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Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 7/21/2009
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/16/2009
How ubiquitous have comic book movies become? When watchingPush, my wife refused to believe that it wasn't based on a graphic novel. It seems that every few weeks we get a new movie which either features a super hero or is based on some underground comic. So, is this a good time or a bad time for a movie based on one of the most celebrated comics of all time to be released? Will audiences eagerly eat this up, or are they so satiated on comic book movies that they'll ignore it all together? How will Watchmen fare?
Watchmen is set in an alternate timeline version of 1985 where Richard Nixon is still president after being elected five times. Following an outcry from the public, masked vigilantes have been outlawed. The U.S. is on the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union. In New York City, The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a former vigilante, is murdered -- beaten to a pulp and thrown from his apartment window. Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), the one remaining vigilante who is still active, begins to investigate the murder. He becomes convinced that someone is killing "masks" and reports this to his old partner, Dan Dreiberg (Patrick Wilson), who once fought crime as Nite Owl. Rorschach also approaches Laurie Jupiter (Malin Akerman) and Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup). Of all of the "Watchmen", Dr. Manhattan is the only one with true super-powers -- he is an omnipotent being who can teleport and reshape matter. His powers allowed the U.S. to win the Vietnam War and his presence is a major deterrent to nuclear armageddon. Rorschach's investigation begins to reveal clues, but it also opens old wounds amongst the former crime-fighters. Some will run away from their problems, some will come out of hiding, but all will face a conspiracy which could destroy the world.
It's been nearly a week since I watched Watchmen, and I'm still not completely sure what I thought of it. For those only familiar with the theatrical cut, the version included on this Blu-ray is the Director's Cut, which clocks in at 186 minutes, so it's a lot to digest. Thanks to the WatchmenMotion Comic which Warner Home Video released in March, I was already familiar with the story, but the movie itself is a different animal. In order to process this, I will break the movie down into sections.
First of all, let's look at the production. In a relatively short time, Director Zack Snyder has made a name for himself. While I found300 to be ridiculous, I loved his vision of Dawn of the Dead. Thus, I didn't know what to expect with Watchmen. The good news is that Snyder rarely over-directs here. He and his team have given an incredible amount of attention to detail and there are many places where they have attempted to re-create comics panels for the screen. The film has a slick look which doesn't seem to be emulating any other comic book movies. The sets and costumes look great, and it's refreshing to see a super-hero film where the characters actually wear the ridiculous costumes from the comics and don't resort to more "realistic" leather-wear (Yes, I'm looking at you, X-Men.) The special effects are very good, especially those involving Dr. Manhattan. One can always wonder where a film's budget goes, but when looking at this movie's massive scale, it would be hard to argue that a lot of the money isn't visible on-screen.
Next, we have the cast. Watchmen presents us with a group of recognizable actors, none of whom are truly movie stars. The suddenly back from nowhere Jackie Earle Haley actually gets the most screen-time here, as Rorschach serves as the film's narrator. Of course, Haley's face is covered for most of the film, so his performance is hard to gauge, but his narration is right on. Billy Crudup is in a similar situation, as he only appears in his human form for a few moments in the film. As with Haley, he must use his voice to convey his emotions and this works out well. Patrick Wilson is nearly unrecognizable at the nerdy Dan Dreiberg, but this helps his transformation to Nite Owl have more impact. The weak link here is Malin Akerman. I have nothing against her, but she's a decidedly bland actress and she doesn't add much depth to Laurie. The stand-out here is Jeffrey Dean Morgan. He usually plays likable characters, so the amount of apathy and rage that he brings to his role at The Comedian is commendable and most viewers will have a very strong reaction to him.
Finally, we have the story. Again, having experienced the Motion Comic, I was familiar with the story and the movie, especially the Director's Cut, does a great job of encompassing most of the major ideas and subplots from the comic. There are be those who decry the loss of the newsstand guys, Tales of the Black Freighter, and Dr. Long's home-life, but the last thing that this movie needed was more story. As fan's of the comic no doubt know, the third act was altered somewhat. The main idea is the same, but there have been some changes, some good, some bad. I admire the fact that the movie stuck to the comic's non-linear storytelling style and that it takes its time and lets us get to know the characters. At no point does the movie spoon-feed the audience. If you don't get certainly subtleties such as the alternate timeline or the outlawing of vigilantes, then you will be lost from the get-go. Those hoping for all-out super-hero action will be disappointed, as there isn't a true action scene until over 90 minutes into the film.
At this point, I'm of two minds on Watchmen. As a movie-going experience, I was satisfied. The movie is beautiful and the set-pieces are well-done. And kudos to any movie which can take a character like Rorschach and make him the most likeable of the bunch. However, this 3-hour cut does drag in places. Also, while Watchmen was groundbreaking 25 years ago, so many other films have stolen its themes that some of Watchmen feels stale. Nonetheless, this movie is worth experiencing, if nothing else, to see the movie which was considered "unfilmable".
Watchmen doesn't bother to wear pants around the lab on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing only a very mild amount of grain at times and no defects from the source material. This movie has a somewhat dark look to it, but the colors really stand out, especially Silk Spectre's costume and the famous yellow button. Having said that, the image itself is never overly dark and the action is always visible. The level of detail is very good and the picture has an impressive amount of depth. The Disc contains a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.5 Mbps. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. As one would hope, this is a muscular track which is rarely quiet. The stereo effects are very good and are very well-placed, giving a real sense of space with the film. The surround sound effects are nearly constant and are nicely separated from the front channels. Subwoofer effects are wall-shaking to say the least. Simply go to the first flight of Archimedes and you'll get a dose of great audio.
The Watchmen Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. Disc 1 boasts "Maximum Movie Mode", which is introduced by Director Zack Snyder. This features delivers picture-in-picture storyboards, comic panel comparisons, and behind-the-scenes footage. The 11 "Focus Points" can also be watched individually. Disc 2 is kicked off by "The Phenomenon: The Comic that Changed Comics" (29 minutes) contains comics from DC Comics execs, those involved with the film, Dave Gibbons, and fans of the boos, such as Gerard Way from My Chemical Romance. The piece examines the history of the comic, starting from initial meetings with Alan Moore and Gibbons. It also looks at the characters, the story -- especially the political aspects-- and the reaction to the book. (Along with clips from the movie, we also get a generous amount of the Motion Comic.) "Real Super Heroes: Real Vigilantes" (26 minutes) explores real-life vigilantes and explores what it would take for someone to take the law into their own hands. Using the film as a jumping-off point, the piece contains comments from law-enforcement experts, historians, and philosophers. We get comments from Guardian Angels as well. "Mechanics: Technologies of a Fantastic World" (17 minutes) focuses on James Kakalios, a physics professor who was called in to be a consultant on the movie. He discusses how he helped with sets and gadgets. The final extra is the MUSIC VIDEO for "Desolation Row" by My Chemical Romance. Where's the trailer with the Smashing Pumpkins song?!
Warner Home Video has also brought Watchmen to DVD. The film is
letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. I know that
many were worried about Warner shoving the three hour cut onto a single disc,
but the movie looks pretty good. Compared to the Blu-ray, it is noticeably
darker, but the image is still sharp and clear and the colors look great. I
noted some artifacting, but not to a distracting level. The DVD carries a Dolby
Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. While
not as clear and dynamic as the DTS track on the BD, this is still a rocking
audio presentation. Surround and stereo effects are abundant and the LFE
portions are very impressive.
The 2-Disc DVD doesn't contain "Maximum Movie Mode", but it does contain the "Focus Points", here called "Watchmen: Video Journals". "Mechanics" and "Real Super Heroes" are not included here.
Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long