Warner Home Video presents
Justice League: Season One (Blu-ray) (2001)
"Who's the rookie in the tiara?"- Green Lantern (Phil LaMarr)
Stars: Kevin Conroy, George Newbern, Phil LaMarr, Susan Eisenberg
Other Stars: Maria Canals, Carl Lumbly, Michael Rosenbaum, Efram Zimbalist, Jr., Mark Hamill, Powers Boothe
Director: Butch Lukic, Dan Riba
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (cartoon violence)
Run Time: 09h:35m:00s
Release Date: 2008-08-19
DVD ReviewWith much-deserved affection for the various Super Friends iterations, Bruce Timm and company's Justice League, along with the later Justice League Unlimited, created the definitive cartoon version of the superhero team. The show had some of the best animation on television, voice talent to match, and stories that were mature without being over-the-top or losing the ability to bring in the kids.
The crucial choice lies in the seriousness with which animator Bruce Timm takes the characters and situations. Without toning down any of the inherent comic book elements, the superheroes all have personalities that are distinct and interesting in a way that buoys the outer-space adventures and villainous hijinks. Without being a soap opera, the main cast members here are written more ably than those of a good many live-action network shows that I could name. That writing is aided by some fine voice work: Kevin Conroy, the definitive voice of Batman, returns here, while George Newbern takes over from Tim Daly as the voice of Superman. Michael Rosenbaum, Smallville's Lex Luthor, is the Flash. WB animation stalwart and casting director Andrea Romano has consistently raised the bar for television voice talent on the various series leading up to Justice League, and she's pulled together another best-in-the-industry crew here. The plots are all appropriately comic-book big (super-intelligent apes attack, alien gladiators, parallel worlds, etc.), but the actors sell it.
In the three-part premiere, a manned mission to Mars ends in disaster when the crew wakes up a hibernating army of freaky looking aliens bent on domination of the earth. Dour, but otherwise friendly, Martian J'onn J'onzz (Carl Lumbly) uses his telepathic powers to recruit a team of heroes capable saving the planet: Batman, Superman, The Flash, Amazonian princess Wonder Woman (Susan Eisenberg), alien outcast Hawkgirl (Maria Canals-Barrera), and space-cop Green Lantern (Phil LaMarr). In the end they decide that forming a more permanent alliance isn't such a bad idea, in spite of the massive amount of property damage that ensues whenever they hang out (every hero, and every villain, gets rammed into the side of a building at some point—just the way it goes). They're joined for a time by surly Atlantean warlord Aquaman, who in this iteration goes shirtless and sports a full, luxuriant mullet. After he saws off his own hand in order to save his son, replacing it with a harpoon, it's clear that this ain't your father's Aquaman. In Injustice for All, a dying Lex Luthor, picking up the character's arc from Superman: The Animated Series, ditches the business suits and assembles a team of classic baddies for one last (until the next time) attempt to take down his archnemesis. The rather spectacular three-part series finale The Savage Time has the team transported to World War II where an immortal time traveler has replaced Hitler and introduced future technology into the fight against the allies. The episode gets things right in terms of pacing and style, and sets the stage for an improved Season Two. Several of the earlier episodes really struggle with time to kill, and the pace of the pilot, in particular, can be deadly at times. The consistent two-to-three-part format provides for greater depth and background in the stories, but not all of the stories need an hour to tell. None of them are bad, but War World in particular involves yellow aliens yelling at Superman on a desolate planet. In two parts. Still, I have to be honest: I love all of these episodes, even if the series takes a while to warm up. By taking the characters seriously and treating them with respect, Bruce Timm and company build upon the great work done in their Batman and Superman animated series. I'd say that the show makes me feel like a kid again (there is that particular kind of fun in watching these guys as a grown-up), but it never feels like a guilty pleasure, given the maturity and level of talent involved.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: First off, there's a bit of controversy with regard to the aspect ratio presented here, as there was with the standard-def version. The first season of the show was aired in two different formats: a fullscreen version (what you get here), and a matted widescreen version that the series' creators prefer. Rather than offering both, Warner Brothers has provided only the former. It's probably the most appropriate choice, all things considered. The widescreen version aired simply created a widescreen effect by matting the top and bottom of the frame, so the episodes as presented on these discs provide the full visual information. Still, Warners could have gotten some major points by providing both versions.
That aside, the image quality is really spectacular. The primary colors of the costumes come through in a bold and striking fashion, and there is none of the artifacting that seems especially present in animation releases. This is a television show, so the animation isn't always completely flawless, but it stands up to the scrutiny of the high quality of the 1080p, VC-1 transfer.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: There's a minimum of separation on the 5.1 Dolby track, and I'm not even sure that it's much of an upgrade from the track on the standard-def version. That's not to say it's bad, it just doesn't provide quite the punch in the face that a show like this would really benefit from. All of the action and dialogue are clear and crisp, but this is one area where the show's TV roots really show.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
3 Feature/Episode commentaries by Producer Bruce Timm, James Tucker, Rich Fogel, Glen Murakami, Rich Fogel, and Dan Riba
Packaging: Keep Case
Extras Review: The set comes with a fine assortment of special features, though they're all in standard definition and replicate the original release.
The primary special feature is the ten-minute Inside Justice League, a moderated chat with creators Bruce Timm, James Tucker, Rich Fogel, and Dan Riba. It's brisk and fun, covering the genesis of the show and the challenges faced in taking things up a notch from some of their previous work. In the same vein, the four-minute Character Design feature goes through the major players of the show with early concept sketches and discusses the rationale for some of the stylistic choices made. The seven-minute Blueprint for Justice discusses the storyboarding process, and is actually rather fascinating in that the storyboards play a much bigger role here than they would in a typical live-action film.
The team provides three commentaries, on the final chapters of The Enemy Below, Legends, and The Savage Time. These guys are always in pretty good form on these tracks, going into some personal and technical detail without any blank spots.
The First Mission: Never Before Seen Promo is the original five-minute pitch reel that the creative team put together in order to sell the network on the Justice League idea. Thinking, initially, that they'd need to sell the show for a younger audience, the promo includes more kid-friendly elements, and a few more modern, "cool" characters in place of the classic line-up that eventually wound up on air. A fun look at what might, and probably shouldn't, have been. Finally, the Blackhawk Theme Music Video is essentially an isolated score over an aerial scene from the season finale, prepared as a teaser for Comic-con.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsAction cartoons have come a long way from the much beloved but two-dimensional Super-Friends. Bruce Timm and the gang did it again with their take on the world's greatest superheroes, with well-rounded characters and plots, not to mention great animation, super-powered action, and plenty of animated property damage. This Blu-Ray is a very big step above the standard release in terms of video quality, even if the other features remain the same. The show is a lot of fun (even if Season One takes some time to warm up), and this is the version to grab.
Ross Johnson 2008-09-08