Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (V)

(2010) *** Pg-13
75 min. Warner Home Video. Director: Lauren Montgomery. Cast: William Baldwin, James Woods, Gina Torres, Bruce Davison.

/content/films/3692/2.jpgWhen Justice League Unlimited was still on the air, I remember thinking, "Now, here's a show that should run forever, or at least as long as The Simpsons." When I suggested this to producer Bruce Timm, he laughed and said something about being too tired to contemplate an infinite run. Despite a potentially infinite number of stories to tell, the show wasn't long for this world, but we now get the equivalent of a "lost episode" in the DC Universe Animated Original Movie Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. The movie is designed to make die-hard JLU fans like myself happy by dusting off a script—by Justice League Unlimited stalwart Dwayne McDuffie—from circa 2004.

Originally intended as a bridge between the Justice League series and the Justice League Unlimited series, the long-shelved movie takes its inspiration from a two-part 1964 Justice League of America comic-book story by Gardner Fox as well as the 1999 Grant Morrison-penned JLA: Earth 2 graphic novel. The premise works on the notion that every choice a person makes splinters the universe into two alternate worlds that continue to exist in parallel, creating an infinite number of Earths. The Lex Luthor (Chris Noth) of one of these alternate Earths isn't a supervillain, but rather the leader of his own Justice League fighting a Crime Syndicate composed of nasty, tough-talking counterparts to our favorite DC superheroes. Using a device of his own design, Luthor escapes into the more familiar DC Universe, where he recruits the Justice League we know and love to hop universes and restore law and order.

When worlds collide, ideologies also clash—first among the Justice League (Batman, citing his commitment only to his own Earth, sits out the mission) and later between the heroes and their villainous sort-of dopplegangers. Thus, there's some unusually philosophical talk for an animated superhero movie. Fear not, though: there's far more ass-kicking and name-taking than there is talk. Directors Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery pack Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths with some of the coolest action yet seen in a DCU movie. It's always tough to give the Justice League a sufficiently well-matched enemy; as comic book and TV writers have often realized over the years, there's no better foe than a funhouse-mirror version of the Justice League itself.

/content/films/3692/1.jpgMcDuffie has some fun with the idea of a supervillain mafia with family heads and "Made Men," and of  course, there's plenty of grist for the mill in the parallel-universe supervillains: Ultraman (Brian Bloom) is a Superman (Mark Harmon) gone very wrong, while Owlman (James Woods!) is as sharp and tough as Batman (William Baldwin), but lives over the line of law, order, and sanity that Batman has mostly managed to stay just inside. Power Ring (Nolan North), Superwoman (Gina Torres), and Johnny Quick (James Patrick Stuart) mirror Green Lantern (North doing double duty), Wonder Woman (Vanessa Marshall) and Flash (Josh Keaton).

As punchy superhero entertainment for kids goes, this is fairly provocative stuff that should get the young'uns thinking along with their thrills. And for those kids who have refused to grow up, it's an entertaining way to experience an "alternate reality" (in more ways than one) for seventy-five exciting minutes.

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1

Street date: 2/23/2010

Distributor: Warner Home Video

Animated titles tend to look spectacular on Blu-ray, and Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths is no exception. With eye-popping color and razor-sharp imagery direct from a digital source, the hi-def transfer is, well, super. Home-video junkies will be disappointed that Warner continues to offer only Dolby Digital 5.1 on non-theatrical titles, but less refined ears will still find that the action-packed mix is reasonably powerful and makes good use of surround channels; it just doesn't have the extra "oomph" of a lossless track, and suffers by comparison.

On recent releases, WB has noticeably skimped on the bonus features (conspicuously leaving off commentaries), but Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths adds a whole new and encouraging (nay, exciting!) wrinkle to the DCU Animated Original Movie series: a "DC Showcase" short film. Emulating the "DC Showcase" back-up stories found in Golden Age headline comic book titles, "DC Showcase: The Spectre" (11:51, HD) is an adventure starring a cool character from DC's back bench. Starring Gary Cole, Alyssa Milano, and Jon Polito, the short takes a stylistic gamble by taking on the faded, scratched appearance of a poorly kept '70s film. Though the "actors" play it all with straights faces, the cheeseball music and generally corny tone acknowledge that The Spectre is, these days, a nostalgic novelty act. Nevertheless, the film makes for an entertaining (re)introduction to the character (his die-hard fans may be offended by the tongue-in-cheek approach, though).

"A First Look at Batman: Under the Red Hood" (13:46, SD) accomplishes the now-familiar task of teasing the next DCU Animated Original Movie. Batman fans should find that it looks quite promising. Along with character designs, rough art and audio clips, we get interview clips with director Brandon Vietti, writer Judd Winick, DC Comics SVP Creative Affairs Gregory Noveck, producer Bruce Timm, co-producer Alan Burnett, casting and voice director Andrea Romano, Jensen Ackles, Bruce Greenwood, and Neil Patrick Harris. Also here are the "First Looks" for Green Lantern: First Flight, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies and Wonder Woman.

"DCU: The New World" (33:14, SD) is a print-focused doc that looks at the development of DC's modern "Crisis" storylines, Identity Crisis and Infinite Crisis. Interviewed are president and publisher Paul Levitz, penciller Rags Morales, Infinite Crisis writer Geoff Johns, senior group editor Mike Carlin, Identity Crisis writer Brad Meltzer, executive editor/senior vice president Dan DiDio, and movie producer Michael Uslan, who serves as narrator.

As per previous releases, Bruce Timm Presents four Justice League episodes (1:31:00, SD) in standard definition. These eps—the two-part "A Better World" and the two-part "Twilight"—feature alternate Earths.

Lastly, we get two DCU Live-Action Pilots (1:13:52 with "Play All" option, SD): "Wonder Woman" (1975) and "Aquaman" (2006). These are cool inclusions, but my beef is this: Wonder Woman in standard def, okay—I don't like it, but given the material's age, I get it. But can someone explain to me why Aquaman—which surely was produced under an HD standard—is neither presented in hi-def nor widescreen? Cheap move, WB: haven't you learned by now that presenting anything not in its Original Aspect Ratio is a slap in the face to your audience? I'm still shaking my head over this one.

Mastering blunders aside, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths is still well-worth picking up on Blu-ray, but WB will move more units if they take a bit more care with the extras instead of unceremoniously slapping certain of the bonuses onto the discs. Given Blu-ray's storage capacity, we should be seeing more of this excellent material in HD.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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