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Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic (2009)

Warner Home Video
DVD Released: 3/3/2009

All Ratings out of
Audio: 1/2
Extras: No Extras

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/24/2009

OK, I have a confession to make -- Despite the fact that I've been a life-long comic book fan (and for several years, I bordered on being a comic geek...note I said bordered), I'm a Marvel snob. I've never really been into DC Comics. I've dabbled in some of the major titles, such as Batman or Superman, during major story arcs, but that's about it. So, despite the fact that I've heard about Watchmen for years, I've never read it. (I even had access to copies any time I wanted and never gave it a chance.) But, with the hype surrounding the movie, I've heard more and more about it, and thought that I would try it. Now, thanks to Warner Home Video, I don't even have to open the comic. Thanks to Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic, I can watch the entire series.

In order for this review to work (I hope), I will need to break it into two parts. I will review the story, and then I'll discuss my reaction to watching the motion comic.

Watchmen takes place in 1985, in a reality which is very similar to ours, but there are some distinct differences. In this reality, masked vigilantes or adventurers or super-heroes existed in the middle-part of the 20th century. However, in the late 1970s, the public and the police were fed-up with costumed crime-fighters, and superheroes were outlawed. Unlike the super-heroes to which were are accustomed, only one, Dr. Manhattan, had any true superpowers. In this reality, the Vietnam war was over very quickly thanks to the help of Dr. Manhattan and The Comedian, a crimefighter who became a government agent. Because of this, Richard Nixon was allowed to stay in office for multiple terms.

As the story opens, The Comedian is murdered. Rorschach, a dangerous vigilante whose mask resembles an ever-shifting ink-blot test, had once worked with The Comedian and begins to investigate the murder. Despite the laws against vigilantes, Rorschach has never changed his ways and he senses that The Comedian's murder wasn't random. He visits Dan Dreiberg, who once fought crime under the name Nite Owl, but who is now a lonely and shy man. Rorschach also calls upon Adrian Viedt AKA Ozymandias, a man who revealed his vigilante identity to the world before heroes were outlawed and built an empire selling Ozymandias action figures. We learn that Dr. Manhattan, who has limitless, almost god-like abilities, lives with Laurie Juspeczyk, who once fought crime as Silk Spectre. They live in a military installation where Dr. Manhattan carries out his experiments. Rorscach becomes convinced that someone is tracking down and killing former heroes. Meanwhile, the world sits on a climate of tension as the threat of nuclear war between the United States and Russia looms. As more incidents involving masked adventurers occur, the global forces become more aggressive.

Written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, there's no doubt that Watchmen is a comic-book epic. The story, which was originally presented in a 12-issue series and then collected as a graphic novel, is incredibly deep and has a very large scope. Moore chooses to simply open the story with The Comedian's death and from there, we are slowly fed information about what is going on in the present and what has happened in the past. Also, each of the early chapters focuses on the lives of one of the main characters. So, we learn a little about each one, and then we get the majority of their backstory. The story grows while it also maintains its mystery -- who is behind The Comedian's murder. The answer was a bit of a letdown to me, but I have to admit that I didn't see it coming.

The story's political points do seem somewhat dated today, some 20 years after its original publication, but the deeper messages still come across. In Watchmen, we have a world which desperately needs heroes, but it's turned its back on those who were willing to lay down their lives for humanity. Moore has also done a good job of giving the dichotomous characters interesting viewpoints. Dr. Manhattan and Rorschach has carried on their original work, one lawfully and the other seeing himself as being above the law. In contrast, Silk Spectre and Nite Owl don't really know what to do with their lives now that they've taken off the costume. She clings to Dr. Manhattan, while he mopes about his basement, which is full of crime-fighting equipment.

Does Watchmen live up to its reputation? No, but few things do. It is certainly a great comic story and one must applaud what it sets out to accomplish. Still, I don't think that it's the end all, be all of comic stories as some do. Maybe it's the Marvel snob in me, but I still prefer the classic X-Men or Spider-man story arcs, especially the "Fearful Symmetry" story from Spider-man. I can say that this has gotten me more interested in seeing the Watchmen feature film.

Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic gets all four-color on us courtesy of Warner Home Video. The concept here is pretty simple. Warner has taken the original comic panels and partially animated them. So, characters move across the screen, as do various objects. The camera moves in and out of pictures, and there are cuts to new shots, as opposed to the camera simply moving across the comic page. There are lighting effects, which change the colors. The piece is narrated by Tom Stechschulte, who provides voices for all of the characters. There are also sound effects and a musical score. So, it's sort of like the entire comic has been animated, but not really. As someone who was probably never going to pick up the graphic novel, this was the perfect way for me to experience the book. It's broken up into twelve chapters, each of which last about thirty minutes. This makes it easy to catch one or two at a time, and then move onto something else. If I tried to watch it for too long, I found my mind wandering.

The image has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look fantastic, and the bold reds and blues really leap off of the screen. The moving elements of the image show no video noise. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. To be honest, I didn't know what to expect from the audio here, but I was delighted to find that we get very distinct stereo and surround sound effects. The surround effects were better than most live-action movies! These well-done effects, combined with the musical score, really enhance the experience.

There are no extra features on this DVD.

Warner Home Video has also brought Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic to Blu-ray Disc.  The feature has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 12 Mbps.  The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material.  The colors are very bold and really stand out, especially yellows.  The black tones are deep and realistic.  There is no shimmering of the image and no haloes around the moving characters.  To be honest, this only looks slightly better than the DVD, due to the fact that it's simply partial animation.  The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.5 Mbps.  The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects.  The audio here is stout and offers a great deal of presence.  This really helps to enhance the slightly static images.  The stereo effects are very good, showing a nice amount of detail.  Surround sound effects complement this, and the action sequences provide an adequate amount of bass.  It will be a personal choice if one wants to go with the DVD or Blu-ray Disc here.  One advantage of the Blu-ray is that everything is included on just one disc.

Whereas the DVD contained no extras, the Blu-ray Disc offers one.  "Watchmen Video Journal #4: Dave Gibbons" (3 minutes) has the artist of the original comic giving his impression on the feature film.  While there are no clips from the movie, we get a very close look at the sets, while Gibbons comments on the attention to detail.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long