Tag Archive: dvd

Opposite Day!

Originally Published: March 2, 2010, on 1050ESPN.com (now ESPNNewYork.com)

The folks at DC Animation are constantly thinking up new ways to put some twists on classic comic book storylines and their latest undertaking is a new look at the classic alternative universe, or “multi-verse”, storylines that have been a staple of the DC Universe (DCU) since the 1960s.

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths sees the Justice League visited by an alternative universe Lex Luthor where everything is opposite to our beloved Justice League’s universe. So, Lex Luthor and the Joker (called The Jester) are heroes and Superman, Batman, and the rest of the Justice League all has villainous mobster-type counterparts (Ultraman to Superman, Owlman to Batman, etc.). It is now tasked to our Justice League to rise to the challenge of adapting to this new world and to take down this nefarious group of super villains (called the Crime Syndicate) for the sake of the entire multi-verse!

If you’re a DCU fan and you are expecting to see a single comic story arc represented in this latest straight to DVD movie, then you will be sorely mistaken. A die-hard DCU fan will immediately recognize that this is more of a compilation of elements from all of the multi-verse stories of the 1960s all the way through to the first DCU Crisis. From adding a few original elements and using the Crime Syndicate of Earth-3 storylines, to the idea of a multi-verse and its possible destruction, this DVD was able to tie together all those concepts very well to create a never-before-seen, enjoyable storyline involving all of our favorite superheroes. Of course, it didn’t take a lot of reworking from the brain trust at DC Animation since most of these pieces were already in place almost a decade ago when this was originally supposed to be a bridge between the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited cartoons, but I still liked it.

Although the movie is just 75 minutes, there are also plenty of DVD features on the special edition to make this a worthwhile purchase instead of a simple rental. The special features include a short documentary feature on the advent of the multi-verse in the DCU and how they inspire storylines even today, which was brilliantly done and features the usual powerhouses behind the scenes of DC. Along with this, you get a preview of the next big DC Animation project (Under the Red Hood), a special animated short featuring the original Spectre done in the style of a 1970s crime drama, and two episodes of the Justice League cartoon from the early 2000s that, of course, features an alternative universe Justice League. Right there you have probably another 75 minutes of bonus content, not to mention it comes with an Owlman figurine if you get the 2-disc special edition.

Even with all these great features and an original plot, there were a couple of drawbacks. I thought the animation style was a little sub par to what I’ve come to expect from DC Animation. There was just something that rubbed me the wrong way and it had to do with the characters’ faces. They almost looked a little too unrealistic, like they belonged more in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Along with this, the voice acting was only average. I was severely disappointed with William Baldwin’s portrayal of Batman and Mark Harmon as Superman and Chris Noth as Lex Luthor really ground my gears as well. I did love James Woods as Owlman, though, and Nolan North, a voice acting veteran best known for several of his video game roles, played Green Lantern and his evil counterpart, Power Ring, very nicely.

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths could be a nice addition to any DC fan’s DVD collection with some great special features and a good plot based on some classic storylines, but I wouldn’t put it above Batman/Superman: Public Enemies or the Wonder Woman animated feature that came out last year.

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths gets 3 out of 5.

-Ray Carsillo

A Greener Planet

Originally Published: February 12, 2010, on 1050ESPN.com (now ESPNNewYork.com)

While growing up, I was never really fascinated with the Hulk because the character never had the depth to draw me to him. I loved the fact that the madder he got the stronger he got, and the cheesy catch phrases were great to imitate (“RAY SMASH!”; “RAY STRONGEST THERE IS!”), but beyond these, the Hulk was always a B-level character in the grand scheme of things.

My frustration only grew with Hulk as he was depicted the same way over and over again in horrible movies that were later remade with bigger names into better movies with the same basic story, and we can’t forget the horribly overpriced straight-to-DVD animated features.

