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"Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter Blu-ray Review"
By Zach Demeter
Wanting to lose as little as possible in his big screen adaptation of Watchmen, Zack Snyder commissioned the story-within-a-story of Tales of the Black Freighter to be released directly to home video in the form of an animated feature. Not only did Snyder ensure the entire tale of Black Freighter, but he also included the Under the Hood segment from the book in fully realized live-action and CGI form. With their release onto the format just a week or so after the film debuted #1 at the box office, moviegoers who got their first glimpse at Watchmen from the film will no doubt enjoy the further exposition with the new DVD/Blu-ray release of Tales of the Black Freighter & Under the Hood.
Synopsis They’re in the book. And on this disc. From the director of Watchmen and 300 come two tales from the celebrated graphic novel that do not appear in the extraordinary Watchmen Theatrical Feature. Tales of the Black Freighter (featuring the voice of 300s Gerard Butler) brings to strikingly animated life the novels richly layered story-within-a-story, a daring pirate saga whose turbulent events may mirror those in the Watchmens world. Stars from the Watchmen movie team in the amazing live-action/CGI Under the Hood, based on Nite Owls powerful first-hand account of how the hooded adventurers came into existence. Two fan-essential stories. One place to watch the excitement. Watching the Watchmen begins here.
The entire world of Watchmen was never a comic that easily made the reader readily aware of the happenings of the universe. It was something you slowly lived through and discovered for yourself before ultimately being overwhelmed by the story. Yet, within each individual issue was a bit of another story, Tales of the Black Freighter, which on the outside seemed to have zero to do with the actual Watchmen comic overall. When you step back and look at the big picture for both Black Freighter and Watchmen, however, it is clear that they’re really just parallels of one another. Sure, Black Freighter uses violent imagery and the savage nature of man to get its point across while Watchmen is a tad more subtle, but the connections between the two are there.
Unfortunately the Black Freighter animated tale itself is incredibly short (21:29, without the three or four minutes of credits tacked onto it), so there’s surprisingly little to keep you glued to the screen for awhile. I also had a few issues with the animation, as it seemed a tad bit cheap at times, almost mimicking the slowly animated nature of those Bible cartoons you see broadcast on local networks. Not necessarily bad looking (in fact, the 1080p image was quite beautiful to gaze upon...just not when it was in motion) by any means, the animated feature just left a tad bit to be desired. It had a hyper-detailed realism of Spawn:TAS, but not enough of the fluidity behind the animation to pair it in the same leagues as Warner’s other recent DC Comics animated ventures.
But, despite getting top billing, Black Freighter is only a small part of the release. In fact, Under the Hood (37:37) is longer than Black Freighter and yet it gets second billing (granted, Black Freighter will probably sell more copies alone just based on the title…). Despite being in 4x3 (damn time period specific aspect ratio!), the Under the Hood segment is my favorite of the two pieces on the set as it brings in cast from the film for interviews and the like. Plenty of interesting little tidbits are here and there throughout it and watching it after Watchmen will clear up a few things for those who were a little lost by the theatrical film. Not a whole lot, mind you, but the brief appearance of the original Owl Man is all the more fleshed out here.
And…that’s it, really. That’s all this release contains and it’s kind of an odd thing to attempt to cash in on. Watchmen was never a “sure” thing (and with the varied critical reception and so-so box office intake, time will tell if it actually proves to be a truly profitable outing for Warner), but Warner seems to be banking that these early releases of the Complete Motion Comic and Black Freighter will pull in more dough than simply letting them be bonus features on the eventual release of the film. Of course, there is certainly a lot to those two releases, but they really do feel just like supplemental material (Black Freighter more so than the motion comic, as that is over five hours long) at times.
Overall this release is really strictly for fans of the comic and for those who enjoyed the film. At times its mind boggling to attempt to think about how vast the Watchmen universe is when you take into account the entire run of the comic, but with the film and these adaptations, receiving the graphic novel in full-motion form has become a reality. Recommended for fans; for the rest…well, you won’t find too much here worthwhile.
The Blu-ray The set arrives in a standard Blu-ray Elite case with a standard cardboard o-ring. Inside the set is the Blu-ray disc, with a second disc housing the digital copy. Inserts include an advertisement for the Watchmen graphic novel as well as a code for the digital copy. Menus for the release are the usual single menu style, with Black Freighter auto-starting.
Both Black Freighter and Under the Hood are encoded with the VC-1 codec and sport Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio. Black Freighter makes the most use of the surrounds, with ample noises from all channels and plenty of subwoofer boom, while Under the Hood is quiet and to the front channels for the most part. Nothing really worth noting on either transfer; digital animation looks pristine and the 4x3 “aged” video looks fine, if a little soft (but that was probably intentional).
Extras include the Story Within a Story (25:01, HD) featurette that discusses the history of the comics-within-a-comic that Watchmen had throughout its life. This is a really interesting featurette and includes interviews not only from the cast and crew but also includes a tiny little making-of for the Black Freighter animated segment. A First Look at Green Lantern (10:12, SD) is the same extra that’s been floating around other DC Universe releases and Motion Comic, Chapter 1 (25:31, HD) is just as it sounds: the first chapter of the recent motion comic release.
Overall a solid release, but nothing phenomenal and, once again, is Recommended strictly for the fans.