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Green Lantern: Emerald Knights

Warner Bros. // PG // June 7, 2011 // Region 0
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted June 6, 2011 | E-mail the Author
This summer's two biggest superhero blockbusters are both being preceded by direct-to-video animated movies. Since the live-action spins on Thor and Green Lantern are both telling origin stories, that
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gives their animated counterparts the freedom to veer off in a completely different direction. They're not sequels, and they're not the same tales told in a slightly different way: Tales of Asgard and Emerald Knights both try to flesh out these characters...these very different very different ways. Tales of Asgard rolls back the clock to Thor's teenage years, before he'd ever glimpsed sight of Midgard and before he'd ever even held his iconic hammer in his hands. Emerald Knights, meanwhile, is an anthology, aiming the spotlight away from Hal Jordan in particular and instead towards the Green Lantern Corps as a whole. It's a series of five distinct stories about some of the key members of the Corps, past and present, woven together by a battle against an ancient force that threatens to consume the entire universe.

Billions of years ago, the Oan scientist Krona was obsessed with uncovering the origins of the universe, and he created a machine that'd allow him to pull back the curtain and witness that initial spark of creation. This forbidden quest created an antimatter universe and led to Krona's transformation into a being of pure energy. The consequences of his actions placed the entire universe -- multiple realities, even -- in grave danger, prompting Krona's fellow Oans to rechristen themselves the Guardians of the Universe. To atone for the havoc that Krona had wrought, the Guardians created an interstellar police force known as the Green Lanterns...creatures from one end of the universe to the other possessing great will and the capacity to overcome fear, each gifted with a power ring that is perhaps the most powerful weapon in creation. Despite the eons that have come and gone since the formation of the Green Lantern Corps, Krona's destructive grip has yet to be fully eradicated. He's planted a seed of destruction in the Oan sun that marks the very center of the universe, and the shadow demons he's unleashed are devouring any Corpsmen they come across. As the Guardians rally the troops for what may be the greatest threat they've ever faced, seasoned Green Lantern Hal Jordan fills rookie Arisia Rrab in on the history of the Corps -- its proudest moments and greatest figures -- all of which will prove key to overcoming Krona once and for all.

I'll admit to having been skeptical about Emerald Knights, at least until I finished tearing open the shrinkwrap. After all, DC's last
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animated anthology, Gotham Knight, is easily the worst of the dozen or so movies they've released over the past four years, dragged down by jarringly different visual styles, one lackluster story after another, and a clumsy attempt at stringing them all together at the end. I still put that Blu-ray disc on every once in a while just for the standout Deadshot segment, but otherwise, Gotham Knight is pretty much unwatchable to my eyes. I braced myself expecting more of the same from Emerald Knights, but I couldn't have been further from the mark. Everything that disappointed me so much about Gotham Knight is handled so startlingly well here. Its visuals and storytelling both flow together wonderfully. The five very different stories that make up Emerald Knights all come together in its final moments, feeling very much like parts of a greater whole and sidestepping the disjointedness of Gotham Knight. It helps that all of the segments woven throughout the movie are consistently engaging. There's not one I'd point to as a favorite or a disappointment; they're all great. Even though this anthology by its very nature is continually bounding from one story to the next, Emerald Knights still feels intensely focused. These stories are short but immediately establish a sense of character and purpose, and the fact that there are such dazzlingly well-choreographed fight sequences, strikingly fluid animation, and an appropriate sense of awe and cosmic wonder maintain that initial adrenaline rush. The Lanterns that make up the Corps are on one hand strange and alien, and yet they do come across as a cohesive whole. Its characters are injected with enough personality that I almost forget their inspired, otherworldly appearances, and it doesn't hurt that they're brought to life by vocal talent like Firefly's Nathan Fillion and Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss either.

