Justice League: The New Frontier Blu-ray Review
Movies reviewSRP: £21.67
PictureIn 1080p, New Frontier's exceptional colours and style positively leap from the screen with absolute clarity and a level of saturation that just makes you go gooey inside. One of the most ravishingly beautiful spectrums you can imagine steals the show, and even if the film was as dull as dishwater, it would still be worth sitting through just to be bathed in the vivid and soothing glows emanating from it from start to finish. I may have my reservations about the animation, but it would be impossible to knock how radiant it looks splashed out in high-definition.
All the primaries have a jaw-dropping level of saturation and a vividness that is profound. Luxurious blues and reds, scintillating whites and oranges abound. The flames of the campfire when Superman arrives in Indo-China - wow! The beautiful incandescence of Las Vegas and the awesome multi-hued orange sky as Carol leads Hal Jordan to the secret base - wow! Then there are the deep reds of the satanic cult in the church and the incredible flames that hypnotise Martian Manhunter when the curtains catch fire. But if there is one thing that stands out more than even these wild schemes, it is the green of Hal Jordan when he discovers the power of that new ring he's picked up. I guarantee that you have never seen green like this before. This looks so alive and bold and entrancing that you are going to be begging for more Green Lantern action to light up the living room. The mental-maelstrom within the Centre is a true thing of ghastly beauty, too. The frame is so packed with colour and vibrancy that it looks like an explosion in a fruit barrow.
The other good news is that, unlike Lionsgate's Avengers BDs, the transfer is pretty damn good, as well. Yep, if you venture up close and personal, you will see some slight jaggies during some motion, but on the whole, edges are very well kept and largely free from enhancement. There are no pops or rogue pixel patches, either. There is some slight banding, though, which seems to be an unavoidable occurrence in non-Pixar animated Blu-rays - those Lionsgate discs were absolutely rife with it. Here, it occurs in the skies behind Hal and Carol when they share a candlelit meal and later when Hal's test ship is summoned mysteriously out across the desert to a fateful close encounter. However, these elements are not distracting.
Blacks are incredibly deep and contrast levels are marvellously consistent throughout. There are some really nice and atmospheric night-time scenes in the city near the start and Martian Manhunter's apartment and the Bat-Cave look especially resplendent when bedecked in shadow.
So, whilst it may be true that I am no fan of this particular brand of featureless animation, I can still testify that the imagery here is huge and bold and exceptionally colourful. On a large screen, you really get the impression that this stuff could be seen on the Moon! Impressive.
SoundThe picture was impressive and the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track is almost as awesome. This may not be quite up there with Lionsgate's hugely spectacular 7.1 mixes for their Avengers discs, but it sure does have its moments. The bass is especially well catered-for, with massive rolling explosions, deep, gut-crunching impacts and room-devouring fists of aggression. Although it is worth mentioning that the big rocket lift-off actually doesn't carry as much weight as the rest of the track would have you expecting it to! Directionality is very well achieved with all-speaker usage and superb steerage. I say superb because it is definitely cool to hear people walking up behind you, or their voices commencing over your right shoulder and then building as they draw nearer, then passing you as the character arrives on-screen. But, the crunch is that no matter how cool this may be, it doesn't sound especially natural or authentic. Then again, exactly how could it in the first place? It's animated, for God's sake. Still, this obvious post-produced effect can sometimes be a little too apparent.
Detail-wise, the track has everything. The nuts popping on a cockpit canopy prior to release; the whipping of clothing as Flash whizzes by bemused onlookers; the roaring of jet engines and the double-strafing bullet streams as they go on the offensive; echoes of people conversing in metal chambers or the Bat-Cave; and the copious flicking of switches - all delivered with enjoyably sharp clarity on a track that never tramples dialogue, ambience or hubbub. Of course, over the high-reverb impacts of the action scenes, it is the deep-voices that you will revel in with this. Jeremy Sisto, Miguel Ferrer, Phil Morris and, beyond all of them combined, Keith David, have tonsils that will go straight to you sub and stay there, battling for supremacy.
A good all-round workout for your system and a delightfully engaging audio mix that is lively and energetic. The TrueHD is more dynamic and richer than the DD 5.1 mix that is also featured on the disc, but this doesn't get left as far behind as you may think - impacts still rock, engines still roar around the set-up and the dialogue still comes through loud and clear. So, all in all, no real complaints here, then, but still some way to go if they intend to catch up with Lionsgate. A firm 8 out of 10.
ExtrasThe New Frontier BD release carries a full set of bonus features to explore the DC Universe creation with depth and brevity.
Two Audio Commentaries provide an enormous wealth of background on the production. The first is a joint affair between the filmmakers. We hear from Bruce Timm, Supervising Producer Mike Goguen, Voice Director Andrea Romano, the movie's director David Bullock and screenwriter Stan Berkowitz and DC Comics Senior Vice President Greg Noveck. Everyone shares the time well - I think that most have contributed to such things in the past - and keep the gig pretty much scene-specific and fact-packed. As usual, there is rather too much back-slapping, but this is the nature of such a creative collaboration. They do well to keep the various animators' styles and “big moments” to the fore, describing in detail the look and the intentions of the production with regards to Darwyn Cooke's original material. Naturally there's talk of how much they deviated from the source and they cover the controversy over what they thought could be kept in even at a PG-13 level - whether it was implied or actually seen. Of course there is lots of ground covered regarding the casting - “lots of deep voices” seemed to be the order of the day - and there is even a nice mention of what it takes to cast a composer (giving the potentials an animatic to score and simply selecting the best, apparently). The group even makes a plea for us to keep on buying their discs so that they can afford to come back to this and put in some scenes that had to be cut from the comic, such as The Losers on Dinosaur Island. A great track overall.
