The CW launches "Crisis on Earth-X," the third installment in their annual DC crossover events, tonight and while it has been condensed from four nights last year down to two this year, the scope and scale of it are bigger than ever.
The way it was shot, and the way the story is told, might be the closest TV has ever seen to a true comic book event miniseries.
The production has been hyped as a three-hour movie, which based on the first quarter (the only part yet provided to the press) seems to be the case. Technically an episode of Supergirl, the episode opens with custom "Crisis on Earth-X" title cards and revolves almost entirely around the wedding of Barry Allen and Iris West (from The Flash).
That differentiates the story from "Invasion!," last year's crossover, in which three of the four series simply titled their episodes "Invasion!" and tied into the larger story. While there were through-lines that carried across all of the shows, each individual episode centered around the core characters of the show with its name on the series title. Arrow, in particular, dealt with this because "Invasion!" was the show's hundredth episode and they had the unenviable task of celebrating the series' history and teasing its future...all while telling a story about how their grounded, bow-and-arrow-wielding vigilante had been kidnapped by aliens.
The "three-hour movie" is more in line with what fans hoped for this year; while "Invasion!" drew great ratings and reviews, fans nitpicked the way the episodes and character interacted, as well as the tangential involvement of both the Arrow and Supergirl episodes. Making a three-hour, effects-heavy superhero movie is not something that is typically done in a week, however -- or even in four weeks, as the crossover this time around had to be shot in a completely different way.
The process had a cost -- Arrow star Stephen Amell told reporters that the process had so completely thrown the shows' production schedules that he cannot imagine the crossover being done the same way next time around.
"I think that in order for us to continue down this path, we, as productions, and The CW, as the network, and Warner Bros., as the studio, are going to have to fundamentally, like, re-conceive how we execute these because this sort of broke the schedule mold," said Amell during a recent visit to the set of Arrow. "I mean it just simply didn't fit."
There are logistical elements at play, which both give "Crisis on Earth-X" the opportunity to be bigger and better than last year's "Invasion!' and also make it more difficult to manage. The biggest of these, alluded to by Amell in that same interview, is actor availability. In last year's crossover, not many actors had to appear in every episode, and even those who did generally had fairly minor roles in some of them. At the time, it seemed as if Supergirl star Melissa Benoist was the one whose scheduled had been most thrown by the whole thing, in part because Supergirl was a major player in the story and in part because her role is one of the most effects-driven.
This time around, it seems as though every actor is in more or less every episode, creating a scenario where "Crisis on Earth-X" seemingly took over nearly four weeks of shooting on the regularly-scheduled shows.
It feels, then, more like an event miniseries -- think The Final Night or Identity Crisis -- than a crossover event where most of the main story happens in the individual comics, with the main title serving primarily as connective tissue. That, in hindsight, is what they so successfully replicated with "Invasion!"
...Oh, and Amell agrees.
"It really is, for the first time, it's an event," Amell said. "It's not a crossover anymore. Call it the crossover if you want. But it's kind of like calling the Super Bowl just a football game. Yeah, sure, they play football, but there's so much other stuff that goes on with it. It's an event."
"Crisis on Earth-X" begins tonight at 8 p.m. ET/PT on The CW, and runs for two hours each, tonight and tomorrow.