DOOM DELUISE: Hello, everybody. Welcome to our latest joint review of the new WB-produced direct-to-DVD animated version of the Darwyn Cooke story “New Frontier.” I’m here with my fellow blogging cohort Jim Doom to discuss our thoughts on the flick.
To start with, going into this movie, what was your knowledge of the New Frontier story? Had you read the miniserieseses? I suppose my question is, what were your expectations upon sitting down?
JIM DOOM: I’ve never read it, but I’ve only heard good things about it. To be honest, when I first heard about the New Frontier comic, I had no idea who Darwyn Cooke was, but just he had some sort of comics god status because of the series. Considering it was a self-contained story, I was figuring the movie would be able to follow it pretty well.
Obviously, since I haven’t read it, I don’t know if that was the case, but it wasn’t going to be immediately saddled with the problem the Superman: Doomsday movie had, and that was taking a whole lot of continuity and fragments spreading off in different directions and trying to compress that into something self-contained.
And considering it was based on something so highly regarded, I figured it’d probably be pretty awesome.
DD: Interesting. I went into it with pretty much the exact same frame-of-mind. I’d never read it, but I thought it was going to be pretty awesome, because of the same reasons you stated. The Superman: Doomsday movie was trying to put two years worth of comics into a single 70 minute movie, whereas this one was just one mini-series, spanning a dozen or so issues.
With that in mind, though, overall, what were your impressions, in a broad sense?
JD: I was pretty disappointed. It was better than Superman: Doomsday, but that movie was awful. I think it shared many of the same flaws, and I really hope that DC gets those worked out before the completion of the Batman animated films.
DD: It makes me wonder if there’s an unwritten rule at DC Animation that says they can’t make a direct-to-DVD movie that’s longer than 70 minutes? It seemed this movie felt incredibly rushed.
JD: Really? I didn’t get that sense. To me it felt like it turned a pretty weak story into a stretched-out weak story. Though maybe if I really took the time to ponder it, the weakness would turn out to be because it was rushed. I don’t know. But it was just, “Hint at The Center for an hour, and then fight an island. The end.”
I really wonder what they’d do if they had to get 80 minutes out of that. Hint at The Center some more? Fight dinosaurs for a little longer? Drag out the Hal Jordan story another 10 minutes?
DD: I think the reason I felt it seemed so crammed together was because, at times, it was as if they would gloss over three years from one scene to the next. And that whole subplot with John Jones: Private Dick just came out of nowhere.
JD: Yeah, I like how he learned everything he needed to know to join the police force and get promoted to detective by watching a movie.
DD: We’ll get into the details well enough, I’m sure, but, overall, what did you think was “The Good” in this movie?
JD: The animation was pretty good, though it seemed noticeably stiff at times. It was either glorious or wooden, very little in between. And really, the best thing about the movie to me was that it wasn’t as bad as Superman: Doomsday. Other than that, I really didn’t think it had much going for it. I have no desire to see it again, and now I have no desire to read the comics.
DD: They really couldn’t figure out how to convey the Flash’s speed, I didn’t think. Other than, “Have his speed blow off that guy’s hat!”
JD: You’re right – when they actually showed him traveling across the countryside, he seemed uncomfortably slow. It was like “Dang, he’s not actually going to make it to Vegas until tomorrow.”
DD: I think one of the hardest things for a comic book artist would be to create a sense of motion and speed, but, seriously, if it’s animated, you’ve got no excuse.
JD: Ok, I thought of a good thing – Wonder Woman was drawn to be a big oaf of a woman, as you’d expect a warrior lady to look, instead of just being a really hot lady.
DD: That’s a good point. I, for one, enjoyed the Green Lantern stuff. I mean, for crying out loud, it took them long enough to get around to it, but when Hal finally figured out how to use his ring, I thought that was, like, borderline cool.
JD: Although you know what that totally reminded me of?
DD: Do tell.
JD: Well actually, think about it and see if you can remember a parallel to Hal Jordan’s arc in this movie.
DD: Star Wars?
JD: Well, that’s not what I was thinking of, but what I was thinking of was probably a rip-off of Star Wars.
But think about this: The goof-off that nobody can depend on finally gets his chance when everything looks lost. He leads what could basically be a suicide mission against the big planet-like chunk of earth, going right inside the beast where his near-death experience allows him to tap into the power of the ancients that allows him to harness amazing power to start blowing up the enormous bad guy from the inside …
DD: Sounds like Star Wars to me.
