern dispatching something into outer space. Those really stood out to me, for one reason or another, but it's just minor quibbles. Personally, I can be overly picky so I don't know if people will notice these or not, but these are just a couple that jumped at me. Overall, the animation is still gorgeous and a few scenes are absolutely breathtaking.
At the end of it all, I can't praise this film enough. Like I said, my complaints are really minuscule, small, but that doesn't stop this from being a great film. It's a really well done movie and probably one of the greatest Justice League stories ever told (and it's technically not even a Justice League tale). It's such a different approach to these characters in animation. It's gutsy, you have to admit. There's no way this story could have worked if they contemporized it, and I'm glad they didn't. The setting is a crucial aspect to the story and they really sell it, making the setting of the movie just as important as the main characters.
When you add the truly excellent creative team behind it, with Bullock directing from a Berkowitz script, a brilliant voice cast, an amazing score, and a host of brilliant professionals working behind the scenes, you have a movie that really shows how much everyone cares for the source material. And with Darwyn Cooke stepping in to help (he worked on the script and storyboarded a few sequences), it's obvious what everyone set out to accomplish here and they succeed in spades. Justice League: The New Frontier is my favorite film of the year so far, and it comes Highly Recommended for fans of both the comics and the DC Animated Series. Justice League: The New Frontier is probably the best direct-to-video effort to date, and it's one that all fans really should check out. There's just something really special about this movie, something that helps it overcome any of its flaws, something that really pushes and makes it something special. There are moments from Justice League: The New Frontier that will stay with me for some time.
Warner Home Video has released Justice League: The New Frontier in four editions: Single-Disc, Two Disc Special Edition, HD-DVD, and Blu-Ray. The complete rundown of specs for each release can be found here. Warner Home Video has provided the Two Disc Special Edition to review.
The DVD is housed in a regular hinged Amaray case covered by an embossed reflective foil cardboard slipcase. The slipcase replicated both the back and front cover art. The only extra material inside is an insert for advertising toys, books, and other DVD releases. Overall, a solid presentation, even with the lack of relevant inserts.
Onto the disc itself, Warner Home Video offers a great audio/video transfer and a plethora of extras on this two-disc release. The video is crisp and sharp, with no noticeable defects or problems at all. I didn't notice one flaw throughout the entire feature. The sound is just a crisp, with every bit of dialogue coming through loud and clear, and the actions scenes nearly jumping out of the speakers. It's a nearly perfect transfer as you could expect on a standard DVD release.
As for the extras, there's nothing to complain about here. We get a couple audio commentaries, a couple documentaries, a couple featurettes, and a batch of Justice League Unlimited episodes. So, let's start at the beginning and work our way through the two discs worth of extras.
First up is the forty minutes-long Super Heroes United: The Complete Justice League History documentary, where a host of creators give their thoughts on the history of the Justice League. The documentary mixes clips from Justice League: The New Frontier, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, and Super Friends with comic book shots, artwork, and talking heads interviews. We start with the birth of Superman and basically work our way to the current Justice League of America series and everything in-between. For those who don't know anything about the comic book roots of these characters, this is an invaluable extra. Barely any stone is left unturned as just about every era of the League is covered, and I mean everything. On top of covering the history, we even get a look at the characters from a historical standpoint and from a theological standpoint, too, resulting in some really fascinating information and comparisons between these heroes and mythology. Never boring, always interesting.
After that we get a ten-minute preview of the upcoming Batman: Gotham Knight, and I have to say that it looks absolutely amazing. Now, I'm not a big anime fan, but I can not wait for this release. It looks absolutely stunning. You get a look at the different Batman designs being used, as well as a look at some very creative designs for Scarecrow, Killer Croc, and Deadshot. Add on a healthy heaping of supporting cast designs and a ton of the action scenes, and I think you have a winner. This upcoming DC Universe Animated Original Movie looks absolutely amazing and Summer 2008 canít come fast enough. Count me in!
What follows that are a couple of really informative audio commentaries. One is by the filmmakers who worked on the film, including Bruce Timm, Dave Bullock, Michael Goguen, Andrea Romano, Stan Berkowitz, Gregory Novak. It's a packed audio commentary that starts off strong and manages to hold itself quite well until the end. I was surprised that there were more than a few quiet moments peppered throughout, but overall it's a good track. The second audio commentary by Darwyn Cooke is just excellent. Yes, there are pauses, too, but he provided just a wealth of information here. A lot of the time he talks about the differences between this movie and his graphic novel, what he finds disappointing in the movie, and what he thought did and didn't work in both the draft of the movie and the final version itself. It's a great track, and the best audio commentary between the two.
The first disc is rounded off with a selection of trailers.
Now, onto the second disc! The main draw of the second disc is the extra documentary and the three Justice League Unlimited episodes. Now, the The Legion of Doom: The Pathology of the Super Villain runs roughly a half-hour in length and take a look, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, at the villains and it's a really enjoyable extra. It takes us throw some of the various incarnations of the villains and where they are now. Itís not as in-depth as documentary on the previous disc, but fans, particularly those of Justice League Unlimited will enjoy the additional background information on the bad guys.
After that we have a shot ten minute featurette where Darwyn Cooke provides some more commentary on both DC: The New Frontier and the Justice League: The New Frontier film. It's a nice companion piece to his commentary on the first disc.
And now, to round off the disc, we have three Justice League Unlimited bonus episodes and, well, it's a bit of a mixed bag. I won't bother to comment on the episodes, but just on their presentation. Not only are they listed out of order, but they're full screen transfers. That's right . . . full screen transfers. I have no idea why they couldn't just go with the widescreen transfers to these episodes. Perhaps they're using that as an incentive for people to pick up the Justice League Unlimited DVD releases, but I was disappointed to see the full screen transfers. I suppose it's a minor quibble in an overall stacked presentation of extras.
And, speaking of extras, while I enjoyed the very comic book-oriented aspect of the extras, I was hoping we'd get to see more production information on the movie itself, but sadly, that's mostly limited to the commentaries. I can understand that these extras will serve as a doorway to the comic book world for some viewers, but what about information on the film's actual production? I wish we could have seen more of that, and the deleted scenes and animatics referenced in the commentaries. Much like the Superman Doomsday DVD release, I thought the extras were excellent, yes, but they still lacked a nice, detailed look at the actual production of the film, though I suppose a fair amount of that is covered in the audio commentary.
Overall, it goes without saying that Justice League: The New Frontier comes Highly Recommended. It's not your average Justice League tale and that, to me, really makes this special. The main feature is really something to behold and absorb, with layers upon layers of story. The DVD also contains a great load of special features that comic book enthusiasts should find really enjoyable. It's a really solid package from start to finish with an abundance of material. It truly belongs on any comic book, animation, or movie lover's shelf.
Justice League: The New Frontier will be available on both Single Disc and Two Disc Special Edition Standard DVD releases and Blu-Ray on February 26th, 2008. Justice League: The New Frontier will also be released on HD-DVD on March 18th, 2008.