WonderCon 2011 – "Green Lantern: Emerald Knights" Panel Report
“Five years ago we sat on this stage and told you about Superman: Doomsday,” said Gary Miereanu of Warner Home Video, tasked with introducing the 11th DC Universe film, Green Lantern: Emerald Knights. The world premiere was a half hour late, and the crowd was even more excited. Before the film came a short video message from Henry Rollins (voice of Kilowog) commanding the audience to “sit down, shut up, and enjoy the show!”
The post-screening panel, introduced by Miereanu, consisted of Eddie Berganza (Executive Editor of DC Comics, writer of the “Laira” segment), Geoff Johns (Chief Creative Officer for DC Entertainment, writer of the “Abin Sur” segment), producer Alan Burnett (the “man behind the story of Emerald Knights“), “Godfather of modern day superhero animation” Bruce Timm, casting and dialogue director Andrea Romano, and Wade Williams (voice of Deegan, the GL Corp’s drill sergeant). None of the film’s directors (Lauren Montgomery, Jay Oliva and Christopher Berkeley) were present.
Before he could finish the introductions Miereanu received a phone call from none other than Nathan Fillion, the voice of Hal Jordan, who delighted the crowd, reciting “In brightest day, in brightest night, no evil shall escape my sight,” then going off-track with “wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.” The wish was to be at Wondercon with the fans. Miereanu announced “We’re gonna have him back to play Hal again—but I will not tell you the name of that movie…yet.” (Read on for the likely title.)
Emerald Knights consists of five profiles of individual Green Lanterns, all recounted by Hal Jordan to green rookie Arisia (Elizabeth Moss) through a framing story. Since most of the sub-stories were based on pre-existing comics, Alan Burnett thought it natural for comic veterans to script them. Dave Gibbons, who handled the “Mogo” segment, had drawn the original version written by Alan Moore. Eddie Berganza, a longtime Green Lantern editor, was called in to adapt the Star-Wars/Kung-Fu inspired “Laira” story. The framing story by Alan Burnett and Todd Casey was original.
Bruce Timm noted that having three directors did not make the production harder, and praised Chris Berkeley, director of the segments starring Avra (the first Lantern) and Abin Sur: “He’s a really, really talented up and comer, he’s been [storyboarding] a long time–it was great to give him a chance to direct a segment of his own, and of course he went crazy.” Pointing to the “The First Lantern,” Timm said it felt like the sequence “had more production design per square inch than almost the rest of the movie put together.”
When the discussion turned to voice casting, Wade Williams explained his attraction for playing rough, often villainous characters by claiming “I have a penchant for the dark side. I like to play evil demons…but Deegan isn’t a bad guy.” Andrea Romano chimed in: “Bruce and I always laugh; we’ve used Wade many times now…and he has yet to finish a recording session and not walk out bathed in sweat.” She said the same applied to wrestling star “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, who voices “Bolphunga the Unrelenting”, a notorious space thug. Recommended by director Jay Oliva, Piper was “sweet to work with” recalled Timm, “and like Andrea said, it was almost like a drinking game to see how many times he was gonna hit his mike..his stand was literally all over the place.”
Christopher Meloni, who had voiced Hal Jordan for the DCU feature Green Lantern: First Flight, was unavailable due to Law and Order SVU, clearing the role for Fillion. “I think Lauren [Montgomery] was the one who said, ‘well, have we used Nathan too often?’ and I kinda went, ‘No, we can never use Nathan too often'” said Timm. But contacting Fillion through his agent proved fruitless; finally Romano suggested texting him. In what seemed like 30 seconds they received a response. “I think ‘hell yes’ was the answer” said Romano. “His role is kind of the narrative,” she said. “It’s the glue that puts the whole thing together; he’s really the storyteller…it requires someone who can actually draw you in while you’re watching all that crazy action.”
