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Blu-ray Reviews

HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Watchmen: Director's Cut



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#1 of 73 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted July 14 2009 - 05:39 PM

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Watchmen: Director's Cut

Release Date: July 21, 2009
Studio: Warner Brothers
Packaging/Materials: Three-disc Blu-ray case with cardstock and lenticular slipcover
Year:
2009
Rating:
R
Running Time:
3h06m
MSRP:
$35.99

Video
1080p high definition 16x9 2.40:1 1080p high definition
Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1; Dolby Digital: French 5.1 N/A
Subtitles English SDH, French, Spanish English SDH, French (on select bonus material)



The Feature: 4/5

It's 1985 and the United States and Soviet Union are on the brink of nuclear war; the countdown to doomsday has begun. Meanwhile, the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a brutally cynical costumed hero, has been killed, tossed out the window of his high rise apartment like a rag doll. One of his former colleagues, Rorschach (Jackie Earl Haley), still in operation despite legislation banning all masked heroes except those government-sanctioned like the Comedian, suspects someone is targeting their kind. Following the trail takes him back to old friends like Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman), Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) and Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) but their lives after their forced retirement seems to have gotten the better of them. If they're not weary and out of shape, they're lost in the convolutions of their personal dramas, making them easy targets in multiple ways. Only Rorschach has stayed on the edge all these years - at a cost - but the conspiracy he's digging up is proving bigger than he can fight on his own. With nuclear armageddon on the horizon, will a return of the masked hero even make a difference?

Long considered unfilmable, director Zack Snyder's adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' celebrated graphic novel "Watchmen" is surprisingly effective, capturing much of the original work's tone and character despite making some fairly significant changes. The removal of the "Black Freighter" metastory and revision of the conspiracy plot, while likely missed by devotees of the source material, ultimately make for a tighter and more accessible narrative, particularly for general viewers. If anything, it's the little things, added up, that can become a problem. For instance, why are the masked heroes so strong, able to throw bodies and punch through brick, when it's stated many times that the only "super" is Dr. Manhattan? Along the same lines, why is the violence so gory? It comes off as gratuitous, especially when there are moments of beautiful cinematic power as when Rorschach puts an end to Big Figure. Finally, Silk Spectre's character arc never seems to get the consideration it deserves, in part due to the limitations of the actor playing her but also the overall attention from the film itself, even in this longer cut. When she finally has her big revelation, we're just not there with her, unable to understand the depth of her anguish because we haven't seen enough of the events leading up to it.

Still, in the big picture, these are nitpicks. Considering the sweeping depth and complexity of the original work, it's amazing what translated so well. As in the graphic novel, Dr. Manhattan's meditative origin story is the film's high point in both story and visuals. The title sequence and Haley's portrayal of Rorschach are also among the film's undeniably great features. While there are obvious compromises in the adaptation, anyone except the most ardent fans of the source material should find themselves both entertained and moved to reflection on the story's darker ideas and themes.

The director's cut of "Watchmen" includes around 24 minutes of additional material not in the theatrical version (which is available as the digital copy on Disc Three). Most of the scenes involve Hollis Mason (the first Night Owl), though there is some additional time spent on Silk Spectre. Frankly, I don't think the scenes add that much. Silk Spectre stood to benefit most from a longer cut, but what's added back just isn't enough to remedy the shortcomings of the character treatment and her portrayal.


Video Quality: 4.5/5

The film is correctly framed at 2.40:1 and presented in 1080p with the VC-1 codec. Black levels are excellent, though there is a varying degree of black crush. Since it changes depending on the type of scene (more pronounced, along with some moderate color desaturation, in scenes set in the '40s) it's safe to say it's intentional. Colors, though obviously stylized, show very good depth and saturation as well. Sharpness and detail are consistently amazing, revealing fine texture in hair, skin and fabrics. The image is also free of edge haloes, signs of grain reduction and blemishes. Overall it's an excellent looking transfer that seems to accurately present the filmmakers' stylistic choices.


Audio Quality: 4.5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio mix exhibits excellent LFE activity, clear and intelligible dialogue (especially with Rorschach's gravelly voice) and effective use of the surrounds for both atmospheric and directional effects. The only thing missing is a constant state of immersion that can be experienced with some of the best mixes. In this case the array perks up at the expected times for action sequences, but seems to become a strictly center channel affair when it's just dialogue. I know some find surround activity during dialogue sequences distracting, but when done properly it really lends the film an added sense of realism. The mix and presentation for "Watchmen" is certainly no slouch, but lacks some of the detail that would truly make it exemplary.


Special Features: 4/5

The special features package offers a variety of video documentaries covering the production, the history of the source material and related subjects. Through BD-Live users can access theatrical trailers and other social media features. While the features hit all the requisite subjects, knowing the "Ultimate Collector's Edition" is five months away there's likely some material producers are holding onto for that release. As a slight consolation, the package does include a $10 off coupon for the upcoming edition.

Disc One

Maximum Movie Mode: Exclusive to the Blu-ray release, this amplified variation on the video commentary includes picture-in-picture comparisons of storyboards and graphic novel panels to the film, a graphical timeline showing the events of the Watchmen world in relation to ours, walk-on video commentaries by Snyder, and a handy memory feature that will remember where you left off if you decide to leave. The feature also branches off to focus points, which are independently accessible as well.

