Beverly Hills Screening of DC's Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths
Film's creators and voice actors attend premiere event...
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The seventh in a growing collection of original animated films from Warner Bros. and DC Comics, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths is an action-packed adventure showcasing the heroes and villains of two parallel worlds. This exciting feature debuts on Blu-ray and DVD February 23. To promote the film (and have some fun), two screenings were held this week – one in New York and one in Beverly Hills. I was lucky enough to attend the West Coast premiere where I got to see the film and discuss it with the creators and voice actors.
The Red Carpet
The festivities took place at the Paley Center for Media (Home | The Paley Center for Media), a very interesting archive of pop culture. Before the film began those of us in the press were corralled behind velvet ropes in the lobby so that the guests could circle around us. Justice League posters dotted the perimeter, and clips were playing on the lobby’s screens. After a moderate wait, the guests began to arrive.
First up was the film’s writer Dwayne McDuffie. If you’re not familiar with that name, here’s a brief rundown of his other projects: television’s Ben 10 Alien Force, Justice League, Static Shock, and more, as well as various comics in the DC Universe. McDuffie was very happy to talk to the press, as well as the other fans in attendance, and was eager to promote this film. When asked about what makes this movie so exciting, he explained the story as a great battle between the familiar heroic Justice League and a parallel universe evil version, the Crime Syndicate. “Basically, the action never stops. The story isn’t too complex for it to be fun.” Comparing the film to the previous television show, the writer remarked that “it’s like taking Justice League to the next level; we went way beyond it and really topped it.” McDuffie is a big fan of Green Lantern Hal Jordan, who appears in the film. When asked if there was anything he wanted that didn’t make it into the final version, McDuffie lamented some of Jordan’s parts, but reassured the fans (including me!) that there was still plenty. As far as his favorite thing about the film, Dwayne particularly enjoyed the brilliant/insane monologue of Owlman (played by James Woods). “It’s scary, but the way he says it you almost find it reasonable!”
Next up came Andrea Romano, voice director for Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths as well as all of the other DC original animated films and dozens of other projects. Very familiar with both the characters in the DC universe and the fans, Romano described what she liked about the film by saying “it was great having so many Justice League characters. The Crime Syndicate just made it that much more interesting. It’s the Justice League and their evil counterparts! The whole casting and directing process was a lot of fun.” Considering the performances of the different actors/characters, Andrea determined that “bad guys are always more fun.” I wanted to know how it was working with actors who have had little or no previous voice acting experience. “Several were new to voice acting, and they were all very good. There’s a lot of trust involved, trust that the direction won’t hurt their voices, trust that their performances would be well received, etc. Newcomers to the field included Chris Noth (Lex Luthor) and Mark Harmon (Superman).” Among Romano’s most beloved performances was James Woods’ Owlman, a very “contained” evil.
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths was somewhat unusual in that it had two co-directors, both of whom were veterans of the DC original animated films. I spoke first with Sam Liu, who had a very direct answer for what was his favorite part of this new feature... “The fighting! The plot is not overly complicated, but definitely has a wide appeal so that it’s approachable for viewers who may not already be hardcore fans.” Liu echoed a familiar sentiment heard frequently that night when asked what really stood out as the film was put together, talking about Owlman. “The performance by James Woods was so complex. The character is a nihilist. He’s not really a parallel of Batman, but more like a heightened version. What if Batman was not constrained, but could act out on his angst, his anger, and the darkness within him? That’s Owlman.”
A surprise guest that evening was Steve Niles. Not technically involved with the Justice League film, Niles wrote the animated short film DC Showcase: The Spectre which is included on the Justice League DVD and Blu-ray. Oh, and Niles is a huge horror fan and also wrote 30 Days of Night. While many of the other press members were pretty unfamiliar with all of this, I knew enough about the Spectre to have a really fun conversation with Niles. First, I asked him to explain how he could bring such a convoluted character to modern audiences in a short format. “It’s not an origin story; we’re just jumping right in. The film takes place in Los Angeles, and starts with the murder of a film director. It was a lot of fun playing in the Hollywood system and killing people!” I wanted to know what Niles sees in the Spectre, and what drew him to the project. He responded with, “I love the character; he’s one of my favorites. He’s a hero that combines horror and noir, and he was kind of like the first Batman. But Batman only goes so far. Even when you’re screaming ‘it’s the Joker! If you don’t kill him he’s going to get away!’ Batman doesn’t go all the way. Not so with the Spectre. He makes the villains confess, and then he kills them in horribly ironic ways.” When asked how far Niles was able to go in the short film, he excitedly explained that “I was able to do whatever I wanted. It’s very dark. And the final death... it’s the scariest I’ve ever written.” Sadly, we were not shown the Spectre film, so just like everyone else I am eagerly anticipating watching it when I get the DVD on Tuesday!