JD: Well, I was actually thinking about Hot Rod in Transformers: The Movie. He’s part of that suicide mission into the innards of Unicron, and as he almost has the life choked out of him by Galvatron, he unleashes the power of the Autobot Matrix to start blowing up Unicron from the inside.
And when he emerges, that’s not Hot Rod anymore; That’s Rodimus Prime.
DD: Oh, hell yeah, I can totally see that.
JD: I think Hal’s character fits Hot Rod more than it fits Luke. Nobody expects Hal to be the Messiah. And his buddy Ace is kind of like Kup. Abin Sur is sort of like Optimus Prime maybe?
DD: And that goo stuff that clogs them up?
JD: Well, it’s like all that acid and snippers and other defenses inside Unicron, as well as being a metaphor for the strangling grip of Galvatron.
DD: It’s a good thing that Hal had his ring to light their darkest hour.
JD: And after the island was destroyed, All were One.
Although this ended DC’s Golden Age and began Cybertron’s.
I believe it’s also worth noting that this Hal Jordan story arc had about 1/100th of the dramatic impact that Hot Rod’s did, which is especially pathetic considering the former is based on a much beloved comic series and the latter was a 90-minute commercial for the new line of Hasbro toys.
DD: I wish you wouldn’t have brought this up. When you put these two movies side-by-side and compare them, it turns my indifference-bordering-on-dislike for the New Frontier movie to something much more scornful. Transformers: The Movie blows it away at every turn.
JD: Isn’t that pathetic? I mean, I love Transformers: The Movie, but I’m aware of the fact that it was a toy commercial. DC appears to be reaching for some kind of mature animated art form.
DD: Yeah, I agree. The fact that they have point-blank shootings and characters calling each other “son of a bitches” shows that they clearly are going for a mature audience.
JD: That problem I mentioned before, shared by Superman: Doomsday and The New Frontier, is that DC is apparently unaware of who their audience is or undecided about who they’re targeting. Their inclusion of graphic violence and naughty words shows that they consider themselves more mature, but their refusal to put much thought into their storylines or the character dynamics apparently suggests that all you need to be mature is some PG language.
Batman: The Animated series still holds mature interest because of some really powerful, well-written episodes. It didn’t need bullets to the head or strong language to do that. DC’s approach to some kind of fantastic legitimacy is completely shallow and exploitative.
It’s sort of like when WWE thinks they’re reaching the same level of intellectual storytelling as an episode of Law & Order: SVU when they have Triple H simulate sex with a corpse.
“They have people doing it with corpses, we have people doing it with corpses; that Emmy is as good as ours!”
DD: I think another thing, though, that B:TAS had going in its favor is that it really didn’t have a whole lot to lose. They knew they had an established fan base that would spill over from the live-action movies, and they were able to reinvent the Bat, rather than just tell stories that everybody’s already read and memorized. Like, the fact that they almost immediately made Mr. Freeze, Man-Bat, and Clayface into A-List villains shows how awesome that show was. They took characters that time and camp had discarded and made new stories for them.
New Frontier and Superman: Doomsday were limited immediately due to the fact that they were trying to simply transfer stories from one medium to another.
There’s room for creativity in such a practice, but I just don’t see any effort here. It’s almost as if the only thought they put into it was in how they’d make a long story shorter.
JD: Furthermore, did they ever bother explaining how the island was controlling people? And what the Island really gained by having cults devoted to it? And why the island attacked Florida but then just kind of sat offshore for a few hours? The movie gets stupider the more I think about it.
You know what else was really stupid?
DD: What else was really stupid?
JD: Superman quite clearly answers to the American government, right? We see that even skunk-haired man, Martian Manhunter’s BFF, has direct access to Superman, right?
DD: That’s correct. Just a phone call away.
JD: So why then did the US government need a super-secret spaceship program — packed with nuclear weapons in case the Martians were hostile — to find out if there’s life on Mars? Couldn’t they just say, “Hey Superman — can you fly to Mars and see what’s going on up there?”
Not to mention that Adam Strange — a guy who spent a good portion of his life in another solar system — is just floating around waiting for a killer planet.
It just shows how intellectually lazy their storytelling is, when storytelling that respects the intelligence of the audience is how you attract mature viewers.
