"Watchmen: Director's Cut Blu-ray Review"
By James Harvey
For such a great movie, I was disappointed to see it take such a big hit at the box office. Visually stunning and complex, Watchmen was definitely a movie that was very faithful to its four-color roots, but was also a movie that the mainstream may not have been ready for. Despite being draped in the vivid colors and high-octane trappings of your typical mainstream blockbuster, Watchmen hid a very dark and dramatic center, full of grey areas and characters who morally challenged the viewer, much akin to the original graphic novel. However, staying too close to the original graphic novel may just be the reason why Watchmen failed to catch on as it should of. Despite that, this is definitely a movie that deserves a second chance on home video, especially with the new extended Watchmen: Director's Cut edition.
A complex, multi-layered mystery adventure, Watchmen is set in an alternate 1985 America in which costumed superheroes are part of the fabric of everyday society, and the "Doomsday Clock" - which charts the USA's tension with the Soviet Union - is permanently set at five minutes to midnight. Based on the classic Watchmen graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, when one of his former colleagues is murdered, the washed-up but no less determined masked vigilante Rorschach sets out to uncover a plot to kill and discredit all past and present superheroes. As he reconnects with his former crime-fighting legion - a ragtag group of retired superheroes, only one of whom has true powers - Rorschach glimpses a wide-ranging and disturbing conspiracy with links to their shared past and catastrophic consequences for the future. Their mission is to watch over humanity...but who is watching the Watchmen?
Before I go any further, I need to admit my bias. I'm a fan of the original Watchmen graphic novel and, after my initial doubts about it being film-able, thoroughly enjoyed Synder's attempt at bringing this amazing story to the big screen. I can't speak from the perspective of the casual viewer, but I can speak, albeit poorly, as one who knows the original material, and respect its transition to the big screen. I completely understand that things need to be altered when adapting from one medium to the next, and Watchmen is no different.
Director Zack Synder really deserves the credit here, being able to take something considered completely untouchable in Hollywood and making a faithful, coherent, and entertaining film. It's stunning to see Watchmen, which has circled so many Hollywood drains in its long production history, finally brought to life after so many years, and done so in a completely lavish and faithful manner. Remember, while this movie is an adaptation of the classic comic, it's also very obvious this is Snyder's interpretation of the movie. He hasn't simply adapted the story, but added his own flourishes and touches to it, and the result is spectacular. There are a couple side-steps, but Snyder has faithfully adapted to the story. He's captured the core of what makes this a fascinating and addictive story and breathes new life into it, making it enjoyable to die-hard fans and (hopefully) accessible to the casual viewer, too. Much like the source material, Watchmen is by no means an easy movie to sit through, but it is worthwhile.
It still amazes me this movie got made, especially since Watchmen isn't your typical blockbuster. While it may have looked like one, and was heavily hyped as one, it's something completely different. It's dark, bleak, and doesn't hold your hand, and forces you to get involved in the movie. Maybe that's why it didn't hit it as big as it should have on the big screen earlier this year (but then again, I'd consider The Dark Knight in the same category in terms of its tone and content and it was one of the biggest all-time hits), since it was something we could just sit there and watch. Then again, I imagine if one is not up to the task of watching such a dense movie like this, the flaws in Watchmen become all the more readily apparently. The first third of the film is an absolutely complicated set-up, unloading so much information while also making sure that the film can breathe and allow for the audience to become invested. Given the layers upon layers required for the movie to set itself up, I can see where those expecting just another brainless blockbuster would scoff and walkout. But it's a movie that rewards its audience, especially those in it for the entire duration. I was immensely satisfied with the movie, feeling completely pleased as the end credits hit the screen. All in all, Snyder is able to streamline a fairly complicated story quite effectively.
And not only does the Snyder's take on the story work so well here, but his visuals are just stunning. The sets, costumes, lighting, the flawless special effects, all of it seems perfect and just about flawless. The talented crew on this movie obviously paid attention to Gibbon's work in the book and perfectly brought it to life. Characters look nearly identical from the book, with only a handful of changes made. You have to give them credit for how they brilliantly came up with Rorschach's mask, as that really helps make the predictable design choices for Nite Owl II forgivable. And all the designs, etc., just come together so well on screen, especially with the pitch-perfect directing and cinematography. And I really like how Snyder doesn't make the movie all about these visuals. They're great, yes, but they serve the story instead of surpassing it. That being said, they're still absolutely beautiful. There's nary a shot that isn't artfully composed or easy to get lost in. The highlight of the film's artistry, to me, has to be Dr. Manhattan's origin story. It's such a brilliant ten-minute piece, covering the character's evolution from the typical "scientist caught in accident" beginnings to a near demigod growing ever more distant from this blue little planet. I can't think of a better composition of images and words coming together in Watchmen than this scene right here. There's other great moments, but this is the moment in the movie where Snyder just cracks it out of the park.