Time was running out before the premiere so I had limited time with the next few guests. Lauren Montgomery, the other half of Justice League’s directing team, explained why there were two directors. “We were both coming off of other projects. I had done Green Lantern First Flight and Sam had done Superman/Batman: Public Enemies [Scott’s note: not to mention Planet Hulk for another company], so we wanted to work together. It really turned out well and we were able to rely on each other’s strengths.” When asked about any challenges in the Justice League film Montgomery was quick to note that the most difficult thing was “letting all of the characters shine. With so many it was a distinct challenge.”
Vanessa Marshall, a veteran voice actor with over 100 credits (including Irwin in the hilarious Grim Adventure of Billy & Mandy), played the fabulous Wonder Woman in Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. She recalled auditioning for that same role on the television series, but lost out after coming so close. So for her it was a tremendous opportunity to play the role that she had worked for but was unable to do. I asked her about performing the vigorous action in a sound booth, and whether she acted out the moves that her character would be doing. “I’m a kick boxer,” she replied, “so I love to act out what’s happening. Of course, you don’t always have someone to punch so you have to do a lot of pretending. But when there are lines that involve exertion or impact I definitely include that. It’s a lot of fun.”
Last, but certainly not least, was the fabulous actress Gina Torres, best known to geeks everywhere for her role in Firefly/Serenity. In Justice League Torres takes a different route, playing the psychotic villain Superwoman from the parallel Earth. When asked about playing this character after portraying the hero Vixen in the Justice League series, the actress explained that “Vixen is good, but Superwoman is straight up bad. I enjoyed both, but it’s a lot of fun playing bad.” Torres revealed that she did her performances alone in the studio, and that her favorite line from the film was the one in which Superwoman describes herself as a “sociopath.” Far from knocking her long career in sci-fi and comic book projects, she said that such work gives her “lots of step-mom cred and wife cred.”
And with that, it was time to head into the theatre. Also in attendance was Josh Keaton, the voice of Flash, but I didn’t get to speak to him.
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths boasts a complex lineage. The story has its roots in a 1964 Justice League of America story in which the heroes discover parallel Earths. Among them is Earth-Three, a converse to ours where the super-powered beings Ultraman, Superwoman, Owlman, Johnny Quick, and Power Ring formed the Crime Syndicate of America to conquer and ravage as they pleased. Bored with that, the CSA sets out to attack Earths One and Two. But that’s not all. The new film also takes cues from the Justice League television series, which Dwayne McDuffie wrote. As we later learned, the story was originally to be a TV movie bridging the gap between the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited storylines.
At the outset of the film we are introduced to the parallel world where Lex Luthor is the last remaining member of the Justice League and the sole hero. Fleeing from the powerful Crime Syndicate he utilizes a gadget to shift between worlds, ending up on ours where he seeks out the Justice League for help. They agree, and travel to the alternate Earth. From there, it’s pretty much non-stop action for the duration of the film. The major storyline of the heroes dealing with the Syndicate is interspersed with several subplots including the machinations of both Owlman and Batman and a unique connection the Martian Manhunter makes on the Syndicate’s world.
One of the best things about the Justice League film is the sheer number of characters who appear. Not only do you have “our” Justice League and the alternate Crime Syndicate, but there’s also a huge number of supporting characters on both planets including a bunch of surprises. Let’s just say that when the Crime Syndicate’s hierarchy is exposed to be a “family” business, family is what we get. Chances are you’ll see your favorite major DC character, but not necessarily in the way with which you’re familiar!
The animation of Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths is solid, if not exceptional. Frankly, I was pretty happy with it after the disappointing Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. Colors are bright and bold, and the action is easy to follow and yet explosive and expansive at the same time. The story has a good strong ending as well, with some possible hints as to upcoming DC original animated features. A certain supporting hero has a big scene that really stands out, almost as if setting the stage for a future story...
