According to Green Lantern: First Flight co-producer Alan Burnett, the folks in DC's Animation department had a hard time getting the project off the ground. No script idea was working.
“What happened is they were doing some development around here, and it was decided they needed a new take on Hal Jordan. One day, I was just driving around in the car just thinking about it, and this idea occurred,” Burnett recalled, “I quickly emailed the guys if they ever thought of doing a Green Lantern story along the lines of the film Training Day? I thought the particular relationship Denzel Washington had with Ethan Hawke would also work between Sinestro and Hal Jordan. In fact, put it in the Green Lantern universe and it offered a lot of possibilities.”
You see, the way Burnett puts it, even though the man has been an essential part of the DC Animation family since the original Batman: The Animated Series, he never thought he would ever work on a Green Lantern story.
“I always wanted to work on Green Lantern,” Burnett confesses, “but I never thought much about it because I never thought I’d get to do him.”
The Training Day-flavored film flew with the powers that be at Warners and DC, and Burnett had the job. From the sounds of it, he didn’t have too difficult a job fleshing out a script.
“Cop shows in general had their effect,” says Burnett. “I started thinking of the universe as a group of precincts, with the commissioner’s office at Oa. You really almost have to do something like that because the world of the Green Lanterns is just so huge. This way you can bring it down to simpler terms and get a handle on it. Besides, the Corp is essentially a police force. Your local policeman is supposed to be a guardian, and some of them do go crooked.
“When you do see First Flight, you can see Training Day pretty clearly. Sinestro is the good guy gone bad. Hal is the rookie he wants to train to his specifications. Sinestro thinks he can talk Hal to his side because he’s aware just how duplicitous humans can be. Really, Sinestro is quite attracted to humans. I mean there are things going on in the background and the rookie, Hal, has no idea just how deep they go. So it started from there, then it got its own life. It worked out from there.”
From there, it was a simple job for Burnett.
“The hardest part was trying to fit in as many [Lanterns] as I could,” says Burnett. “The original script was like 90 pages long. That is way too long. I had to let them do some cutting in the end, after they did the boards. What it came down to is there are a handful of Green Lanterns that had to have lines. What I will say to GL fans is to look around in the background; you’ll see others pop up. They may not have lines, but they are there.”
He handed off his script to the fast-rising star at DC Animation, Lauren Montgomery. With the casting of the likes of Chris Meloni as Hal, Victor Garber as Sinestro, Michael Madsen as Kilowog, John Larroquette as Tomar-Re, and Tricia Helfer as Boodikka, it all came together pretty quickly.
“Michael Madsen plays Kilowog so well. Then again, I love Kilowog. He’s a lot of fun to write,” says Burnett. "Carol Ferris has to be there, even if only for a little bit. Abin Sur, of course. It wouldn’t be an origins story without him. Also, some various Guardians like Apa. The ones I was really glad I squeezed in though were Ch'p and Tomar-Re. You’ll have to see the rest.”
Another thing Burnett had a good time working on was a story set in outer space. After all, most of the direct-to-DVD DC Animated releases have been extremely earthbound.
“That didn’t occur to me until I finished the script,” says Burnett. “It really is sort of a new thing for the DVD world we created here,” says Burnett. “I worked on space stories as far back as Super Friends. I was the writer/producer on the Superman: The Animated Series stories, so I had a hand on all the space stories in there. You know, you had Darkseid’s world, Lobo and the Collector, and Krypton itself. It wasn’t uncommon for Superman to go to other planets and saving people there.
“What I really like about this one is as the film progresses, it gets darker and darker and darker. There are some moments when you think the heroes are really on the defensive. I won’t give too much away, but I think First Flight is one of the darkest works I’ve ever done. It’s great to see us really get into that area.”
“I find doing space stories liberating. What’s great about the Green Lantern stories are about 95% of them take place out in space. There’s a very quick recap of his origins and then it just takes off. As soon as we did, I found that very liberating. Actually, what’s fun is making space versions of everyday things. For instance, there is a running joke that Hal can’t get a good meal wherever he goes. That’s a lot of fun. Let’s just say the food is not good in space, whether you’re circling Earth or out there on Oa.”
His thoughts on his director and his young crew?
“She’s great!” Burnett says about Montgomery. “It seems everything she puts her hands on winds up looking fantastic. Her sense of timing is also great. There are some reaction sequences in First Flight that have to be timed just right, scenes where characters have to be given a moment to think, then react and switch gears if they have to, and she got them down pat. That’s not easy to do. Acting in animation is an art, and Lauren and her group have done a wonderful job.”
Another interesting thing is the WB Animation crew has become much younger than its founding partners of Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett, Linda Steiner and company.
“That’s fine with me! It is!” Burnett exclaims. “I like having young talent around me. I thrive on that. I have a good job supervising these DVD scripts I’m working on. I also get to work with a lot of people with youthful energy and talent I simply have to admire. I can’t say what we are doing outside of what’s already announced, but I can say that we are getting ready to really take off. I know we do have a really big presentation planned for Public Enemies and Green Lantern at Comic Con. It will be a lot of fun.”
If these new projects are anything like First Flight, get ready to see the world of DC Animation really take off.
NEXT COLUMN: It’s time to talk to Lauren Montgomery about her role in First Flight.