Blu-ray Review HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Ken_McAlinden, Mar 5, 2010.

  1. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths

    Directed By: Sam Liu & Lauren Montgomery

    Starring: William Baldwin, Mark Harmon, Chris Noth, Gina Torres, James Woods, Jonathan Adams, Brian Bloom, Bruce Davison, Josh Keaton, Vanessa Marshall, Nolan North, James Patrick Stuart


    Studio: Warner Bros.

    Year: 2010

    Rated: PG-13

    Film Length: 75 minutes

    Aspect Ratio: 16:9

    Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

    Release Date: February 23, 2010

    The Film **½

    In Crisis on Two Earths, the latest direct to video animated DC Universe release, the Justice League [Superman (Harmon), Batman (Baldwin), Wonder Woman (Marshall), J'onn J'onzz (Adams), Green Lantern (North), and The Flash (Keaton)] learns of the existence of a parallel Earth from an unlikely source: that Earth's Lex Luthor (Noth). On this parallel Earth, Lex Luthor is part of a struggling resistance movement opposed to The Crime Syndicate, a group of super-beings whose powers mirror those of the Justice League. Initially recruited to stop the Crime Syndicate's plans blackmail their Earth into submission with a massively destructive weapon, the stakes are raised when the Syndicate's Owlman (Woods) and Super Woman (Torres) are revealed to be working on an even more destructive plan that could jeopardize the safety of all parallel universes.

    The "parallel Earths" concept in the various DC Comics "Crisis…" series has been used for multiple purposes throughout the years inclusive of resolving the existence of "golden age" and "silver age" versions of the same superheroes, retroactively adjusting the continuity burdens of six decades of serial comic storytelling, integrating characters from other publishers acquired by DC into the larger DC Universe, and generally just shaking things up by killing and/or reviving various characters. Some of these stories have worked better than others, but they have usually been successful in moving comics as the combination of so many popular characters in a single massive storyline has proven to be an irresistible lure for fans.

    The idea of doing a "clean sheet of paper" take on these stories via a direct to video animation sounds like a pretty good one since it allows the producers to tell a massive story with many popular characters without all of the burdens of decades of continuity that sometimes bogged down the comics. Unfortunately, the execution is a bit lacking. Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths stumbles primarily due to lazy plotting that feels like it is simply marking time in between major fight sequences. The motivations for the characters are left sketchy at best, with heroes who are willing to flit off to another dimension en masse merely because someone asks them to do so and villains who want to destroy the universe simply because they are nihilists. Perhaps the most awkward element of all is a poorly executed and nearly inexplicable romance that develops between Martian Manhunter J'onn J'onnz and the daughter of the alternate Earth's president of the United States.

    This is especially disappointing given the pedigree of participants such as Executive Producer Bruce Timm and writer Dwayne McDuffie who routinely managed to turn out excellent Justice League stories when they were working on the animated TV series. While the overall technical production values of this DTV release are superior to those of the animated TV series, the story is barely on par with the worst of those episodes.

    Voice work is solid, although fans of Kevin Conroy's Batman and Clancy Brown's Lex Luthor are bound to find Billy Baldwin and Chris Noth a bit disappointing in those signature roles. On the other hand, the actors are given some pretty clunky dialog that no amount of thespian skill could save, some of it featuring mild expletives that feel shoe-horned in to achieve the DTV's PG-13 rating.

    The Video *****

    The 1080p VC-1 encoded transfer is near perfect, with solid fields of bright saturated colors and few if any artifacts visible around the line art of the animation.

    The Audio ****

    While a lossless track would have been preferred, the 640kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 track has very good fidelity and delivers a more ambitious surround mix than one normally hears with direct to video fare. Discrete surround effects and LFE extension of the low-end add some aural excitement to the film's numerous animated superhero action set-pieces.

    The Extras ***

    When the disc is first spun-up, the viewer is greeted with a skippable Sherlock Holmes BD/DVD Trailer (2:17)

    Available from both the main menu and the Special Features menu is DC Showcase - The Spectre (11:51). This is an all new animated short featuring the ghoulish title character as voiced by Gary Cole. Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, the feature has a 70s vibe enhanced by intentional distressing of the film element to make it look like a relic from that era. The story is a bit boring in a "Final Destination" sort of way as various participants in a plot to kill a Hollywood producer are dispatched in creatively ghoulish ways by the seemingly all powerful Spectre. There is a decent plot twist thrown in at the end, but it is not as effective as it would have been if the film had spent more time establishing the characters and their history. It is presented in VC1-encoded 1080p HD video with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio encoded at a 640 kbps bitrate.
    The following extras appear under the heading of Bonus Episodes:
     
    Bruce Timm Presents (91 minutes w/"Play All") includes four Justice League episodes from the second season of the Animated Series (91 minutes w/Play All) A Better World Part One and Two tell an alternate Earths story that is superior to the main feature on this disc. Twilight Part One and Two features a story that has the Justice League in an uneasy alliance with the villain Darkseid in an effort to defeat Braniac. They are presented in VC1-encoded 4:3 SD Video letterboxed to 16:9 with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound.

    DCU Live-Action Pilots (115 minutes w/"Play All") includes the 1975 pilot for the Wonder Woman television series starring Lynda Carter and Lyle Wagoner. This 74 minute pilot closely follows the original origin story for DC's Amazon Princess, even including its World War II period setting. It is presented in VC1-encoded 16:9 widescreen SD video with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. I was a bit surprised by the widescreen video, which is of generally excellent quality except for optical titles, effects shots, and certain pieces of stock footage. The television pilot was originally shown in 4:3 video, but the widescreen version does not reveal any obvious compositional deficiencies except during the opening title sequence which appears optically "squeezed" to the 16:9 ratio.

