Amazon Exclusive Edition, Director's Cut
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(Jul 21, 2009)
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Everybody's favorite graphic novel comes to the screen (after years of rumors and false starts), less a roaring work of adaptation than a respectful and faithful take on a radical original. Watchmen is set in the mid-1980s, a time of increased nuclear tension between the United States and the Soviet Union, as Richard Nixon is enjoying his fifth term as president and the world's superheroes have been forcibly retired. (As you can probably tell, the mix of authentic history and alternate reality is heady.) Things begin with a bang: the mysterious high-rise murder of the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a masked hero with a checkered past, puts the rest of the retired superhero community on alert. The credits sequence, a series of tableaux that wittily catches us up on crime-fighting backstory, actually turns out to be the high point of the movie. Thereafter we meet the other caped and hooded avengers: the furious Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), the inexplicably naked Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup, amidst much blue-skinned, genital-swinging digital work), Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman), Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), and Ozymandias (Matthew Goode). The corkscrewing storytelling, which worked well in the comic book, gives the movie the strange sense of never quite getting in gear, even as some of the episodes are arresting. Director Zack Snyder (300) doesn't try to approximate the electric impact of the original (written by Alan Moore--who declined to be credited on the movie--and illustrated by Dave Gibbons) but retains careful fidelity to his source material. That doesn't feel right, even with the generally enjoyable roll-out of anecdotes. Even less forgivable is the blah acting, excepting Jeffrey Dean Morgan (lusty) and Patrick Wilson (mellow). Watchmen certainly fills the eyes, although less so the ears: the song choices are regrettable, especially during an embarrassing mid-air coupling between Nite Owl II and Silk Spectre II as they unite their--ah--Roman numerals. In the end it feels as though a huge work of transcription has been successfully completed, which isn't the same as making a full-blooded movie experience. --Robert Horton
Also on the Blu-ray disc
The extended director's cut restores 24 minutes of connective tissue to the 162-minute film, most significantly the last scene of Hollis Mason, the first Nite Owl. Other elements help restore and fill in details that had been in the graphic novel. Fans of the film will be glad for the extra footage but there's nothing momentous that will change anyone's basic like or dislike of the film.
By far the most interesting Blu-ray feature (in addition to the great picture and DTS-HD Master Audio sound) is the Maximum Movie Mode, which incorporates several features into the viewing experience. Director Zack Snyder periodically appears on screen in front of two large monitors, one continuing to play the movie and the other displaying special-effects shots or scenes from the graphic novel. Snyder talks about how he shot the film and points out details in a variety of scenes: the opening with the Comedian, Dr. Manhattan's lab, the Nite Owl ship, Mars, Antarctica, and the ending (and why it was changed for the movie). This feature is much more interesting than an audio commentary or a standard picture-in-picture commentary so it'd be nice if it had been done for more scenes. Also appearing in Maximum Movie Mode is a timeline contrasting events in the Watchmen world with the "real world," occasional picture-in-picture comments by cast and crew, still galleries, and a series of 11 "focus points" that allow you to exit the film to watch these three-minute featurettes (sets, costumes, the Minutemen, etc.). Worthy of mention is how easy the Maximum Movie Mode material is to find: Snyder's footage and the focus points are very visible (even in fast-forward), and you can also access the focus points directly from the main menu.
The second disc has three documentaries. The first, "The Phenomenon: The Comic That Changed Comics," 29 min.), looks at the original graphic novel and its themes, and interviews artist Dave Gibbons, DC Comics executives Jenette Kahn and Paul Levitz, and cast and crew, illustrating its points with scenes from the movie, panels from the graphic novel, and parts of the motion comic. The next two are only on the Blu-ray disc but are less interesting and of varying relevance to the movie. "Real Superheroes, Real Vigilantes" (26 min.) examines real-life vigilantes including the Guardian Angels and New York subway gunman Bernard Goetz and compares them to Rorschach. "Mechanics: Technologies of a Future World" (17 min.) spotlights a physicist who served as a consultant on the movie. He talks about his experiences then discusses whether elements from the movie, such as Dr. Manhattan, the Owl Ship, and Rorschach's mask could really work. There's also My Chemical Romance's "Desolation Row" music video and a Digital Copy of the film (compatible with both iTunes and Windows Media; download code expires July 21, 2010), and BD-Live offers even more making-of material. --David Horiuchi
From the Back Cover
Someone’s killing our super heroes. The year is 1985 and super heroes have banded together to respond to the murder of one of their own. They soon uncover a sinister plot that puts all of humanity in grave danger. The super heroes fight to stop the impending doom only to find themselves a target for annihilation. But, if our super heroes are gone, who will save us?
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Set in an alternate 1985 where costumed crime-fighters stalk the streets and the Cold War is on the brink of nuclear armageddon, Watchmen portrays a society that is more morally complex than depicted in traditional superhero fiction, a society where it is more difficult to tell the difference between right and wrong, good and bad.