I've been reading Green Lantern comics for a couple of decades on and off, and so much of what I've come to love about the books finds its way into Emerald Knights. The character designs are fantastic straight across the board, from the more recognizably humanoid to the truly bizarre and alien, and I'm particularly impressed by how menacing and sinister the designs of the villains are. The power rings are used imaginatively and to full effect, a far cry from the boring force fields and green blasts from the Justice League cartoon. Even just the way the Corpsmen soar through outer space feels like they're moving in a three-dimensional plane...the way they twist and turn. It's a
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subtle thing, but this just adds to that sense of the cosmic. The battle sequences too are frequently otherworldly in scale and execution, and that really sets itself apart from the other DC animated movies out there at the moment. Exposition is light, with all of the setup woven tightly into the storytelling rather than overnarrated in an infodump. The pace screams ahead quickly enough that there's a Corpsman squaring off against an onslaught of shadow demons within just a few seconds, and that's followed mere minutes later by an all-out interstellar war. As a lifelong comic nerd, it's kind of a thrill to see just how deeply the movie mines from the Green Lantern mythos. Hal Jordan, Kilowog, Laira, Tomar-Re, Arisia, Abin Sur, Sinestro, and Mogo (!!!) all take center stage, and there are plenty of recognizable faces lurking in the background too. The Book of Oa, the Dominators, the Khunds, and Atrocitus also put in appearances. The scale of the stories shift throughout, including a look at the formation of the Corps, Kilowog slugging it out as a poozer at the Corps' boot camp before being thrust into the crossfire, Laira's samurai-style battle of family honor, the legendary bounty hunter Bolphunga aiming his sights on a mysterious and less-than-sociable Green Lantern known as Mogo, and two legendary Corpsmen trying to stop Atrocitus from shattering a power battery and annihilating an entire planet in the process. I love the fact that Emerald Knights casts such a wide net without any character being lost in the shuffle and that, at the end of the day, there really isn't a star. Hal Jordan is ultimately a supporting character the same as everyone else. There also isn't a monologuing, overarching villain once the climax is ready to be unleashed -- just a cosmic threat whose unyielding power more than speaks for itself.

The anthology approach taken by Green Lantern: Emerald Knights really pays off. The movie really takes advantage of the cosmic scale and expansive mythology of the Green Lantern Corps, weaving together these different stories in a way that's accessible to newer fans but appealing to longtime readers of the comics as well, disinterested in pandering one way or the other. I also appreciate the scale, creativity, and imaginative choreography that define the onslaught of action throughout the movie, and Emerald Knights pulls that off without resorting to the sort of lazy shock value that's crept into the comics as of late. There really isn't anything for me to complain about or criticize either: no hiccups in the voice acting, not a single weak segment in the anthology, and no stutters in the animation. Emerald Knights really evokes the sort of awe and wonder that fascinated me so much about the Green Lantern Corps comics in the '80s, and it's a very worthy addition to DC's animated library. Highly Recommended.

Green Lantern: Emerald Knights generally looks terrific in high-def. Its colors are bright and vivid, and I'm sure it goes without saying that greens in particular are rendered exceptionally well. The linework is also consistently clean and crisply defined, very much setting itself apart from anything DVD could hope to deliver. Click on any of the screenshots below for a comparison between the DVD and Blu-ray disc, if you're curious how standard definition stacks up:

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Emerald Knights does suffer from some of the same flaws that have crept into every other one of DC's animated titles to date on Blu-ray: banding, aliasing, and compression artifacting. Those issues do seem a lot less prevalent than we've seen in earlier movies, but they do still rear their head from time to time. This doesn't really dim my enthusiasm for what otherwise is such a fantastic looking release, but if you'd like to see a case in point anyway, look at how uneven and noisy the night sky is in this screenshot:

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Green Lantern: Emerald Knights soars onto Blu-ray at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and its AVC encode and the rest of the high definition extras just barely spill over onto the second layer of this BD-50 disc. The set also includes a DVD that doubles as a digital copy.

The fidelity of this six-channel, 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is pretty incredible. The voice acting is dazzlingly clean and clear, the score by Christopher Drake roars from every speaker, and there's an impressive heft to the lower frequencies as well. Emerald Knights never seems completely sure what to do with the surround channels, though, and the use of the rears is wildly uneven throughout. The opening sequence of the movie has a Green Lantern squaring off against a slew of amorphous shadow demons, and the sound design is teeming with silky smooth pans from the front to the rear as they soar across the screen. A few minutes later, Hal Jordan is weaving a tale of a massive planetary siege, and yet the surrounds there are limited to just reinforcing the music and adding a little reverb to the narration. The sequence after that has cannon fire that spills into the surround channels, but then these radial blasts right afterwards that encircle the screen are rooted entirely up front. The Mogo tale has one moment with hundreds upon hundreds of mechanical probes flooding the frame, and that doesn't take advantage of the rear speakers either. When Emerald Knights does decide to seize hold of the surrounds, it does it well -- the directionality to the dialogue in Laira's story and the grueling environmental havoc throughout Kilowog's days in bootcamp, for instance -- but that doesn't happen nearly as often as I'd have liked. That does keep Emerald Knights from feeling as cinematic in scale as it probably should, and that's somewhat of a disappointment since in every other way, the audio on this Blu-ray disc is flawless.