The second chat-track is a solo affair from the creator of New Frontier, himself, Darwyn Cooke. Not as free-flowing or as spontaneous, and, thankfully, not quite as praise-heavy, this commentary has some dry spots but, on the whole, is a nice entry into what the comic-book maestro originally envisaged and why he chose to go back to this era and this particular saga. He can be quite witty at times and unusually frank about the elements that he thinks don't work so well in the film, although he is certainly savvy enough to understand that certain elements have to get the chop in the comic-to-film translation compromise. On the whole, though, he definitely seems impressed with this interpretation and it is great to heat his views.
Then we get the two main documentaries. Both of these feature largely the same contributors and their responses are most probably culled from the same interviews - with the exception of verbose and self-important author and master of stating the bleeding obvious Phil Cousineau, whose hairstyle changes considerably between the two. For the record, we get to hear from DC honchos, writers, artists, editors including Marv Wolfman, Bruce Timm, Stan Berkowitz, Joe Kelly, Paul Levitz, Nick Fogel, Marc Waid, Denny O'Neil, Michael Friedrich, Jim Krueger, Len Wein, Dan Didio and, er, Marvel's Stan Lee! Both docs last over thirty minutes and are copiously illustrated with dynamic pages, panels, conceptual art and gorgeous covers from comics dating right back to the start of things with Superman's appearance in Action. Even the animated shows get a decent look in, too. The first doc - Superheroes United!: The Complete Justice League History - does exactly what it says on the tin, charting the group's inception, genesis, formation, evolution and incarnations over the years, with particular attention to the Silver Age.
The next doc, entitled Legion Of Doom: The Pathology Of The Super Villain, evens things up a bit and looks, primarily, at the movers and shakers in the titular organisation. Thus, we get to meet and hear the genesis and, ahem, psychological breakdown (courtesy of the resident scholar and bore Cousineau) of Bizarro, Black Manta, Brainiac, Captain Cold, Cheetah, Gorilla Grodd, Scarecrow, Sinestro, the awesome Solomon Grundy, The Joker and Lex Luthor. Not as good as the first documentary in that a lot of this is fairly obvious stuff - motivations, plans etc - this dovetails into New Frontier's big bad guy (or island, as he actually is) as detailed by Cooke.
What comes next is called a commentary, but it isn't one in the normal sense. Comic Book Commentary: Homage To The New Frontier is a ten-minute visual examination of what Darwyn Cooke wanted to do with this story, his main genre influences and the set-up that he worked to achieve, told via the glorious imagery from the book that he wrote, the books that he read, and the finished film, all accompanied by his voiceover. Although a lot of this is already covered in his proper commentary, this is still a novel approach and it is nice to see some original artwork to animated film comparison shots thrown in as well. Cool.
We also get a Sneak Peek at DC's forthcoming Gotham Knight which, if what they say here is true, sort of ties into the new live-action movie. On the basis of what we see in this ten-minute featurette, the direct-to-video show looks awesome - some great anime-style lending a new hyper-dynamic motion to the Caped Crusader that even The Batman series, which I adore, cannot match.
To round things off, we even get a trio of Justice League Unlimited episodes - Dark Heart, To Another Shore and Task Force X. To be honest, these looked pretty jaggie-infested and a quick check of the proper SD DVDs revealed them to look much sharper and with better colour saturation, too. So go figure.
This is a fine set of extras, folks. Fans of Justice League will be in heaven with this stuff and the film and the original award-winning comic get the respect they are due. A great package.
VerdictAlthough I much prefer the Animated show and find Cooke's vision iconic but scattershot, I must admit that New Frontier is growing on me. I've seen it twice now - not counting watching it and listening to the commentaries at the same time - and it is definitely yielding pleasures enough to warrant another viewing soon. The Silver Age is chock-full of nostalgia and promise and this is, perhaps, the closest an animated version could get to such boundless “Big” storytelling without getting bogged-down in exposition and needless waffle. In fact, after what is an admittedly slow and meandering first half, it picks up its feet and positively soars for a final half-hour of blazing action. Still, the whole affair feels slightly disjointed and its individual stories lack something crucial to make them really slam home with the conviction that the likes of Batman and Wonder Woman really need. Yet, as a showcase for the origin of Green Lantern, this is definitely right on the money and Hal Jordan is marvellously brought to life.
The animation is not of my own personal liking, but there are instances of pure invention and some delightful action-beats that make it stand out from the crowd. And the disc certainly looks and sounds amazing on Blu-ray, the colours melting off the screen and the wrap-around dynamics bringing some serious oomph into play. The entire package is lovingly rounded-off with a fully comprehensive set of extras, too. The two chat-tracks are well worth the effort, as are the two documentaries. A trio of Justice League Unlimited episodes and the Gotham Knight preview whet the appetite for more and the unusual Homage To The New Frontier feature is a smart way of establishing a creator's modus operandi and the influences that guided him.
All in all, this is a seriously top-notch release that no Justice League fan can possibly afford to pass up. Great stuff ... lots more, please.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £21.67
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