This just went for the shock value of showing kids bullets-to-the-head and “damn,” “hell” and “son of a bitch.”
DD: Speaking of mature storytelling attracting mature viewers, do you want to know what my biggest complaint with this movie is? And, for the record, I’m sure it extends to the graphic novel.
JD: Do tell.
DD: Ok, let’s go back in time to the Cold War. Every good American has a bomb shelter, and everybody’s afraid of nuclear conflict with the Reds. Tension is at an all-time high, and even the slightest thing could tip things toward nuclear winter.
Now, introduce an indestructible man who can fly and shoot lasers from his eyes, and make him operate at the beck and call of the Americans.
A competent comic book can show what ramifications would stem from a situation like that. For instance, Watchmen or Superman: Red Son.
This just seems to suggest that everything is the same, except Superman works for the USA. He’s fucking Superman. The war’s over.
JD: Yeah, that’s a good point.
DD: It’s lazy storytelling; you’re absolutely right.
JD: What’s unfortunate is that it could so easily be avoided. Just off the top of my head, why not just have Superman lie low? Easy solution, though you lose that ironic superhero-deconstruction of Superman fascist works for the government, man!
Or make Ferris Aviation just a private company that wants to go to the goddanged planets. But then you lose Ooh scary government has secret programs they are so covert!!
It just depends on these clichés that hurt, rather than enhance, the story. They’re the worst kind of shortcuts.
DD: Yeah, no kidding. Initially, while watching the movie, I was thinking, “Wow, so it’s the mid to late 50s, and private aviation has surpassed the government in sending a man not just to the moon, but to Mars?” and then they introduced that skunk hair guy and made me forget that idea.
JD: But you know, interestingly enough, this might not all be the fault of DC’s in-house film people. Go read this about my thoughts on Darwyn Cooke’s Spirit:
I think I’ve finally figured out what it is that has kept me from loving it to the point where I could be enthusiastically raving about it. That is, I’m not sure this book really knows what it’s trying to be. It’s not an all-ages book, due to the sexual themes and the languages. Yet its “Saturday morning cartoon” presentation keeps it from being a gritty crime book. As a reader, you make the unconscious (or conscious) decision to give certain things the benefit of the doubt based upon what a book is trying to be. And with The Spirit, those permissions sometimes conflict with each other, resulting in a book that is a good read, yet neither a great all-ages book nor a great superhero / crime drama.
This is an admittedly unfair comparison, but it’s the best analogy I can draw, so work with me for a minute, but The Spirit kind of reminds me of a bad dark comedy. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about – the type of movie commonly produced by college film students that too unsure of its jokes to be an all-out comedy and too unsure of its meaning to be an all-out drama, so instead, it calls itself a “dark comedy.” So if you don’t laugh at the humor or you don’t get sucked into the story, the creators can say “Well that’s okay, because it’s a dark comedy.”
Maybe this whole thing of straddling the line between mature and juvenile is just a Darwyn Cookism. He hides his weak plots behind, “Oh, it’s just all in fun!” but then throws in a damn, hell, bitch and some side-boob and you feel more like a man.
DD: Side boob is awesome.
JD: Granted, I’m obviously making inferences about the book based on the awful movie and other Darwyn Cooke material, but lets just say if the super-shoe fits …
DD: Let’s sum up. Overall, I think this movie is stiff, rushed-yet-boring, and nothing about it makes me ever want to view it again. The animation is distractingly bad at times, and the story, characters, and dialogue are entirely forgettable. The fact that it tries so hard to seem “important” just makes it kind of pathetic. What’s your summation?
JD: I pretty much agree with all of that. Its sense of self-importance was definitely a turn-off.
I feel bad for all the geeks out there that are like “Hey guys, you really need to watch this movie. It’s based on one of the greatest comics ever!”
Then they’re either going to have a cruel joke played on them, or they’re going to get what they deserve. Probably just depends on how faithful this is to the comic. And thanks to this movie, I’ll never know!
I feel like comic book movies, this being no exception, are becoming like the Democratic primary. We’re being told to just give up hope that these things will ever actually be good movies worth watching, even if that seems so simple and within reach. Instead, we need to just accept that we’re going to get a soulless, dumbed-down rehash of every other awful movie that compromises everything in its effort to appeal to the greatest number of uneducated morons as possible.
DD: You’re certainly shaping up to be one bitter old grouch.