I hope you’ve already read Matt Raub’s advance review of Justice League: The New Frontier — DC Universe’s Animated Original Movie — which was posted days ago. Naturally, since it’s coming out in stores this coming Tuesday, it’s time, keeping with the comic source material, for my variant review. Matt critiqued the film itself. I, of course, am reviewing the Two Disc Special Edition’s extras.
This baby more than makes up for what I felt last week’s He-Man Volume One DVDs lacked: right on the first disc they have a near-full-length (nearly 45 minutes) doc called “Super Heroes United!: The Complete Justice League Story.” It tracks the comic from its inception back in the 1940s ‘til today, using images, clips, and just the talking heads of most of the major comic creators of the era. The information from the likes of Roy Thomas, our own Denny O’Neil, and even Stan Lee was so comprehensive that the doc doesn’t even require a narrator or narration. It does benefit mightily, as do all the featurettes, from the soundtrack music of Kevin Manthei.
Then the first disc alone more than makes up for what I thought the Resident Evil: Extinction DVD lacked: their doc sneak-peek of the upcoming animated Animatrix-like Batman: Gotham Knights D2 (“direct to”) DVD shows the lame, cheat sneak peek of Resident Evil: Degeneration how it’s done. There’s plenty of making-of stuff, talking heads, and exciting glimpses of the finished product as opposed to Resident Evil’s peek-a-boo tease. The first disc of Justice League wraps with two audio commentaries – the first a gang approach, with six participants from the production and DC Comics (though not a single person from the pic’s impressive voice cast), and the second with the writer/artist of the source graphic novel, Darwyn Cooke.
The second disc kicks off with a slightly shorter but just as interesting history of “The Legion of Doom: Pathology of the Super Villain.” While it contains many of the same talking heads as the “Super Heroes United” doc (Michael Uslan, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, etc.), it also benefits from a Malcolm McDowell narration. Then, perhaps as compensation for the film’s inability to recreate the delightful style of the original graphic novel (understandably opting for the previously established designs of DC’s recent Kids-WB Superman and Batman animated TV series), there’s the “Comic Book Commentary: Homage to The New Frontier” featurette, which goes into detail with and on Darwyn Cooke’s original.
By then, a mortal man might think he would be Justice-Leagued out, but these extras only make you hungry for more, so the disc also includes three Justice League Unlimited television episodes, essentially creating a second Justice League movie to enjoy. And “enjoy” is the operative word here. The combination of Cooke’s and Executive Producer Bruce Timm’s charming art styles creates a giddy exhilaration for the comic fan. And, although neither artist’s talents are fully communicated by the streamlined film’s design, there’s enough energy in the writing and direction to plaster a smile on any fan’s face. This one’s a keeper.
Now, in the “If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em” department comes Shogun Assassin 4: Five Fistfuls of Gold, which is coming out on DVD March 4th. While you wait, you can catch up on the action withShogun Assassin 2: Lightning Swords of Death, and Shogun Assassin 3: Slashing Blades of Carnage, which are already on DVD shelves even as we speak. They were all borne of the original Shogun Assassin, which was a brilliant re-editing and dubbing of the first two Japanese Kozure Ogami (aka Baby Cart aka Lone Wolf and Cub) movies, which made quite a box-office splash when it first appeared in the 1980. “Director” Robert Houston did such a good job restitching, replotting, and rewording the films for the American market that it has always been preferred to the Nippon original.
Since then, all the original films have been remastered, subtitled, and released on widescreen DVD, but the longing for Shogun Assassin went unabated. Finally, the good folk at AnimEigo decided there was nothing for it but to do a Shogun Assassin on all the original films. But since Shogun Assassin was the first two Baby Cart movies edited into one, the third in the original series now becomes the second in the new Shogun Assassin series, and so on. So the latest, S.A. 4, is actually Lone Wolf and Cub 5: Baby Cart in the Land of Demons – my favorite in the series and one of the best, bloodiest, samurai thrillers ever made.
This is also one of the few AnimEigo DVDs that doesn’t include ample and accurate subtitling. Naturally I watched with a raised eyebrow, wondering if everything would be lost in translation. But the AnimEigo crew are nothing if not devoted fans themselves, so they wouldn’t let that happen. Although they didn’t have the option of recruiting the original dubber, Lamont Johnson (who was also a top-notch director, with such great cult films as My Sweet Charlie, The McKenzie Break, and The Groundstar Conspiracy to his credit), their voice actors are top-notch and ever mindful of matching lip movements. The production also maintains the original soundtracks noises and music in a fine balance.
Despite bowing to market pressures in titling and dubbing (which, in a way, frees them to write some of their cleverest cover copy), they also insisted on their usual informative program notes, making Five Fistfuls of Gold a worthy way to introduce all your friends to the joys of chambara/samurai films in general and this bloody good series in particular.
Ric Meyers is the author of Murder On The Air, Doomstar, The Great Science-Fiction Films, Murder in Halruua, For One Week Only: The World of Exploitation Films, Fear Itself, and numerous other books and has (and sometimes still is) on the editorial staff of such publications as Famous Monsters of Filmland, Starlog, Fangoria, Inside Kung-Fu, The Armchair Detective and Asian Cult Cinema. He’s also a television and motion picture consultant whose credits include The Twilight Zone, Columbo, A&E’s Biography and The Incredibly Strange Film Show.