The list of subtitles and dubbed soundtracks is about as sprawling as the Corps' intergalactic roster: Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks (640kbps) in French, German, Italian, and Castilian Spanish, a Dolby Digital stereo dub in traditional Spanish, and subtitle streams in English (SDH), traditional Spanish, Castilian Spanish, German, French, and Italian.

Emerald Knights opens with a trailer for the live-action Green Lantern film, although for whatever reason, it's presented in standard definition and is letterboxed in non-anamorphic widescreen.

  • Audio Commentary: The commentary
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    track on Emerald Knights features two of DC Comics' high sheriffs -- Dan Didio and Geoff Johns -- and as you'd probably expect, the discussion swirls much more around the comics than the movie you just finished watching: the evolution of the Green Lantern mythos in print, just how unique a concept the Corps really is, and running through the stories in the books where some of the movie's characters and concepts were first introduced. I really enjoyed this track, although it would've been nice to have some of the directors and other writers featured here as well, especially since Didio isn't that familiar with Emerald Knights and tends to ramble on.

  • Only the Bravest: Tales of the Green Lantern Corps (32 min.; HD): Emerald Knights' audio commentary is more focused on the comics than the movie itself, and the rest of the extras on this disc follow suit as well. This half-hour featurette, for instance, delves into the psychology of bravery as well as villainy, be it in real life, classic literature, mythology, or, needless to say, Green Lantern comics. Among the other topics of discussion here are what the power ring represents as well as what sets Hal Jordan apart from other heroes in the DC Universe.

  • Why Green Lantern Matters: The Talent of Geoff Johns (18 min.; HD): Emerald Knights' other featurette focuses on Geoff Johns' exceptionally successful reign on the Green Lantern comics over the past six years, revitalizing a moderately successful but lagging book and putting Hal Jordan and the Corps at the forefront of the DC Universe.

  • From Comic Book to Screen (7 min.; HD): There are two character-centric featurettes on this Blu-ray disc as well, both using narration and panels from the original comics to chart the course of their years in the Corps. The first revolves around Abin Sur, Hal Jordan's immediate predecessor, and the other focuses on Laira Omoto.

  • Bruce Timm's Picks (26 min.; HD): The biggest
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    name in the DC Animated Universe mines from two different episodes of Batman: The Brave and the Bold for this Blu-ray disc. There's one full ep -- "Revenge of the Reach" -- that features Batman (natch), the Green Lantern Corps, the Challengers of the Unknown, and Blue Beetle(s). There's also a two and a half minute excerpt from "The Siege of Starro! Part 1" that's Green Lantern-centric. Why aren't there season sets of Brave and the Bold on Blu-ray again?

  • Sneak Peeks (22 min.; HD): This Blu-ray disc offers a first look at the upcoming adaptation of Batman: Year One. Also included is an eleven minute teaser for All Star Superman.

  • Virtual Comic Book (HD): Rounding out the extras is the entire first issue of Green Lantern: Rebirth.

The second disc in the set doubles as a DVD and a digital copy, and Emerald Knights comes packaged in a beautifully designed and nicely embossed slipcover.

The Final Word
I liked Green Lantern: First Flight well enough, but it still felt like a toned-down version of Training Day with magic rings and purple aliens. Emerald Knights, on the other hand, much more effectively captures the cosmic awe of the Green Lantern comics. The way its five individual vignettes are interconnected really explores the depth and mythology of the Lanterns while still making each story feel like part of a greater whole, and there's always something strange, wonderful, and exciting waiting around the next bend. Emerald Knights consistently connects -- strong storytelling, accomplished voice acting, terrific character designs, inspired fight choreography, and wonderfully fluid animation -- and it's a movie I'd recommend without hesitation to both hardcore and casual fans. It does seem strange to me that the extras on this Blu-ray disc barely touch on Emerald Knights itself, although as someone who's been reading Green Lantern comics off and on for a couple decades now, I can't say I mind the emphasis being shifted in that direction. Highly Recommended.

A Couple More Screenshots...
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