My first experience with the Director’s Cut of Watchmen was the reaction of a fellow consumer, who was shocked – shocked! – that the first thing he saw upon opening the case was a coupon for $10 off an Ultimate Collector’s Edition “coming in December 2009”. I, personally was smug – it was just as I had predicted. But I think the dismay was more produced by the realization that distributors aren’t even pretending that they’re not double-dipping anymore.
Fine, fine, enough industry kvetching, you may say. Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln? We should start with the basic stuff: Watchmen is based on a graphic novel (one of the few actually deserving of that description) of the same name, written in typically dense detail by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons , it is considered by many the ne plus ultra of the comic book superhero story. It was also considered by many, Moore included, to be unfilmable.
In an alternate version of 1985, where “masked adventurers” – super heroes – have actually existed since the 1940s, most of the modern versions of those heroes are in a retirement forced by the Keene Act of the late 70s, enacted during a national police strike. One of the masks, The Comedian - still active as a black ops government agent - is murdered, setting in motion a plot that eventually involves all the former masked heroes, all under the approaching threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union.
Director Zach Snyder (the 2004 Dawn of the Dead, 300) makes a darn good run at filming the unfilmable, though it could be argued that he is at times too faithful to the source material - yet at the times he is not, it seems a dreadful error. Most controversial, perhaps, is the changing of Moore’s original ending to the master plot, which was jettisoned as being too complicated and too expensive – which was the exact point of Moore’s ending. The new ending is far too obvious and politically naïve, tarnishing the good work that went into the film to that point.
The overarching problem is that the Watchmen graphic novel was groundbreaking in incorporating film and multimedia techniques into the comics medium, novelties which don’t seem that novel reintegrated into the medium from which they came. The climax of the sociopathic Rorshach’s origin story is truncated and made even more brutal by the fact that Moore copped it from the movie Mad Max, and hence it couldn’t even be used here. The finely constructed 12-issue structure of the original is carried over, causing those familiar with the graphic novel to subconsciously count off the issues as they occur. One really wishes that the chosen means of delivery had been an outlandishly expensive HBO mini-series.
Despite comic fans’ discomfort with some aspects of the movie, it has to be admitted that several of the actors – particularly Billy Crudup as the godlike Dr. Manhattan, Patrick Wilson as Batman manque Nite-Owl, Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the outspoken Comedian and former Bad News Bear Jackie Earle Haley as the extreme Rorschach are absolutely, positively perfectly cast.
In this Director’s Cut, we are given 24 extra minutes, which pays off in some character scenes cut for time considerations and some more graphic gore. The gore is largely unnecessary, but the character moments help; I found my initial dissatisfaction with the movie softening. Softening enough to find myself interested in that Ultimate Collector’s Edition, which will ratchet up the “unfilmable” quotient even higher with the incorporation of the “Black Freighter”, a computer-animated “motion comic” of a story being read by one of the incidental characters who was pretty much left on the cutting floor for the theatrical version.
If all this makes your head hurt, you ain’t alone.
Warner Video does fabulous discs. Video, audio – all are top notch. Their packaging, though… I think most people recall – with no little disdain – the horrible “snapper” cases they used to employ. Those days are over (except in remainder bins) but the new version isn’t much of an improvement. Watchmen comes in an attractive cardboard slipcase with a well-done lenticular 3-D cover, but the plastic case itself has cut-outs in the shape of the “recycle” symbol. I suppose they are easier to recycle, and use less plastic, but they feel very flimsy and cheap.
That coupon my friend was bitching about isn’t a coupon at all, it’s a small flyer telling you to join the WB Insider’s Network in order to get a coupon… so it’s a coupon for a coupon, basically. There’s also a pack-in flyer for the Xbox 360 game Watchmen: The End is Nigh.
With a three-hour plus movie, there’s not much in the way of extras on Disc One (the audio commentary is being saved for that Ultimate Collector’s Edition). You will get a spot telling you how much you suck by not having Blu-Ray, a fairly good anti-smoking ad, and trailers for the Seth Rogan movie Observe and Report, the iPhone/iPod Touch game Justice is Coming and that aforementioned The End is Nigh.
With a digital file for a three-hour plus movie, there’s not much in the way of extras on Disc Two. You start with trailers for the upcoming box set of the problematic TV series Fringe, and the direct-to-video Trick r’ Treat, an ad for three different versions of the motion picture score, and the latest offering from DC Animation, Green Lantern: First Flight.
After that are some actual Special Features: The Phenomenon: The Comic That Changed Comics is a typically good DC featurette about the graphic novel, featuring interviews with a number of worthies, including artist Dave Gibbons; writer Alan Moore, unfortunately, divorced himself from all other versions of his work – he doesn’t even have a credit on the movie, by his own insistence – and is notable by his absence.
Video Journals is the little featurettes from the website: The Minutemen, (on creating the 40s era version of the heroes), Sets and Sensibility, Dressed for Success, The Ship Has Eyes (on turning Gibbons’ design for the flying Owlship into reality), Dave Gibbons, Burn Baby Burn (a particularly dangerous fire stunt), Shoot to Thrill (cinematography), Blue Monday (on the specialized, blue LED-festooned motion-capture suit worn by Billy Crudup to film his Dr. Manhattan scenes), Attention to Detail, Girls Kick Ass and Rorschach’s Mask.
Watchmen did not fare very well at the box office; whether or not it finds its success in the digital medium, as have some other theatrical failures, is largely going to depend on how consumers feel about Warner's blatant grab for bucks in the form of that Ultimate Collector's Set, encompassing as it does this director's cut, the re-integrated Tales of Black Freighter, the Hollis Mason bio-feature Under the Hood and a "motion comic" version of the original graphic novel - all of which are items already released on their own, separate discs.
Dr. Freex, 7/27/2009