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Teen Titans: The Judas Contract
Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 4/18/2017
All Ratings out of
Review by Sydny Long, Posted on 5/3/2017
Adaptations can be difficult. Even the most obscure media has fans who will smite any production company that tries and fails to faithfully adapt their beloved source material. While this is often the case for novels (most notably YA series, which have legions of devoted fans), almost every form of media can be adapted into a movie nowadays, from newspaper cartoons to graphic novels to comic books, which means movie companies are hosting a proverbial battle royale in order to claim the rights to these titles. Disney has Marvel, but the House of Mouse isn't especially concerned with staying faithful to the comics, primarily because the creative team at Marvel is inventive enough to only need the comics as a foundation and because… well, it's Marvel, people are going to watch it. DC, on the other hand, stays a bit more loyal to the comics, particularly in their home-video animated releases. Their most recent adaptation is of the famous Teen Titans' issue "The Judas Contract": will they stay loyal to the source material or is this another adaptation that will have the fans up in arms?
The film opens with a prologue that explains how Starfire (Kari Wahlgreen) joined the team and introduces the core members of the Titans (including Speedy and Bumblebee, who would later splinter off to form Titans East). Five years later, the team now consists of leader Starfire, Nightwing (Sean Maher), Damian Wayne's Robin (Stuart Allan), Beast Boy (Brandon Soo Hoo), Blue Beetle (Jake T. Austin), Raven (Taissa Farmiga), and Terra (Christina Ricci). The Titans are systemically destroying bases belonging to the HIVE organization, a terrorist group helmed by divine leader Brother Blood (Gregg Henry). Undeterred by the team's actions, Blood hires mercenary Slade Wilson (Miguel Ferrer) to capture the Titans and bring them to his base for a ceremony in which he will absorb their powers and ascend to godhood. Meanwhile, Starfire and Nightwing move into an apartment together, Beast Boy inexplicably becomes an Internet star, Blue Beetle starts working at a soup kitchen to make his scarab more comfortable around humans, and Raven tries to help Terra control her chaotic powers. The fragmentation of the team proves lethal when Slade manages to kidnap each member with the help of a traitorous Titan. But can she really betray her team after learning how much they care for her?
The Teen Titans have always been my favorite superhero team, so when I learned DC was adapting "The Judas Contract" into a feature-length film, I was ecstatic. The Cartoon Network show had incorporated the comic into its second season and did a wonderful job exploring the issue on a more family-friendly level (although Slade Wilson was less than family-friendly, given he was depicted as an amalgam of robot, skeleton, and nightmare), but I wanted to see the story arc--in its mature, complex entirety--on the silver screen. However, DC's home-video releases once again disappoint with their terrible pacing, awkward animation, and failure to properly portray its characters.
Like it's predecessor, The Judas Contract fails to pace itself engagingly. Scenes are either too brief or too tediously long, and seem somewhat disordered, as if the movie is merely a first draft still in need of a conscientious editor. While some aspects of the story are given extensive exposition (mostly the characters' newfound individualism, which would be more interesting if it were the central focus of the film), others are glossed over or never explained, such as Jericho being utilized and later killed in his capacity as a test subject for Blood's mechanism when he is Slade's beloved son. This indifference towards telling the story in a compelling manner is especially confusing when the source material is considered, as it should be relatively easy to convert a comic (which already contains the dialogue, plot, and imagery an animated feature requires) to film. The movie alters or abandons major components of the comic, from replacing Cyborg with Blue Beetle to totally transforming Terra's character and motivations. These changes are often not for the better and derail what could have been an interesting take on a great comic.
While the animation is certainly superior to DC's cartoons, it is far from cinematic quality. Characters have relatively bland faces with rather inexpressive eyes and template mouths that rarely convey emotion effectively. What should be a minor quibble becomes a major issue due to the movie's dramatic undercurrent, which requires lots of emotional heavy-lifting that the animation fails to deliver. Worse still are the fight sequences, all of which end up cloaked in smoke to hide the blurring effect the animators utilize in the attempt to make the character animation seem fluid and organic. It's not only distracting, but truly disappointing considering the potential of animation to breathe life into the comic's stationary drawings.
Perhaps most dissatisfying is the way the characters are depicted. Damian Wayne continues to be an insufferable brat who never hesitates to insult a fellow teammate or bemoan his presence among lesser heroes. While his role in The Judas Contract is limited, one can't help but cheer when he is the first to be kidnapped by Slade. Raven is again portrayed as a deadpan cynic whose remarks contain none of the dark humor or wisdom her character is known for; Beast Boy fares no better, getting none of the budding maturity or sensitivity that made this comic an integral part of his character development (although he does have a funny subplot involving Twitter stardom and Kevin Smith). And Terra is depicted as aggressively antisocial and downright mean to her fellow teammates, which makes little sense in the context of the story and destroys any suspense surrounding the double-crossing revelation. These characters have been around for decades: surely, DC would know how to write them by now.
The Judas Contract is a mediocre film that fails to satisfy both fans and casual viewers. Since the Titans have no million-dollar blockbuster franchise of their own, they are often limited to home-video releases and comic reissues, which means fans often take what they can get of their favorite adolescent heroes. However, fans (and the Teen Titans) deserve better than this film. Until the Titans get a better adaptation, just stick to the source material--and hope DC learns how to tell a story.
Teen Titans: The Judas Contract made me wonder why Deadpool was there on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 19 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The anime-like style of Teen Titans: The Judas Contract means that some moments are very detailed, while others look a bit rushed. The HD transfer often draws attention to the less detailed moments. The colors look good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The action sequences provide impressive surround and stereo effects. We get detailed effects from the rear speakers, and we can pick out individual sounds at times. The front channels accent sounds coming from off-screen.
The Teen Titans: The Judas Contract Blu-ray Disc contains only a few extras. "Titanic Minds: Reuniting Wolfman and Perez" (28 minutes) offers a modern-day interview with Writer Marv Wolfman and Artist George Perez who discuss their partnership on the Teen Titans comic book, and how they approached the material. This includes some pictures of the comics. "Villain Rising: Deathstroke" (9 minutes) explores the history of the character through comments from DC folks. We get two episodes from the Teen Titans TV series, "Terra" and "Titan Rising".
Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long