Justice League: Season One (2001) [Blu-Ray]

Genre(s): Action / Adventure / Animation
Warner Brothers || NR - 575 minutes - $59.98 || August 19, 2008
Reviewer: Brian Oliver || Posted On: 2008-08-21


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.:: F I L M ::.
The Film

S P E C I A L
.: F E A T U R E S :.

Special Features

.:: V I D E O ::.
Video

.:: A U D I O ::.
Audio

.:: O V E R A L L ::.
Overall
.::MOVIE INFORMATION::.
Director: NA
Writer(s): Bob Kane, Joe Shuster, Jerry Siegel (characters)
Cast: Carl Lumbly, Phil LaMarr, George Newbern, Kevin Conroy, Maria Canals-Barrera, Michael Rosenbaum, Susan Eisenberg


.::DVD INFORMATION::.
Supplemental Material:
  • Creators' Commentary
  • Inside Justice League
  • Storyboards: The Blueprint for Justice
  • The Look of the League: Character Design
  • Justice League: The First Mission
  • Blackhawk Music Video


Technical Information:
  • Number of Discs: 3
  • Full Screen (1.33)
  • English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English

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.::THE FILM::.

IMAGE

Writer, producer and character designer Bruce Timm has come up with at least two of the most popular animated televisions series and some of the best material in the DC Universe. Starting in 1992 with “Batman: The Animated Series”, Timm has given comic book fans great stories and animation style for which it was followed up giving Superman his own animated series as well. “B:TAS” also produced a fine Batman movie (and The Batman/Superman Movie) as well as a couple mixed efforts with Superman: Doomsday, Batman: Gotham Knight and Justice League: The New Frontier (time will tell how Wonder Woman and Teen Titans: The Judas Contract will fare).

In any case, with the success of “Batman” and “Superman” animated series, it was only natural to tackle the juggernaut of superhero team-ups, the “Justice League”. This series, which originally aired on Cartoon Network in 2001, features a super lineup with Batman (once again voiced by Kevin Conroy in his fourth stint as The Dark Knight), Superman (George Newbern, replacing Tim Daly), Wonder Woman (Susan Eisenberg), The Flash (Michael Rosenbaum of “Smallville” fame), Green Lantern (Phil LaMarr), Hawkgirl (Maria Canals-Barrera) and J’onn J’onzz aka Martian Manhunter (Carl Lumbly).

The 26 episodes of this first season are all split into parts. The premiere and finale are in 3-parts and everything in between are 2-parters so, as the creators explained in one of the commentaries, each character would get enough screen time to be effective and so the story could be developed further in 40 minutes rather than half that. Outside of those 3-part episodes, the other 20 episodes split the team up with one or two of them not even appearing (i.e. one episode Superman might be missing, another Wonder Woman would be gone), making it easier for the others to get a storyline in there.

Many of the more unknowns – at least to casual comic book fans – get to be front and center on stage expanding on their background. The most memorable comes in the episode ‘In Blackest Night’ where The Green Lantern stands trial for genocide after he accidentally blew up an entire planet using his ring. It’s one of the better episodes this season and provides some more insight into the character while telling a good story. Another one of my personal favorites, though apparently fans didn’t care too much for it, was ‘Legends’ where a few Justice League members are transported into an alternate universe where a city looks like it came from the 50s/60s and is protected by the Justice Guild of America.

“Justice League: Season One” is a solid animated series that isn’t quite up the standards of “Batman: The Animated Series”, but is still one hell of a good show. BTW, be on the look(ear)out for some guest voices like Tom Sizemore, Kurtwood Smith (“That 70’s Show”), Dennis Haysbert (“24”), Xander Berkley (also from “24), Robert Englund (Nightmare on Elm Street), John Rhys-Davies (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy), Virginia Madsen (Sideways) and many, many more.



.::SPECIAL FEATURES::.

All features have been ported over from the DVD and are presented in SD. This Blu-ray contains all 26 episodes on 3-discs rather than the 4-discs of the standard definition version. The discs are contained in a 1.5x wide Blu-ray slimcase, a nice space saver for any collector.

Creators’ Commentary – 3 tracks on episodes ‘The Enemy Below Part 2’, ‘Legends Part 2’ and ‘The Savage of Time Part 2’ are included featuring Writer/Producer Bruce Timm, Producer James Tucker, Writer/Producer Rich Fogel and Director Dan Riba. The tracks are actually a lot of fun to listen to and each cram in a good amount of information about that episode. Interestingly, and as I’ll mention in the video section, is they explain in the first commentary that this season they animated for the future with widescreen and HD in mind, animating more space than needed on the top and bottom which then could be matted for widescreen presentation.

Inside Justice League (9:11) – This panel discussion with animators and producers answers questions about taking on such a big project and they explain the different choices made and even the mistakes (making Superman too much of a wimp in season one).

The Look of the League (4:17) – Simple featurette with producer Bruce Timm going through each character and the though process of animating each and, with Batman and Superman, making them different than what had been done before.

Storyboards: The Blueprint for Justice (7:09) – Another angle on the making of this series where we now get to hear from storyboard artists about mapping out scenes and how much storyboarding is essential to the animation of the show.

Justice League: The First Mission (5:53) – This is a cool promo that the producers had put together in 2001 as a way to sell this to a network. The first 4-minutes is the panel discussing how it was put together (using animation models from “Batman”, “Batman Beyond” and others).

Blackhawk Music Video (2:40) – Just a video with the theme song for the Blackhawk Squadron featured in the season finale. It begins with a short intro. While this wasn’t amongst the features on the SD version, I think it might’ve been a hidden easter egg.



.::AUDIO & VIDEO::.

IMAGE

It’s a little hard for me to judge the picture on a Blu-ray like this. For an animated series that is now 7 years old, I’d say it looks good. Colors are crisp and clean, but looking over my standard one, I don’t see that big of an improvement. Yes, it looks good but for the price, it’s hard for me to justify this to anyone who already owns the DVD. HOWEVER, and this is huge, the show is still presented in full frame even though, as explained in the very first commentary, it was animated with the intent of one day being presented in widescreen (they animated more on the top and bottom for airing in full frame.

And to add insult to injury, one of the featurettes even shows a few scenes in freakin’ widescreen! So, while the picture doesn’t look bad, I have to dock the rating for the fact that Warner Bros. didn’t even bother doing a new widescreen transfer for this release.

Probably the only upgrade from DVD to Blu-ray is WB has gone from Dolby Stereo Surround to Dolby Digital 5.1. Real nice, he says sarcastically. My standards for audio when it comes to animation isn’t as high compared to live action stuff (even comedies or dramas), but it’s entirely different with Blu-ray.

Now, maybe with an animated series, presented in full frame, a Dolby TrueHD track would’ve been overkill, but that begs the question, why release in hi-def at all? The DD5.1 track is suitable enough and does sound good, but there wasn’t that power behind it I come to expect.



.::OVERALL::.

“Justice League” is a great animated series so I don’t want to underplay how good this title is. That being said, when it comes to a Blu-ray release, I would expect much more for the extra cost, the biggest of all would be a widescreen transfer which was something the producers had wanted when starting the series. Why WB decided to stick with the full frame AR, I don’t know (even some of the featurettes have the show in widescreen, including the music video).

Listen, the picture itself looks very good. It’s bright and clean and the colors look good as well, but the full frame issue is a deal killer for me. If you don’t already own this title and can find it for under $40, then maybe it’s worth paying the premium, otherwise I’d just skip this release. I can only hope they will release the other seasons in widescreen (on BD) as intended.