But in 2006, there was hope. Over the course of a little more than a year in the Incredible Hulk’s third volume, came the Planet Hulk storyline, an arc that has been the Hulk’s shining moment in his nearly 50 years of comics (with a close second being the storyline that came out of the Planet Hulk story arc, World War Hulk). This was the first time, the Hulk, and not Bruce Banner (or a merging of the Hulk’s body and Banner’s personality), was the personality with layer upon layer of depth and development. The Hulk was thinking, strategizing, speaking in complete sentences. And after years of being limited, the Hulk had become not only the center of his own planet, but would soon become the center of the Marvel Universe.

These glorious storylines drew me to the superhero who liked purple stretchy pants like never before. Of course, Marvel would screw it all up and have a horribly anti-climatic end to World War Hulk and make him stupid again, but for a time, Hulk was the top dog.

Realizing that many casual comic readers had also been drawn to the Hulk across these story arcs, Marvel animation (who always seem to want to feature the Hulk in something, some way or another) decided that the Planet Hulk story arc would make a fantastic DVD movie. And so, I present to you Planet Hulk.

With the cover art done by Alex Ross to grab prospective buyers’ attention, and voice acting veterans like Liam O’Brien as Hiroim and Kevin Michael Richardson as Korg signing on board, this is easily the best animated feature starring the Hulk that Marvel has done. A full hour and 21 minutes also makes it one of the longer comic book based animated films to come out in a long time. Of course, I thought that with everything Marvel would have had to cram into the DVD to make it as true to the original series as possible, I thought they would have been pushing 100 minutes, but Marvel found a way to streamline the story and still keep in all the best parts of the Planet Hulk comics.

The basic premise is that the Illuminati back on Earth (comprised of Black Bolt, Namor, Iron Man, Professor X, Mr. Fantastic, and Doctor Strange) have come to the conclusion that the Hulk is simply too dangerous to remain on Earth and so they gas him and send him on a spaceship towards a desolate planet. Of course, Tony Stark sticking true to form, has to gloat in a recording explaining the situation to the Hulk when he wakes up, and in the Hulk’s fury, he knocks the navigation system out of whack and crash lands on a planet ruled through fear by a man simply known as “The Red King”. To keep his subjects in line and entertained, the Red King holds gladiatorial matches in a coliseum in his capital city between natives of the planet and those unfortunate enough to crash land on his barren world. Not taking too kind to being a slave, Hulk fights back. We then watch as our hero evolves and strategizes against the Red King as he fights for not only his freedom, but for an entire planet’s.

Although not perfectly true to the original comics (Silver Surfer was cut due to legal issues and was replaced by Beta Ray Bill), it did add little snippets that brought together some aspects of the Marvel universe very nicely (such as Thor’s origin story, although slightly perverted by Beta Ray Bill’s presence, leading to how Korg ended up as a gladiator). It also trimmed down Hulk’s “Warbound” party due to the fact that 81 minutes was simply not enough time to give everyone’s back story, have Hulk develop a relationship with all of them, and then have him kick lots of alien butt.

The animation was beautiful and flowed very smoothly, especially in some of the epic fight scenes that were re-created straight from the comics. The voice acting was top notch and the musical score set the mood perfectly from the action sequences to the more emotional moments.

At the end of the day, this was the best Hulk story ever done and that alone made this the best Hulk DVD ever made. Considering some great extra features like a full episode of Wolverine and the X-Men (the same old story of “Hulk vs. Wolverine vs. Wendigo” though, more of the same tired garbage I was mentioning before, but a full extra 22 minutes of animation isn’t something to scoff at either) and several behind the scenes mini-documentaries and motion comics and my only real problem with this was the fact that Marvel couldn’t get over the legal issues that constantly seem to be plaguing them nowadays and get the Silver Surfer into this.

Planet Hulk gets 4 out of 5.

-Ray Carsillo

The Ultimate Team-Up

Originally Published: October 23, 2009, on 1050ESPN.com (now ESPNNewYork.com)

I had promised this a while ago, but due to unforeseen circumstances, breaking news, and surprise interviews, this review has been pushed back for weeks. Now, finally, without further ado, here is my review of Batman/Superman: Public Enemies.