    Also included is the 41 minute live-action Aquaman pilot from 2007 starring Justin Hartley, Ving Rhames, and Lou-Diamond Phillips. The pilot features an odd blend of the Aquaman character as established in the comics, a Baywatch-style beach setting, military drama, and a horror movie climax. Watching it, one will understand why it did not get picked up as a series, but it is still kind of a fun mess. It is presented in VC1-encoded 4:3 SD video with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Conversely to the Wonder Woman pilot situation, this appears to have been originally shot at a 16:9 ratio and then cropped to the 4:3 ratio. The producers may have intended to compose for a 4:3 center extraction, but there are numerous instances where the resultant cropping creates awkward looking compositions.
    The following extra appears under the heading of Behind the Story:

    DCU: The New World (33:14) Offers a look at the various multiple Earth "Crisis" stories through the history of DC Comics from the perspective of current DC Comics writers and publishers. It begins with the interview participants recounting their history with comics both as a customer in their childhood and in their professional adult lives. It then moves on to discuss the history of the various "crisis" events in the comics and places them in the context of the history of the "DC Universe". The final portions discuss how the events of 9/11 redefined the concept of heroism and how that informed the "Identity Crisis" and "Infinite Crisis" comic events. On-screen interview participants include DC Publisher Paul Levitz, Penciler Rags Morales, Writer Geoff Johns, DC Senior Group Editor Mike Carlin, Writer Brad Meltzer, DC Comics Executive Editor and Senior VP Dan DiDio, and Producer Michael Uslan. It is presented in VC1 16:9 SD video with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.
    The following extras appear under the heading of Extras:

    A First Look at Batman: Under the Red Hood (13:47) is a sneak peek at the next DC Universe Animated Movie which adapts a story directly from the comics that focused on the death of the Jason Todd version of Robin as well as the iconic "Red Hood" criminal who is closely tied to the Joker's origin story. It mixes pre-production animation art, art from the source comics, and talking head interview segments. On-camera interview participants include Director Brandon Vietti, Writer Judd Winick, DC Comics Senior VP Creative Affairs Gregory Noveck, Producer Bruce Timm, Co-producer Alan Burnett, Voice Director Andre Romano, "Red Hood" Voice Actor Jensen Ackles, "Batman" Voice Actor Bruce Greenwood, and "Nightwing" Voice Actor Neil Patrick Harris. It is presented in VC1 16:9 SD video with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

    Three other behind the scenes promos from previously released DC Universe animated features are also included. They are similar in approach to the "Under the Red Hood" First look promo in their mix of comic and early production art with interviews with people involved with the production and/or source comics. They are all presented in VC1-encoded SD video with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

    A First Look at Green Lantern: First Flight (10:12) features on-camera comments from Didio, Timm, Noveck, Writer/Editor Denny O'Neil, Writer Alan Burnett, Romano, Director Lauren Montgomery, and voice actors Christopher Meloni (Green Lantern), Victor Garber (Sinestro), Michael Madsen (Kilowog), and Tricia Helfer (Boodika)

    A First Look at Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (7:50) features on-camera comments from Noveck, Timm, Writer Stan Berkowitz, Director Sam Liu, Romano, and voice actors Tim Daly (Superman), Kevin Conroy(Batman), Xander Berkeley (Captain Atom), LeVar Burton (Black Lightning), John C. McGinley (Metallo), and Clancy Brown (Lex Luthor)

    Wonder Woman: The Amazon Princess (10:26) includes on-camera comments from Levitz, Didio, Noveck, Timm, Montgomery, writer Michael Jelenic, and voice actors Keri Russell (Wonder Woman), Nathan Fillion (Steve Trevor), Alfred Molina (Ares), Rosario Dawson (Artemis), and Virginia Madsen (Hippolyta)

    While the digital copy mentioned on the disc's exterior packaging is not on-disc, there is an insert to the disc with a code allowing for the download of a Windows Media Digital Copy from the internet.

    Packaging

    The disc is packaged in a standard BD hard case with eco-box die-cut holes to use less plastic. The hard case is in turn contained in a cardboard slipcover which reproduces the same art while touting the presence of a digital copy. The access code and download instructions for the Windows Media digital copy are included on a paper insert inside the case

    Summary **½

    Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths delivers a lot of animated superhero action, but not much thoughtful storytelling. It is presented with near perfect 1080p video and solid, although not lossless, Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras are plentiful although only a few of them are newly produced, and all but one are in standard definition video. Highlights include four episodes of the Justice League animated series that far outstrip the main feature in terms of entertainment value. Other surprising inclusions are the pilot for the 1970s Wonder Woman TV series (conformed to 16:9 widescreen video) and the 2007 pilot for an Aquaman series that was never picked up by a network.

    Regards,

     
  2. Eric F

    Eric F Screenwriter

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    Hmm. I thought as much. I'll wait for the price to come down a bit before I pick this one up. For the first time I'm actually more interested in the extra (The Spectre) than I am in the main movie.

    Also, Warner- when are you going to use lossless audio?!?!
     
  3. Timothy E

    Timothy E Supporting Actor
    Reviewer

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    I was surprised and disappointed that the Wonder Woman and Aquaman pilot episodes are not displayed in their original aspect ratio. Wonder Woman was shot originally in 1:33.1 and Aquaman in 1:78.1.
    I can maybe see the studio providing both in a widescreen format here, but it makes little sense to crop Aquaman into a 1:33.1 when it is available elsewhere in its original OAR.
     

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