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It’s that time again kiddies. Yes, it’s a new year and it’s time for DC and Warner Premiere to start pumping out animated features like they’re going out of style (which they’re not) and the first one out is the highly anticipated adaptation of Grant Morrison’s “All Star Superman.” “All Star” was a yearlong 12-issue maxi-series that took some of the more outlandish silver-age sensibilities of past Superman stories and made them fresh and fun without the constraints of continuity. It was a sprawling epic of a story, that was more like several stories with a common thread than one long narrative, and it was this set-up that made it so hard for people to imagine this story as an animated film, let alone one that’s less than an hour and a half. So how did they do?
Adaptations as a whole are a slippery slope. You have to find the right balance of the source material and changes to make everyone happy. It’s a given that some things will get lost along the way, but choosing what stays and what goes is a very tough process with loved material. Ultimately it comes down to what is important to moving the story and characters forward, and in doing that Dwayne McDuffie lived up to his task. And it was a Herculean effort much like the tasks Superman himself sets forth to take in the story. No stranger to adapting works, McDuffie last wrote “Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths,” though he adapted it from a script he wrote himself for the TV series which was slightly based off of another work of Morrison’s “JLA: Earth 2”, “All Star” was a more difficult task in just the volume of work that had to be adapted. A bitter sweet story in and of itself, this very well done adaptation by McDuffie is compounded by his sudden and surprising death last week.
The major storyline of “All Star” is rather simple. Superman saves the first manned exploration of the Sun from tragic results, set in motion by none other than Lex Luthor himself. In saving the ship however, Superman’s cells have been over-saturated with solar energy. Essentially the yellow sun that gives him his abilities is now killing him. With only several weeks left to live Superman goes on a quest to put as many things in order before he dies. The book series had all manner of strange adventures for Superman to partake in from colonizing the bottle city of Candor on a new planet, to taking a trip to Bizarro world, to meeting his future descendants. It was really a fun read with some rather crazy things going on but it all worked. The film of course has to trim the fat and get down to the essentials, and yet it still has some of those lighter moments, but like the books, is always a touching story with some great writing. The film for the most part uses the dialogue word for word, which is great as Morrison wrote some pretty nice dialogue. The minimalistic opening from the book is recreated perfectly for the film and it actually improved on it a bit. I would say the film as a whole streamlined the story to something the average watcher could understand.
The art is another strong point for this film. In the adapted works of DC so far they’ve tried to mimic the art style of the artist for the story arc, Darwin Cooke in “New Frontier,” Ed McGuiness in “Public Enemies,” and the late Michael Turner in “Apocalypse” and now Frank Quitely in “All Star.” I’m a fan of Quitely’s work most of the time. I loved his work on “New X-men” mostly, and I own “JLA: Earth 2,” but the man makes women look really bad. I mean he made Emma Frost, and Wonder Woman look bad. To me that’s damn near impossible. But I digress. The art for the film captures Quitely staples like the overly large build on Superman, accentuating lips, and the silver-age look of the comic in general. But it improves on his style by still having the women look appealing. The animated version of his art is very anime-influenced, with the Parasite scene being very indicative of this. It’s a very clean art style, that is different from what we’ve seen in past offerings.
Finally the all important voice acting. I’m of a mind that each movie should have it’s own cast simply to differentiate it from the last if it had the same characters and they’re not connected. Do I love Kevin Conroy as Batman and Clancy Brown as Lex? You’re damned straight I do, but that said I think others deserve a chance at the characters, and Andrea Romano has done a pretty good job choosing from film to film. This time around we get James Denton (“Desperate Housewives”) stepping into the boots of steel, with Anthony LaPaglia (“Without a Trace”) taking on the role of Lex Luthor. Kristina Hendricks (“Mad Men”) and Ed Asner (“Up”) round out the cast as Lois Lane and Perry White respectively. I must say it took two viewings for Denton’s Superman to grow on me, though his Clark is spot on. I think it’s the subdued nature of the character in the film. He doesn’t exude the bold confidence that I’ve gotten used to, but then again he shouldn’t as he’s dying, and once that hit I was good. LaPaglia is the best Luthor since Brown. He was deliciously evil, and yet there’s a moment in the story where we see a side of Lex rarely seen, and I’m not sure Clancy Brown’s voice would’ve been able to pull it off, much like Brown’s Luthor wouldn’t have worked as the weary but benevolent Luthor from “Crisis on Two Earths.” I wasn’t fond of Hendricks as Lane at first either, but to be fair her character arc in the film isn’t as well represented, and when she did have lines they were pretty much “I still don’t believe you,” but Ed Asner makes an awesome Perry.
On this latest offering from DC we get some decent extras on the Blu-ray version. No DC Showcase short this time, but we do get the mandatory look at the next upcoming animated film “Green Lantern: Emerald Knights,” which is not so much a tie in to the live action film as it is to get people excited about the characters and franchise. We do however get a commentary for the film from none other Grant Morrison and Bruce Timm themselves (though it would’ve been great if Dwayne McDuffie had been on it too) , as well as “The Creative Flow: Incubating the Idea with Writer Grant Morrison,” which goes in behind the scenes of “All Star,” with sketches and such and “Superman Now” which goes into the genesis of it all. And as usual Bruce Timm picked two episodes to include on the disc, this time we get “Blasts from the Past” part 1 and 2 from “Superman: The Animated Series” that introduced the Kryptonian villains Jaxur and Mala. A great first release for 2011, “All Star Superman” is a great story that is well done. Keep ‘em coming DC!
Sam Liu (director) / Dwayne McDuffie (screenplay), Grant Morrison (original story)
CAST: Christina Hendricks … Lois Lane (voice)
Matthew Gray Gubler … Jimmy Olsen (voice)
Linda Cardellini … Nasthalthia Luthor (voice)
Anthony LaPaglia … Lex Luthor (voice)
Alexis Denisof … Dr. Leo Quintum (voice)
Arnold Vosloo … Bar-El (voice)
Edward Asner … Perry White (voice)
Frances Conroy … Martha Kent (voice)
James Denton … Superman / Clark Kent (voice)
John Di Maggio … Bizarro (voice)