It is one of the best titles to come out from DC in a long time and it gives a fresh look into the psyches of their two heavy lifters, Batman and Superman. Aptly titled Batman/Superman (or Superman/Batman, not really sure since they use a Superman symbol inside a giant bat), this series, started by comic book veterans Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness five years ago, has seen some of the most interesting situations the Dark Knight and Man of Steel have ever been thrown in. From alternative universes to Lex Luthor’s presidency, Batman/Superman never has a dull moment while the limits of the DC Universe’s logic are always pushed to the limits.

Because of the success of this series’ run, DC Animation felt it would be prudent to strike while the iron was hot. Considering that the storyboards were already in place for the most part since this story was to have been done on Cartoon Network before the Justice League series was cancelled, it only needed minor tweaking to turn what would have been a two or three episode arc for the half hour cartoon into a full 67-minute feature.

Thus, we have Batman/Superman: Public Enemies. Following the story arc where Lex Luthor is president and puts a bounty out on the heads of our two favorite heroes, Public Enemies is a testament to DC Animation when they get it right.

This cartoon was the comic come to life. There were some parts cut out like the Superman from Earth-2’s visit, but they were all for the sake of keeping the story crisp and free of clutter. I understand that, but when the movie is only 67 minutes, would 10 more minutes of animated story straight from the comic killed you? The animation style looked just like the drawings from the comic and having veteran voice actors reprise their roles from previous DC cartoons like Kevin Conroy as Batman, Tim Daly as Superman, and Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor made fanboys everywhere jump for joy.

The only real problem I had with the cartoon was that it didn’t depict the motivations of our heroes nor did it say why they interact with each other the way they do like in the comics. Of course, the lack of thought bubbles is a problem when taking something from a comic, but it is such an integral part of the comic that Public Enemies doesn’t feel as deep as it should. With the uniqueness of the relationship between Batman and Superman being a large part of the book, it made the cartoon feel a little empty without being able to properly depict that.

Also, the scene that was added where Luthor makes out with Amanda Waller was grossly unnecessary. With everything else that was cut to keep the story as streamlined as possible, that addition made no sense.

When you consider the awesome special features for the 2-disc special addition (that also comes with a sweet Batman figurine!) including a sit down with Andrea Romano (casting director for DC Animation), Bruce Timm (executive producer), and Kevin Conroy (voice of Batman), and two Adventures of Superman cartoon episodes from the late 90s and the $19.99 price tag seems well worth it.

Minor character development problems aside, this was an awesome movie and the special features make it all the more worth it. Include the great voice acting and animation and this is a must buy for any DC Comics fan.

Batman/Superman: Public Enemies gets a 4 out of 5.

-Ray Carsillo

Originally Published: April 21, 2009, on 1050ESPN.com (now ESPNNewYork.com) and Lundberg.me

Watchmen is easily one of the most influential comics to ever be published. This is a fact that cannot be disputed even by the staunchest of critics of the comics. One of the things that made it great were the addendums at the end of each chapter to flesh out the characters of this fictional Earth and their society’s problems. It was also one of the reasons why many speculated it would be impossible to make it into a movie.

Well, here we are two months after the motion picture’s release without any of the addendums included and many, myself included, thought it was spectacular.

However, many diehards of the franchise were furious that Zack Snyder couldn’t find a way to fit in several of the addendums and many newcomers to the series couldn’t understand every facet of the Watchmen reality without them.

In response to their fans and in a stroke of money-making genius, DC has released an animated feature of Tales of the Black Freighter with the DVD including a live-action feature representing the Under the Hood addendum.

This DVD addendum to the movie (that started as addendums to the novel) is a near-perfect representation of these stories within the story.

The first story, Tales of the Black Freighter, is the response to the comic’s quandary: “If there are superheroes in real-life for these people, what would their comics be like?” Not a common thought when developing a plot, but that’s part of the beauty of Watchmen. The answer to this question was pirates and the supernatural (ghouls, demons, etc.) would populate the pages of these fictional rags.

Tales of the Black Freighter
is a mirror for the story of Watchmen as it shows in a microcosm that sometimes the best of intentions don’t always have the best of results and that sometimes one’s focus on the worst aspects of life can blind them from everything good in the world.