After the credits rolled the audience was treated to a Q&A session with the same guests who appeared before the film. Moderator Gary Miereanu (Warner Bros. publicity) introduced each guest in turn, and repeatedly announced that the film will be available on all formats on Tuesday, February 23rd. The DVD and Blu-ray releases will include not only the Spectre Showcase short film but also an exclusive preview of the next animated feature, Batman: Under the Red Hood!
First Gary asked the directors about working together on the film. Montgomery said it was almost something she had wanted to do (work with Liu), and that their differences and strengths complemented one another. She directed more from the gut while Sam worked from the head. Liu added that their respective foci did not overlap, and they trusted each other implicitly.
Asked if there was anything in the final product that he didn’t anticipate, McDuffie replied that “watching the completed film is the best part. The work of the actors really brings everything to the next level and makes it real.”
Miereanu asked the voice actors and Romano about their collaboration. Andrea discussed the trust between the actors and herself, and revealed that the voices are recorded first and then the animation is done to match! She believed that they were all the right people for the job. Josh Keaton, the voice of the Flash, called Romano an “actor’s director” who always made sure that the actors knew exactly what was going on in a scene before they performed. Romano finally noted that “when preparing for a project you’ve got a certain audio track in your mind. But you also have to be open to what the actors bring. Something different can be better.”
Gina Torres had a chance to talk about her experience playing Superwoman. Some of her inspiration came from growing up with older brothers who taught her to be tough. “She has the freedom to say what everyone else is told they shouldn’t,” she explained. “It was like acting out a fantasy. She’s so naughty, twisted, and just wrong. It was a lot of fun to play that.”
Bringing up the onscreen chemistry between Owlman and Superwoman, Miereanu revealed that Torres and James Woods did their performances separately. Romano recalled working with Woods first, and that was over an ISDN line from opposite sides of the country. “His performance was subtle, and that made it scarier! Then we brought in Gina and told her to ‘do what you feel is best.’ Their performances, though so very different, went put together were almost symbiotic. The characters fed on each other; it was perfect.”
Montgomery revealed that there are some subtle Easter Eggs in the film that viewers can catch if they look hard enough. For instance, when Luthor brings up a screen of the “Made Men” you get a brief glimpse of many alternate world superheroes. The evil version of Jimmy Olsen wears a digital watch that reads “38,” the year Superman first appeared. Can you find more?
At this point Gary opened up the questions to the audience.
The first fan wanted to know if there were ever plans to include the Justice Society in this film. McDuffie answered simply with “nope, it was always planned as a Justice League spinoff.”
Asked about how he chose which background heroes to include, McDuffie talked about how Vibe appeared because of a bet, and that everything traces back to the original show with its own incredible cast of characters.
The next fan expressed his love for the film, its story, and its humor. Will Dwayne be working on more? The sly writer said “I’ve written two more, but I can’t mention what they are...”
Asked what other characters she’d like to see on film, Montgomery replied “Aquaman,” which got a huge crowd response. She added “any female superheroes like Supergirl or Black Canary.”
“How do you approach characters that are already so well known” asked the next fan. Romano described that there are definitely preconceived notions, and that they sometimes play against them. “I hear criticisms about so many different actors playing Batman. But they’re all different, and they’re all valid since there’s not just one way. Any performance also has to be good when put up against the others characters.” Keaton added that he’s “always aware of previous portrayals, but you try to keep it fresh.”
Asked if the fight scenes were storyboarded or if reference footage was used, Montgomery announced that “everything was drawn; we had lots of storyboards and everything posed out. There was no reference.” Liu added that they were lucky since there was so much competition among the crew. “When one artist saw another’s work he immediately tried to top it.”
Thinking back to her first job as casting director, Romano recalled working on the Smurfs way back in 1984 – 1989.
The final comment came from voice actor Yuri Lowenthal (who write in and won a free ticket just like the majority of the audience). He wanted everyone in attendance to know how much trust there is in the audience that the creators will give them a good story, and thanked the cast and crew for doing just that.
A fittingly heroic end to the evening, Gary Miereanu gave away some prizes to those who had asked the best questions. These included autographed scripts and signed posters. Lastly, we all got another reminder to check out the film on DVD, Blu-ray, Pay Per View, digital download, etc. on Tuesday, February 23rd.
Words and Photos by Scott Rubin
* Ensemble photos courtesy of Kevin Parry / The Paley Center for Media