Whilst the Theatrical version of Watchmen was still a faithful rendering of the source material it omitted several integral elements, most notable the book-within-the-book concept: `The Tales of the Black Freighter'. By re-integrating `The Tales of the Black Freighter' as animated interstitials into the Director's Cut of the movie, the Ultimate Cut is a much more layered, satisfying and complete adaptation of the landmark graphic novel that deconstructed the superhero genre. This creates a truly remarkable vision that is something more special than the previous versions. In this respect, the Ultimate Cut should be considered the "Definitive Edition" - if not quite the masterpiece for which we were hoping. The main thing that spoilt the suspension of disbelief for me were Moloch's massively distracting Orc-like ears: 'Spock meets Nosferatu'.
Disc 2 imports the bonus material provided with the Theatrical and Director's Cut releases. The Four main documentaries are all worthy of inclusion and concentrate on the origin of the graphic novel, its themes, and subsequent impact.
The pseudo-documentary `Under the Hood' is a fun 60-Minutes-style pastiche that provides more backstory and details from the graphic novel that are missing from the feature films.
The Video Journals deal with the making of the movie but (putting the lack of a PLAY ALL option aside) it would have been nice if there was a more in-depth making-of feature to take us through all the stages of this ambitious production - Especially one that covered the casting of the movie, its troubled release and the abandoned previous incarnations. (The inclusion of a few trailers would have also been welcome.) So this cynic suspects a Deluxe-Ultimate Anniversary Edition in the pipeline at Warners.
Instead of the obligatory, annoying Digital Copy, just a simple DVD of the Theatrical Cut would have been better (like Disney includes with all of their blu-rays), or even nothing at all. Hopefully film companies will abandon the Digital Copy fad altogether. Personally, I'd prefer no additional copy and a few pennies shaved off the price instead.
Rounding off the package, at 325 minutes, is the exhaustive (arguably gimmicky) Motion Comic - But at least it's broken into 12 episodes, like the 12 chapters of the novel, and should satiate completists' appetites.
On a final note, the 3 main discs come packaged in a fold-out card case (with the Motion Comic in a slim plastic blu-ray case) inside a card box. The only problem with this nifty packaging is that the matt finish tends to flake away on the edges and creases of the box. ("Somebody call Quality Control!")
These disappointments aside, Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut is definitely the version fans have been waiting for and as all of the discs are REGION FREE, it is available for everyone to make up their own minds. It is certainly an adaptation Alan Moore should be pleased with...but he probably won't be.
DISC 1 - THE MOVIE
- Commentary track by director Zack Snyder
- Commentary track by graphic novel co-creator Dave Gibbons
- Video - 1080p High Definition 16x9 2.4:1
- Audio - Dolby TrueHD: English 5.1, Dolby Digital: English 5.1
- Subtitles - English SDH, Francais & Espanol
DISC 2 - SPECIAL FEATURES IN HIGH DEFINITION
- Under the Hood
- Story Within a Story: The Books of Watchmen
- The Phenomenon: The Comic That Changed Comics
- Mechanics: Technologies of a Fantastic World
- All 11 Watchmen Video Journals
- My Chemical Romance Music Video
DISC 3 - DIGITAL COPY OF THE THEATRICAL FEATURE
DISC4 - WATCHMEN THE COMPLETE MOTION COMIC
Seeing "The Watchmen" reminded me of the first time I saw "The Lord of the Rings." I'd never read Tolkien's books and had no clue what the story was about. I gave up on the film about 30 minutes in. I didn't understand the extremely complex story and couldn't comprehend the almost Shakespearean dialogue and terminology. My daughter recommended watching the film with the subtitles on, and in this way I was finally able to follow the story and learn my way around Tolkien's world. I also became a diehard fan of both the films and the books. I certainly don't think that "The Watchmen" in any way compares to Tolkien in terms of the breadth and depth of its story and characters. But it was compelling enough for me to give it another try and I have to admit that "The Watchmen" grew on me.
Despite lackluster performances from some of the cast, the story itself is what carries the day...a frank and unvarnished exploration of the less-than-heroic side of masked heroes and the social/philosophical implications of a society that embraces vigilantism. All of the characters have a back-story, some of them more interesting than others. The glue that seems to hold the whole thing together is the fascinating anti-hero, Rorschach, played by thoroughly committed comeback kid, Jackie Earle Haley. In both masked and unmasked form, Rorschach commands a morbidly fascinating persona and whenever he is on the screen you cannot help but look at him. He continuously moves the story forward, taking us into ever darker places with his uncompromising persistence. Considering that he was a character with so few redeeming qualities, I was surprisingly sad to see Rorschach reduced to a gory smear in the snow in the last minutes of the film. In the end, one is left with unanswered questions about personal motivation and whether ends really do justify means. Be forewarned, there is absolutely nothing uplifting about this film. Are any of the characters really "heroes?" You will have to decide for yourself.
Watching the film a second time also helped me to appreciate some of its more subtle attributes...the amazing complexity of the CGI effects, from the tiny electrical undulations beneath Dr. Manhattan's skin, to Rorschach's mesmerizing mask...the humor, sometimes very understated (a constantly malfunctioning flashlight). I can understand the sentiments of those put off by the VERY graphic violence and the film's single (almost superfluous) sex scene. But this is not a movie for kids, nor is it a typical superhero romp. "Watchmen" pulls no punches in exposing the flaws of all the main characters, so it's a challenge to find anyone to root for. Perhaps that's the point...that life is rarely as simple as right and wrong, good and bad, black and white.
So, who watches the Watchmen? Hurm....