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Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt Pratt@moviecitynews.com

Watchmen: Director’s Cut

The theatrical release was a disappointment, but that has nothing to do with the much longer and immensely satisfying Warner Home Video release,Watchmen Director’s Cut. Directed by Zack Snyder, the 186-minute feature is a two-generation epic comic book movie that works on almost every level. It does not have the giddy momentum of the deserved mega blockbuster, The Dark Knight, but it is rich, complex, intelligent, adult, periodically thrilling, occasionally comical, and grandly promotes the further resurrection of Jackie Earl Haley as an acting force to be reckoned with in the representation of America’s darker spirits. It says everything about the movie that Haley, who steals most of it, plays one of the good guys. Jumping back and forth in time, the film presents an altered version of the late Eighties, where Richard Nixon has continued being president because the one super hero who has real powers helped him win the Vietnam War. The other heroes, many of whom are the sons and daughters of masked heroes who were working in the Forties to combat crime, are themselves retired or reclusive, but the event of a murder causes them to re-connect with one another and activates, with the systematic inevitability of the gears of a watch, machinations that will lead to a profound change in the course of Mankind. The film has the breadth to develop the personalities and psychologies of more than a half-dozen characters, while offering up briefer but equally indelible portraits of several more. There are a few big special effect sequences, but they are appropriate to an advancement of the narrative and are not overdone, while the film also derives a lot of energy from its smaller action scenes, which punctuate its more cerebral sequences quite effectively. Poorly marketed (when we saw the trailer, which has not been included on the DVD, we thought the film looked like a complete waste of time-it should have stepped back and explained to general audiences the significance of the breakthrough graphic novel source and the film’s fidelity to it) and then hit with a publicity-damaging rights conflict shortly before its release, the 2009 theatrical film flopped and perhaps deserved to, but the Director’s Cut is a major cinematic work, easily one of the best of the year, and deserves all of the attention it will now receive in its better-executed home video incarnation.

The picture on the two-platter Director’s Cut is in letterboxed format only, with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback. The color transfer is invigorating. The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound has some nice separation effects and brings a strong dimensionality to the musical score. The song clips that are included in the score are marvelous. There is an alternate French track in 5.1 Dolby, and optional English, French and Spanish subtitles. Along with a copy of the film that can be downloaded onto handheld viewing devices, the second platter contains a basic 29-minute history of the graphic novel and the impact it had on the comic book artform, 37 minutes of production featurettes that answer some of the basic questions about the effects, and a My Chemical Romance music video.

The Blu-ray has three platters. The movie appears on one platter accompanied by the 37 minutes of production featurettes. The image is not radically improved over the DVD, but it is solidly delivered. The 5.1 Dolby sound has a much crisper punch and better separation details, giving the film a grander presence. Another platter contains a copy of the film that can be downloaded onto handheld viewing devices. The special features BD platter has the 29-minute history piece, the music video, a so-so 26-minute segment on real vigilantes and an excellent 17-minute piece on what is real and what is imaginary about the physics depicted in the film.

In the graphic novel, there is an integrated subplot that has nothing to do with the central narrative beyond a touch of reflective symbolism. A young boy at a newsstand is reading a comic book, and as the Watchmen narrative advances, there are cuts and dissolves, sometimes with overlapping narration, to the story within the comic. Although recognizing that the story was too much for integration with the feature film, Snyder conceived an animated rendition of the comic, which will eventually be blended into an even longer director’s cut, but for now has been issued on DVD as a promotional tie-in, Watchmen Tales of the Black Freighter. The title is inspired by the Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht song, Pirate Jenny,which is actually about a ‘ship with eight sails,’ but such is the poetic license of translation. Anyway, the piece runs 26 minutes and is about a sailor who is the sole survivor of a shipwreck after a run-in with a ghost vessel. He drags himself home and tries to save his family ahead of the vessel’s own destructive path. There is an inevitable ‘Tales of the Crypt’-style twist at the conclusion. The animation is on the level of a television cartoon, with solid artwork and a moderate amount of movement. The piece will be of limited interest to casual viewers, despite its coherent narrative and resolute conclusion, but for fans of the source material it is a highly satisfying tidbit and its appeal in that regard will not be negated when it is eventually cut up and mixed in with the feature.

The picture is in letterboxed format only, with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback. The image transfer is crisp. The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound has a generalized dimensionality and is adequately delivered. There are optional English subtitles. Also featured is a 38-minute pretend television documentary profile of one of the characters in Watchmen who has written a bestseller about his experiences as a crime fighter. The piece is intended as a video rendition of text materials that were generated in support of the graphic novel, and fills in some background information and tone, though there is nothing especially clever about its execution. Along with a couple of promotional programs for other Warner releases, the DVD also features a decent 25-minute piece about the creation of the cartoon and the faux documentary. A second platter in the Blu-ray release, $36) contains a copy of the film that can be downloaded to handheld viewing devices. Otherwise, the BD has no additional features beyond the standard Blu-ray upgrades, although so far as the picture and sound are concerned, the added value of the BD playback seems like overkill.

The Black Freighter tale is integrated with the Watchmen story in the Warner release,Watchmen The Complete Motion Comic. Since the presentation, which is spread to two platters containing twelve 25-minute episodes, is a very thorough rendition of the graphic novel, it serves to emphasize how impressively Snyder remained true to the source with his motion picture adaptation. The program is also an intriguing DVD spearhead for Warner’s Motion Comic Internet series, in which they raid their DC comic book library, turning the titles into inexpensive but serviceable video programs. The animation is limited to Clutch Cargo-style stiffness, but it holds close to the original panel artwork so that each movement becomes a welcome enhancement over the printed page. The text appearing in the comic is re-created on the screen, but it is simultaneously read by a voiceover narrator, and the one significant drawback to the show is that the narrator reads both the male and the female dialog, with the latter being the only really disorienting aspect to immersing oneself in the flow of the story.

Each platter has a ‘Play All’ option. The episodes have no interior chapter encoding. The picture is presented in letterboxed format only, with an aspect ratio of about 1.78:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback. The image is sharp and colors are accurate. Featuring just evocative music and the narration-no sound effects-the 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound has a minimal dimensionality and no exceptional moments. There are optional English subtitles. The entire program fits on one platter of the Blu-ray release. Like the Black Freighter BD, there is a second platter containing a downloadable version of the film, and like the other BD, the improved picture and sound have no significant advantage over the DVD, although it is nice having the whole thing on the one platter. Included on the BD only is a 3-minute piece-part of the featurettes included with the feature film release-about author Dave Gibbons.

– by Douglas Pratt

Douglas Pratt’s DVD-Laser Disc Newsletter is published monthly.
For a free sample, call (516)594-9304 or go to his website at www.DVDLaser.com

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