March 8, 2009
Wonder Woman (2009 - Blu-ray)
Pretty good. Exactly what I was expecting. Not as focussed, structurally sound or iconic as i'd hoped but completely serviceable. To be fair, nearly every single criticism I can throw at producer Bruce Timm, director Lauren Montgomery and crew's animated Wonder Woman film can be explained away by it's two most villainous foes - budget and running time.
Read more after the jump:
Scribe Michael Jelenic by way of Gail Simone's story makes a grand effort of attempting to tell the definitive origin of DC Comics' Amazonian princess by amalgamating and slightly reshaping the best and most iconic elements found in the comic book series and on television. This Wonder Woman can't fly like the comics or Justice League cartoon incarnations and won't fight in heels like Linda Carter but is steeped in the Greek mythological background stuff that makes the modern DC version of the character feel timeless. In fact, the film skews heavily toward the sword and sandal tone, only allowing a hint of what Princess Diana's adventures in "Man's World" might feel like. And I think that's where it fails for me.
This fable feels most at home when exploring the lives, characters and mythology of the Amazonian world. It spends a glorious amount of its brief seventy-odd minute run-time focused on the toga/sandal crew and reasonably little on our protagonist's fish-out-of-water, island girl in NYC arc. A grave mistake, if you ask me, as that's where the character really shines, where she becomes the Wonder Woman that we all know and love. That version, the ideal status quo for the character is what the whole narrative leads us to in a denouement which really pays off. But along the way, the rush to explore every nook and cranny of the Amazonian plight leads to a juxtaposition of tone and style that doesn't always work, as if the climax of of Frank Miller's 300 was randomly staged in downtown Washington DC without much explanation. In fact, a lot of things get glossed over or unexplained in this story. Like the Invisible Jet that suddenly appears on the primitive Amazon island, for instance.
And, if the production team's comments are to be believed that sloppiness comes as necessitated by restricted budget and time. Sadly, it seems this vision for Wonder Woman was simply too epic to be contained in a short DTV feature. This is meant to be storytelling writ large and long. The music cues, riffing heavily on Shore's Lord of the Rings (with a little of Kilar's Bram Stokers Dracula thrown in for good measure) tell us as much right off the top. But you can feel the edits, the glossed over details, the deleted dialogue and scenes, the moments you were meant to love that ended up on the cutting room floor or the directors storyboard pages, as it were. I mean, this thing works well and looks good for a short, modestly budgeted video project. But ultimately, it serves best as a blueprint for Hollywood to follow and expand upon as they bring Wonder Woman to life, live-action on the big screen.
Compromise. That's the key word here. Director Montgomery talks often about it in the excellent and fairly candid commentary track on the disc. While this film looks and moves extremely well for a direct-to-video offering, sometimes expertly managing armies on screen, it can't compete with bigger budget films, where movement is perpetually fluid, dynamic and engaging and designs are kept strictly on model. Everything about the animation here is simply serviceable, with a small handful of action scenes being afforded extra attention - notably a beautiful sparring scene between Diana and Artemis early in film, boarded by the talented Brandon Vietti (The Batman, Superman: Doomsday) and the incredible call-to-action denouement by Dave Bullock (Kim Possible, Justice League).
Montgomery's character designs skew slightly toward her Disney influences, a welcome departure from Timm's previous 'house' style. Her large eyed, thin nose faces often look fantastic but are unforgiving and crash hard when Moi Animation Studio gets them even slightly off model. Character shading has a heavy anime influence, with more articulated shadows than previous efforts that, along with nice gradients and diffusion filters give the film depth with a more detailed look than WB animation is usually capable of. Add the occasional visceral, hand-held moving camera, common in modern action films and you have a look and feel appropriate to a PG-13 film.
The Final Word:
I really love that Warner is putting it's muscle behind these DTV releases. Despite any criticisms that I might have, i really enjoy the DC heroes in their various animated incarnations. And I can count this Wonder Woman film among my favourites. With a decent transfer and a handful of compelling features I can't help but give this disc a recommendation. As a PG-13 film, it's clearly focussed at fans and certainly not made for children but most viewers who enjoy animated adventure films will get a kick out of it.
Learn more about the Blu-ray and it's special features in my review over at TheBlurayBlog.com.