You can really feel that Snyder is trying to do something different here, different from the other comic book movies and different from his previous works. While we've seen countless movies described as "all flash and no substance," Watchmen can probably be described as "flash driven by substance." And you can see Snyder trying to step out of any pre-conceived notions that people may have of his work by trying something more story-driven. Now, The movie is violent and flashy, don't get me wrong, and it features a heaping helping of nudity and sex, but Watchmen definitely doesn't feel like any of Snyder's previous work, such as the Dawn of the Dead remake or 300, nor does it feel like any previous comic book movie. We do get a few brief moments of Snyder's signature speed ramping, but it happens a handful of times (if that) and is driven more by emotions and story than pointless fisticuffs, so it doesn't even register as superfluous.
To briefly touch the film's cast for a moment, overall I feel Snyder did a fine job with casting the movie, with nearly every actor disappearing into their respective roles with ease. Going with a relatively unknown cast really helps with the film, with Billy Crudup, as Dr. Manhattan, being arguably the biggest name on the docket. Now, film enthusiasts will likely recognize a good chunk of the cast, but I imagine the mainstream public is largely unaware of the majority of cast featured here. In terms of stand-out performances, Jackie Earle Haley was born to play the role of Rorschach, with his work on the character an absolute breakout. That's no big surprise given he gets some of the film's best moments, including his staggering showdown with Dr. Manhattan during the film's finale. Haley just perfectly captures the tormented character. Patrick Wilson is also perfectly cast as schlubby Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl II, a retired hero who realizes his best days are behind him, and finds himself lingering in the lifestyle of a civilian. Dreigberg encompasses the heart of the movie, and Wilson really allows us into the movie through his character. Dreigberg just brings us to that level we need to be at in order to let the world of the Watchmen completely drape us. The previously mentioned Crudup and Jeffrey Dean Morgan deserve recognition for their respective roles as Dr. Manhattan and the Comedian, as well.
The home video release of Watchmen contains 24 minutes of additional footage (in both the 2-Disc DVD and Blu-ray Special Edition, with the one-disc release containing the theatrical cut), and this footage results in some big changes for the movie. The pace of the movie actually feels different than the theatrical experience, with countless scenes now allowed a few more seconds to breathe. With one of the recurring complaints on the film being the tight pace of the theatrical cut, this new director's cut should alleviate those problems. Just like how Snyder likes to really give the actions scenes plenty of room to stretch out, we get the same for the more character-driven scenes in this new director's cut. Now, some of the additional footage are merely scene extensions, but they allow us to linger on these characters for a few more seconds, adding weight to some of the quieter moments. Jupiter gets a big helping of new scenes that flesh out both her character and her storyline, completely changing her overall story for the movie (and showing us where she snagged her gun). Even short insert shots, like a new one of the Comedian during Vietnam happily gunning people down from a helicopter, or the camera simply staying focused on Jupiter's character for a few additional beats after her restaurant visit with Dreigberg, says volumes about the characters. These new scenes really punctuate the story in a way that was missing from the theatrical cut. The story can actually breathe here, which helps tremendously.
Not all the additional scenes feel important to the overall story - such as Veidt's assistant getting her hand blown off or some more extraneous posturing by Rorscach - but the majority of which do add a welcome new layer to the already dense movie. The death of Hollis Mason and an additional flashback to Laurie's past are the two major highlights in the new footage, as both scenes give the story that additional "oomph" that many thought was lacking in the theatrical cut. And the Hollis Mason death scene? Absolutely stunning. This Watchmen: Director's Cut is definitely the superior version of the film worth owning.
As I briefly mentioned earlier in the review, there are a few little flaws here and there in the movie, but nothing that cripples it by any means. I found some of the make-up effects, mostly used to either age and de-age some characters and transform actors into political figures, to be pretty weak and unconvincing, notably in the movie's attempt to make actor Robert Wisden resemble President Nixon. Similarly, some of the song choices in Watchmen tend to raise an eyebrow and can be considered distracting. I can also easily say there a couple beats from the book that should have been included in the movie, but that could be said about any "book to movie" adaptation. Sure, it would have been nice to include everything from the book in the movie, but, as I said above, there will be changes when moving a story from one medium to the next. Besides, when you look at the finished product, it's quite evident that Snyder has done a masterful job adapting a story deemed "unfilmable" to the big screen. Even with all the little nitpicks and complaints from Watchmen that could be endlessly dissected, Snyder deserves props for making this gutsy blockbuster
There's so much more that can be said about this movie, but I'm sure my lack of writing talent, as evident by this rambling diatribe, is testing the patience of many, so I'll just wrap this up. It goes without saying that Watchmen is a solid adaptation, and will likely become a film that gains more and more respect as it ages. It's a huge super-hero blockbuster that delivers on an intellectual level, awashes us in lavish visuals and features a host of great characters. It's just a great movie that, even with a few niggling nitpicks here and there, is a mind-blowing piece of art. I guarantee you that this film will not be what you expect, and you should be happy for that. It's rare to see a movie of this caliber, one that goes against the grain of what a big-budget Hollywood movie is supposed to be, and it's absolutely refreshing. When you boil it down, Snyder did right by Moore and Gibbons and the original Watchmen graphic novel, so you should do Snyder right and experience this great piece of work. A stunning piece of work, Watchmen (and especially this new Watchmen: Director's Cut version) comes Highly Recommended.
