"In brightest day, in blackest night,
No evil shall escape my sight,
Let those who worship evil's might
Beware my power...Green Lantern Light!"
--Green Lantern Oath
When I was a kid I always got the Green Lantern mixed up with the Green Hornet. I guess superheroes in green all seemed alike to me, although I confess I liked the name "Green Hornet" more than "Green Lantern." I mean, what kid wanted to be a Lantern when you could be a Hornet?
The Green Lantern originated as a comic-book hero in 1940. Back then he was a guy named Alan Scott, created by artist Martin Nodell and writer Bill Finger. Scott was a young fellow who found a magic lantern that gave anyone who touched it a number of super powers. He used the Lantern to create a ring, which he could bring with him anywhere he went but which he had to reenergize every so often by touching it to the lantern. However, after the popularity of the Alan Scott character wore off and the comic-book industry more or less retired him, DC Comics reintroduced the idea of the Green Lantern in the 1950s in the person of Hal Jordan, the hero of the 2009 direct-to-video adventure Warner Bros. have produced here as the animated feature "Green Hornet: First Flight."
Hal Jordan (voiced by Christopher Meloni) is a test pilot who accepts a mystical ring from a space-alien society of superheroes known as the Guardians of the Universe, a group dedicated to keeping peace and order in the cosmos. The Guardians, an order of Immortals, long ago harnessed the power of the green element to create a number of rings, which they entrusted to a staff of "Green Lanterns," each of whom looks after a sector of the cosmos. The ring Jordan receives gives him the super powers (strength, flight, defense, instantly created tools) and the uniform he needs to be a member of the Green Lantern Corps. He can now punch out anybody on the planet.
Filmmaker Lauren Montgomery directs another introductory-type story, much as she did with "Wonder Woman" a little earlier in the year, providing a background on how the main character came to be. In this case, Jordan crashes his jet plane at about the same time a dying Green Lantern needs to pass his ring on to another worthy hero. As we learn, the ring finds Jordan, so it's not an accidental meeting.
Heading up the Green Lantern team to which the Guardians assign Jordan is a character named Sinestro (Victor Garber), a fellow whose name is so similar to "Sinister" that we know right off he's up to no good. Although Sinestro and his companions--Boodikka (Tricia Helfer), Kilowog (Michael Madsen), and Tomar Re (John Larroquette)--volunteer to train Jordan, it doesn't appear as though Jordan needs much training. He seems to know how to use his new super powers from the get-go and soon outmatches his much more-experienced partners in know-how and abilities. Where he learned and why he learned so fast the story leaves to our imagination.
Before we know it (it's a brief movie at only seventy-seven minutes), Sinestro is plotting against the Guardians, and we meet Kanjar Ro (Kurtwood Smith), an evil warlord who's found and harnessed the power of the "yellow element," the only thing that can defeat the force of the "green element." The story conveniently bypasses the how's and why's of these colored elements, too. It's a kryptonite kind of thing.
The story's action and adventure move along at the pace you'd expect from a direct-to-video animation, meaning it's a lot like a typical television cartoon. It's all fairly simplistic, there's a lot of talk, the violence remains at a minimum, and characterization is almost zero.
The animation varies from finely detailed in some of the background art to extremely modest in the character work. Because the animators had to cut corners, we get somewhat jerky motions from the people involved, clunky steps rather than smooth, flowing movements, and many instances where nothing at all stirs on screen except the camera panning in or out to represent motion. When characters speak, they often do so with only their mouths moving. We're all used to it.
There's a "Star Wars" cantina sort of scene that may not be inventive but is memorable just the same. Even the movie's colors seem to improve here, along with the creativity of the art design. Still, most of the art work and most of the settings and characters we've seen before.
The vocal work shows little spark or energy except from Kurtwood Smith, who adds a bit more embellishment to his portrayal than do the other voice actors, making his villain stand out more strongly against the other, more prosaic characters. Christopher Meloni has only to sound manly and a little cocky, and not even the usually reliable Michael Madsen can do much with what little he's given.
There's not much to "Green Lantern: First Flight"--it's a pretty lightweight affair--so there's not much to criticize. One glaring distraction, though: The story tells us the Guardians are these ancient, immortal, wise old men, but with their every word and action they define themselves as simply old. Indeed, these little Yoda-like trolls seem to be the oldest and dumbest beings in the cosmos.
"Green Lantern: First Flight" picks up a modicum of energy toward the end, but it's a long time coming, despite the film's short length. As his first exploit as a Green Lantern, Jordan saves the universe. Did we expect anything less?
As one might figure from a new animated film, the picture quality is good, especially transferred to disc in an anamorphic widescreen ratio of 1.78:1. The screen is perfectly clean, and about the only thing that surprised me is that the colors are not as bright, deep, or well contrasted as I had thought they might be. Indeed, the picture quality is somewhat soft and subdued most of the time, yet quite easy on the eyes.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio uses the surrounds effectively, at least from time to time, and the overall tonal balance is pleasing. However, there is a small degree of forwardness to the sound; the lowest bass, while present, is not too noticeable; and the dynamics seem a tad restricted.
Disc one contains the feature film presentation, English as the only spoken language, French subtitles, and English captions for the hearing impaired. Oddly, there is no scene selections menu, although there are eight or nine chapter stops you can access with the remote. The only other items on the first disc are of the promotional variety. There are featurettes for the "Superman Doomsday," "Justice League New Frontier," "Batman Gotham Knight," and "Wonder Woman" animated films; a behind-the-scenes look at "Blackest Night: Inside the DC Comics Event, another in the series of superhero stories; a sneak peek at the upcoming DC Universe title "Superman/Batman: Public Enemies"; and trailers at start-up and in the Special Features menu.
The extras on disc two are of a little more substance but not much more. First up is "Behind the Story with Geoff Johns," about nine minutes with the best-selling writer, who discusses the mythology of the Green Lantern. Then there is a Daffy Duck "Duck Dodgers" cartoon called "The Green Loontern"; followed by Green Lantern Corps character profiles of Sinestro and the Guardians of the Universe, about four minutes each; and two bonus superhero television cartoons chosen by producer Bruce Timms, at about twenty-three minutes each.
In addition, the set provides access to a bonus digital copy of the film--Windows Media-compatible only--and a handsomely embossed slipcover for the double slim-line keep case.
Now, you're probably wondering why Warner Bros. decided to do yet another superhero film, this time about the Green Lantern. Yeah, well, I guess that's pretty obvious. We seem to be in some sort of Platinum Age of superheroes at the moment, what with Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Hellboy, Watchmen, X-Men, Wonder Woman, Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, and scores of others making appearances seemingly on a weekly basis. More to the point, though, WB are planning a live-action "Green Lantern" movie for 2011, and they're doubtless preparing the way--priming the pump, so to speak. Leave nothing to chance.
Frankly, I didn't see much difference between this full-length, feature-film version of the Green Lantern and the short, animated episodes that show on TV. It still seems rather juvenile to me, the story and characters formulaic and mundane.