When Fillion was at the ADR session, sitting in front of a microphone with a TV, he took out his iPhone and snapped a picture of the screen, explaining that Ryan Reynolds, his old friend from Two Guys, a Girl, and Pizza Place, had texted him from a movie set saying “We’ve stolen your hair and makeup girl from Castle—we think we’re gonna keep her.” Fillion sent the self-portrait of him at the mike with Green Lantern onscreen behind him, texting “I’ve stolen Green Lantern—I’m going to keep him!”
Romano also praised the performances of Elizabeth Moss and Bruce Thomas (who voiced Atrocitus). She added that none of the major voice actors had worked together in the same room. One returning veteran was David Kaufman, who had played Jimmy Olsen on Superman: The Animated Series, and now returned to voice the villain Ruben. Romano noted that Emerald Knights had at least 35 speaking roles.
In response to an audience question, Timm emphasized that the upcoming Green Lantern animated series was “completely unconnected” to Emerald Knights or First Flight, with no “direct linkage,” though Jordan’s personality would remain “pretty consistent” throughout all three. Another audience member stepped up to say “My question’s for Bruce, and I know I speak for a lot of people when I ask you this: when are we gonna see the first full-length feature of the Flaming C?” The crowd erupted in cheers. “Only time will tell,” laughed Timm.
Another audience member asked if Timm would ever consider doing a live-action project. “I’m pretty happy doing what I’m doing.” he responded. “If somebody offered me a live-action movie and if it was a character I thought I could do something with I would certainly consider it. But I’m not actively pursuing that path…the thing about working in TV is it’s kind of nice–because I kind of fall under the radar…in a live-action film there’s a lot of money thrown into that kind of production; suddenly everyone’s got an opinion, you know, you got to take lots more notes, whereas on TV, I take a little bit of notes from DC Comics, I take a little bit of notes from Cartoon Network, but for the most part it’s pretty easy—they kind of let me do what I do. So like I said, I’m kind of happy where I’m at.”
When Miereanu asked Timm to mention “what else might on the horizon,” the latter brought up Batman Year One: “All I’m allowed to say about it at this point is, it’s really great….it’s very faithful to the comic; it’s as close to the look and the dialogue of the comic as we could possibly make it. We do have footage back from overseas—it looks fabulous…we are hoping to premiere that at San Diego Comicon.” “Not hoping, we’re going to,” countered Miereanu, who then prompted Timm to reveal “our first film for 2012.” The latter admitted “We do have another Justice League movie in the works. The current title of it is Justice League: Doom and it is loosely inspired by the Tower of Babel storyline from Mark Waid and it was written by our dear friend Dwayne McDuffie, whose last work it is.”
This report closes on that poignant note. For those curious to hear this reporter’s impressions of Emerald Knights, please turn to the paragraph below.
Opening with a horrific death by anti-matter and closing with a near-psychedelic interplanetary battle bristling with Kirby crackle, Emerald Knights is perhaps the most visually dazzling DCU entry yet. And unlike the somewhat skimpy/sketchy Gotham Knights, this anthology film feels full enough, though the character progressions can be patly predictable. On the big screen the animation was ravishing—the alien landscapes have brought out the artists’ ingenuity, and the luscious color palette, exquisite line-work and delicate shading, especially of the backgrounds, are of high-end anime quality and feel. The space battles of the “First Lantern” segment bear out Timm’s praise of Berkeley’s direction with a symphony of lasers and epic explosions, pulsing into a near-abstract light-show (though I eventually grew uneasy watching gazillions of super-ships, with untold hordes of faceless crew members, being vaporized by the Lanterns). The ethos of the film, however, is more prosaic—though Hollywood no longer makes Westerns extolling the cavalry, something like Emerald Knights is the 21st century equivalent, with Fillion’s homespun voice reverently quoting the “scripture” of the Book of Oa and the “way of the will” as the Lanterns “work to a higher calling,” serving a corps that dissolves the ties of nation, world, and family. But piety goes only so far before carnage, and this remains a startlingly brutal picture— most of the characters are aliens and thus more easily subjected to considerable acts of violence.