The Black Freighter is a ship of ghoulish pirates who have committed so many heinous acts over their lifetimes that their souls are cursed to sail the seven seas on hell’s personal sea vessel in search of more damned souls to hoist her rotten masts. A testament to just how hard it is to find good help these days.

The particular tale in Watchmen that we see is how the Black Freighter attacks and ransacks another pirate ship, and how all the crew is slaughtered except the captain. The captain washes up on a desolate shore with the carcasses of his crew and the sole intention of seeing his family again. He also fears that the Black Freighter will sail towards his home and the very threat of his family being in danger is enough to keep his resolve strong.

In desperation, he strings up the carcasses of his crew into a makeshift raft and sets off in the hopes of reaching his family before the Black Freighter. Alone, hungry, and left to drink seawater, he begins to go mad, talking to his slaughtered friends’ dead bodies. Disgusting sights begin to drive him further into madness as gases trapped in his crews bodies begins to make them explode and leave a trail of blood in their wake that attracts the seas’ most feared predator: the Great White Shark.

With pieces of sharpened parts of his makeshift raft, he stabs one of the sharks in the eye and jams the staff deep into the cranium of the shark, killing it, adding it to his raft of death and scaring off the remaining sharks.

After nearly losing all hope and preparing to succumb to the sea, the raft finds shore. Convinced that the Black Freighter has reached here before him, the captain believes with every fiber of his being that all the shapes draped by shadows by the night sky are actually pirates laughing at his futile efforts.

He skulks through the town, approaching his home, the longing to see his family all that is keeping him going. The night continues to play tricks on him as he beats to death what he believes to be a sentry positioned at his home, only to come to his senses after his daughters’ shrill screams piece the night air and to realize he just beat his own wife to death. In his panic, he runs back to the sea where he sees the Black Freighter waiting for him, ready to finally claim its next soul.

The captain was so blind to his hate of the Freighter and that it would hurt his family, that in the end, the captain was the only one to do the harm as he condemns himself to an eternity of sailing the seven seas as a member of the Black Freighter’s crew with one misguided act.

The animated version of this on the DVD perfectly depicted the gruesome fates of the captain and his crew from the original story and Gerard Butler (300) played the voice of the narrator/captain very well, but I couldn’t help but want to hear him yell “THIS IS SPARTA!” or more appropriately “THIS IS THE BLACK FREIGHTER!” the entire time.

The other story is much simpler. Under the Hood is an autobiographical story revolving around the original Nite Owl and his driving motivations showing why he put on a mask and fought with the Minutemen. Not as deep a part of the universe’s main plot, yet still critical nonetheless because it retells almost the entire back-story to the Watchmen‘s world and sets the stage for the events taking place in the novel itself.

DC knew that an autobiography with no pictures clearly wouldn’t work on a DVD though. In order to counteract this problem, Under the Hood was turned into a magazine news program episode. Similar to 60 Minutes, The Culpeper Minute gets all the minor and past characters of Watchmen to come out and tell their story as if a Mike-Wallace-type was interviewing them.

All the actors who took the extra time to make this half hour mini-feature were great and showed how in-depth they got into their characters while explaining a lot of the key details that the main feature movie had to bypass to keep it less than three hours.

This supplemental DVD for the movie Watchmen is really high in quality and succeeds in filling in several of the gaps from the main feature’s plot, but considering both mini-features combined barely mark an hour, it is tough to say this is worth $20 (even with the sneak peak at this summer’s animated Green Lantern feature included).

Unless you are a die-hard fan of the Watchmen, then you can probably pass on this DVD and wait till it is included with the Director’s Cut Special Edition of the Watchmen DVD for a much smaller price. Rumor has it that these features will be worked in at key parts of the movie’s story just like in the book, which would make the Director’s Cut a much smarter buy for the die-hard fan than this DVD if they can wait a couple more months.

Good quality for poor quantity at an even worse price makes the Tales of the Black Freighter DVD only worth 2 out of 5.

-Ray Carsillo