Hot on the heels of my Man of Steel review, here’s…the Watchmen.
WATCHMEN : The Ultimate Cut – The Complete Story (2009 Warner 4 disc blu-ray set)
Directed by Zack Snyder, 216 minutes
What’s the greatest comic book movie of all time? I’ve seen a lot of them. There’s quite a few I haven’t seen as well, but it’s a great topic for discussion. I always have to put Watchmen on the table when discussing great comic book adaptations.
Watchmen is a complex tale. Its original comic was ambitious, containing page after page of dense backstory information in the form of documents and faux-magazine articles, all very relevant. There’s even a parallel story taking place, a comic within a comic, which directly reflects one (or arguably more) of the characters in the main story. Characters and their psychology are key. In addition, neither the comic nor the movie are linear. The story unfolds within different time periods, flashing back and forth, as we learn more about the characters, their motivations, and the world they inhabit.
It is the world they inhabit that was the hook for me. I’m a sucker for alternate universe stories. Here’s one that sets us on Earth, 1985, but things have unfolded very differently. The influence of various superheroes/vigilantes has caused history to unfold very differently. Specifically, it is the presence of Dr. Manhattan, who puts a swift and decisive end to the Vietnam war, who influences history the most. In this 1985, Richard Nixon is still president, and masked vigilantes are now outlawed.
The Watchmen are a group of such vigilantes, originally known as the Minutemen. Some, such as Dr. Manhattan truly are superhuman. Others, such as Nite Owl and his successor Nite Owl II, are mere mortals with high-tech gadgetry and skill as their allies. All have retired, some in fame and some in anonymity…all but one. Rorschach. He remains active, alone and wanted.
The movie begins as a murder mystery. Someone has managed to identify and kill Edward Blake — The Comedian, once one of the most dangerous heroes alive. To overpower and murder Blake would require an individual of tremendous resources. Who? And are other former vigilantes also at risk? Rorschach seems to be the only one who wants to know.
Being a fan of the graphic novel, I was very happy with the way that Zack Snyder captured Watchmen. It was done with love and care. The things that are discarded, I didn’t miss so much. The things that he changed, I understand why it was done. There’s one layer to the story/mystery that has been discarded, probably to keep this thing under 4 hours! The things that are reverently exactly the same as the comic made my jaw drop in awe. The acting performances are what they are, but I have to give special mention to Jackie Earl Haley as Rorschach.
The soundtrack is one of the best in recent memory. Outside of Wes Anderson, I haven’t loved a soundtrack this much in a long time. It’s awesome from the stunning Bob Dylan classic “The Times They Are A’Changing”, to Nat King Cole, to Simon and Garfunkel, Hendrix and Philip Glass, and probably the weirdest use of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” in movie history. The soundtrack is where it’s at. The movie even contains a Village People sighting! I’ll skip My Chemical Romance.
This Ultimate Cut weaves the comic-within-a-comic, Tales Of The Black Freighter, previously only available on its own, into the main body of Watchmen. These segments are narrated by Gerard Butler. New live action linking sequences connect the movie to Black Freighter, much like it worked in the graphic novel. People who haven’t read the graphic novel might not understand what “Black Freighter” is doing there, but they should probably start with the less daunting theatrical cut to start with anyway.
The box set includes four discs, beautifully packaged. Hardly a complaint to be registered. The box is heavy and sturdy. Included is Watchmen: The Motion Comic, packed in its own case, 5 hours long on its own. One disc is the expired digital copy of the theatrical cut (whoop de do) and another disc is loaded with special features. Best of these is Under The Hood, which is based on the graphic novel segments covering Holis Mason. Mason, the original Nite Owl I, wrote an autobiography called Under the Hood; this film is a faux-documentary on his story. It is presented as a television program from 1975 re-run in 1985, including commercials and scratchy footage. At 35 minutes, this is an absolute must. Other special features include brand new audio commentaries, for those who dare to keep going deeper. This set is just loaded. Unfortunately I found the sound level inconsistent, I had to turn it up and down frequently.
Having said that, I’m not going to discard my Director’s Cut of Watchmen. Clocking in at almost four hours, watching this version is a commitment. I know that occasionally, I will want to watch the “shorter” version of the film. Since a digital copy of the theatrical (shortest) cut is included here, maybe you won’t feel the need to double-up on Watchmen editions. For an enriched viewing experience, set aside the four hours one afternoon and enjoy.
Malin Akerman … Laurie Jupiter / Silk Spectre II
Billy Crudup … Dr. Manhattan / Jon Osterman
Matthew Goode … Adrian Veidt / Ozymandias
Jackie Earle Haley … Rorschach
Jeffrey Dean Morgan … Edward Blake / Comedian
Patrick Wilson … Dan Dreiberg / Nite Owl
Carla Gugino … Sally Jupiter / Silk Spectre
Matt Frewer … Moloch