As with its theatrical release, Watchmen is arriving on home video amidst a sea of massive publicity. Commercial, ads, you name it, there seem to be an ad for Watchmen somewhere on it. So, is it worth the hype? Considering the package Warner Home Video has put together, I'd say this three-disc release is definitely worth it. Let's dig a little deeper and take a closer look at the Blu-ray release of Watchmen: Director's Cut.
The audio and video quality for this release is, not surprisingly, as good as can be expected. The video transfer is great but is not exactly reference quality. Now, the movie looks great and sharp, but I was surprised how the transfer didn't seem as detailed as I was hoping. Like I said, it'll look great but don't go in expecting a pristine transfer. Watchmen looks good, but not great. As for the audio, I was pretty surprised to see Warner include a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix for this release, given Warner tends to use Dolby TrueHD, and I'm really pleased with the results. The track is loud and boisterous and you better believe your speakers will shake during the action scenes, during the fire rescue and prison break sequences in particular. The character-driven scenes also sound crystal clear and surprisingly effective. While the video transfer may not be the best it can be, Warner makes up for it with a very pleasing audio transfer.
As for the extras, those fearing a repeat of the The Dark Knight Blu-ray release can sleep easy. We get a nice heaping helping of bonus features here, including at least a couple genuine surprises. Spread out over two discs, or three discs if you could the Digital Copy, Warner Home Video has given Watchmen fans some great bonus features, all of it wrapped in a very snazzy 3-D lenticular slipcase.
First up, and the biggest bonus feature to be found on the Watchmen: Director's Cut Blu-ray release, is the "Maximum Movie Mode with Zack Snyder" feature. Available on the first disc and running two minutes longer than the movie, this extra is basically a more advanced, more interactive version of a Picture-in-Picture visual commentary. Now, that might be underselling it, because I utterly enjoyed this bonus feature, and given that it's essentially a bonus feature that runs over three hours long, is possibly worth the price of the Blu-ray alone. Snyder appears throughout the fillm, either through a voice-over or in segments where he appears onscreen, and essentially guides us through a tour of how the movie came together. In fact, he'll pause the movie from time to time, or highlight a certain part of the screen to point out easter eggs or launch into a bigger discussion on the film's production. It's an amazing special feature that Warner definitely deserves recognition for. The production of this bonus feature is staggering, and its complexities and the options available to the viewer are just sprawling. Please note that some of the Focus Points found in the "Maximum Movie Mode" are also available separately through the main menu.
Moving to the second disc, we get roughly 75 minutes of content in the form of featurettes and a music video. Sadly, the threatical trailers are nowhere to be found. First up is "The Phenomenon: The Comic that Changed Comics," a surprisingly detailed featurette covering the creation and subsequent praise for the Watchmen graphic novel. We hear from Watchmen co-creator Dave Gibbons, the movie's cast and crew, DC Comics executives, and handful of comic talent, but as you can expect, Alan Moore is nowhere to be found. While the features heaps endless praise on the book, it does spend time dissecting it as well, bringing a nice balance to what could have been a very lop-sided featurette. The second featurette, "Real Super Heroes, Real Vigilantes," uses Watchmen to springboard into a look at vigilantism in real-life. If you can get past some of the silly trappings, it's actually a pretty interesting featurette looking at how the world twists the view of vigilantism. After that is a pretty standard look at at how the creative team behind Watchmen film worked to make sure everything in the film could be plausible in the real world in "Mechanics: Technologies of a Fantastic World." The second disc is wrapped up with the My Chemical Romance "Desolation Row" music video.
The third disc contains a Digital Copy of the theatrical version of Watchmen.
It's a nice collection of extras, but it definitely feels as though this is just a taste of what's to come in terms of bonus content, that Warner Home Video wanted to make sure this release featured enough bonus content to justify the purchase. Overall the extras are good, with the "Maximum Movie Mode" the true highlight of this release. However, I feel that Warner should have included some more content, especially considering that they're trying to convince fans to pick up both this release and the upcoming Watchmen: Ultimate Collector's Edition, a massive home video release for the movie slated for December 2009, announced through an insert included in this release. Still, those who don't want to burden themselves with what'll surely be a huge release should be content with this Watchmen: Director's Cut release on their shelves.
In terms of the Blu-ray release, Watchmen: Director's Cut does fall a little short, especially with the small selection of extras found on the second disc, but both the movie itself and the "Maximum Movie Mode" feature more than make up for any shortcomings resulting from including just a handful of featurettes. That being said, I'm tagging the Watchmen: Director's Cut Blu-ray as Highly Recommended because I firmly believe this release is worth picking up, regardless of whether or not you have plans to purchase the Watchmen: Ultimate Collector's Edition release later this year. A great movie, whether it's the theatrical cut or the much-improved Director's Cut, Watchmen is a brilliant interpretation of the original graphic novel. Make no mistake, the movie definitely won't appeal to everyone, as it's a movie that demands involvement on part of the audience, but Watchmen is worth experiencing. It's something completely different, the anti-blockbuster with a brain, and there's a good chance we'll never see anything like this on the big screen again.