Focus Points


Featurettes highlight various aspects of the production.
  • The Minute Men (3:33) - Introduction to the first generation of masked vigilantes.
  • Sets and Sensibility (3:54) - Set construction and design.
  • Dressed for Success (3:03) - Costume design.
  • The Ship Has Eyes (4:20) - Design and construction of Nite Owl's ship, Archie.
  • Dave Gibbons (3:21) - Illustrator Gibbons' impressions of the production.
  • Burn Baby Burn (2:12) - Fire stunt during the prison riot.
  • Shoot to Thrill (3:14) - Emulating the graphic novel's color palette and look.
  • Blue Monday (2:59) - The wizardry behind Dr. Manhattan.
  • Attention to Detail (2:53) - Props and set dressings.
  • Girls Kick Ass (3:03) - Carla Gugino and Malin Akerman talk about their characters.
  • Rorschach's Mask (3:38) - Developing and portraying the Rorschach character.
BD-Live: At the time of review, the items available included the streaming "Watchmen" theatrical trailer, downloads of various trailers in high definition (which include "The Lord of the Rings" and "Sherlock Holmes"), and a way to access your Facebook account. I tried the Facebook feature but didn't notice anything available to try.


Disc Two

The Phenomenon: The Comic that Changed Comics (28:46) - A history of the "Watchmen" graphic novel, how it broke the rules, affected the industry and inspired readers. The documentary includes interviews with former DC Comics editors, illustrator Dave Gibbons, colorist John Higgins, and various other creative professionals. Not surprisingly, reclusive writer Alan Moore is absent, but there's enough anecdotes about the creation to fill in the blanks. For those unfamiliar with the novel's legendary status and its ideas and themes, the piece is a fine introduction and retrospective.

Real Super Heroes: Real Vigilantes (26:17)
- An exploration of vigilantism, with particular emphasis on the 1980s, and its embodiment in the super hero mystique and ethos of "Watchmen." Includes interviews with historians, members of the Guardian Angels safety patrol organization, law enforcement professionals, and some actual costumed vigilantes in circulation.

Mechanics: Technologies of A Fantastic World (16:49)
- James Kakalios, Professor of Physics at the University of Minnesota, was recruited as a consultant on the film to give the production team a foundational understanding of Dr. Manhattan's abilities and work, among other things. In the featurette he shares some of the information he gave the filmmakers, including why the Dr. is blue, whether Archie could actually fly, and if Rorschach's mask could actually work.

My Chemical Romance "Desolation Row" Music Video (3:15)


Disc Three

Digital Copy: Download a digital file for playback on a computer or portable device. Compatible with Mac and Windows.


Recap

The Feature: 4/5
Video Quality: 4.5/5
Audio Quality: 4.5/5
Special Features: 4/5
Overall Score (not an average): 4/5

An impressive adaptation of a deep and complex graphic novel gets excellent technical treatment and a fine set of special features.


Edited by Cameron Yee - 7/15/2009 at 03:43 pm GMT
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#2 of 73 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden

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Posted July 15 2009 - 01:12 AM

Nice review, Cameron.  For those interested, the digital copy is the original theatrical cut.

Regards,
Ken McAlinden
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#3 of 73 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted July 15 2009 - 04:54 AM

Thanks for the thorough review. 

I'm probably more in the camp of people that had some big issues with the film itself.  Too many elements didn't work for me - a good chunk of which you've pointed out.  I would add that I wasn't convinced much by the actor playing Ozymandias, and that there seemed to be too much of an emphasis on recreating the frame-by-frame of some panels from the comic without an understanding of the underlying meaning.  I've seen the final Hollis Mason scene and had that reaction to it - in theory, it matches the comic, but in execution, we miss its point.

You make a very good point about the "Ultimate" edition coming later this year.  I'm going to wait for that one to see if it helps to add back in the Freighter comic footage.  I'll likely rent this one just to see the special features.

#4 of 73 OFFLINE   Jefferson Morris

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Posted July 15 2009 - 09:15 AM

Terrific movie, sounds like a terrific disc, thanks Cameron. Can't wait until Tuesday.

What is the resolution and format of these "digital copies"?

---Jefferson Morris

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#5 of 73 OFFLINE   George_W_K

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Posted July 15 2009 - 06:08 PM

Nice review, Cameron.

I cannot wait to buy this, I really enjoyed the theatrical cut.  I'm going to have to buy the graphic novel someday and check it out too.

#6 of 73 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden

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Posted July 16 2009 - 01:17 AM



Quote:
Originally Posted by Jefferson Morris View Post

Terrific movie, sounds like a terrific disc, thanks Cameron. Can't wait until Tuesday.

What is the resolution and format of these "digital copies"?...
The iTunes version is presented at a resolution of 853x354 pixels and encoded at a bitrate of 1,960 kbps.  It contains both stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks.  Don't know about the Windows Media options.

Regards,

Ken McAlinden
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#7 of 73 OFFLINE   Brian Borst

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Posted July 16 2009 - 07:07 AM

Received my copy today. Just watched the opening (Comedian's demise) with and without the Maximum Movie Made. It looked very good, with a slight bit of grain. It sounded very impressive as well. It's 9 pm here, and I live in an apartment so I couldn't put it on too loud, but if the opening is anything to go by (and I'm sure it will) the subwoofer gets a lot of workout. The Maximum movie mode was absolutely seamless on my player (Sony BDP-S350) and it seems very interesting.
I haven't seen the movie in it's entirety yet (didn't have three hours of spare time). I will watch it in the weekend and I will probably read the graphic novel first.

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#8 of 73 OFFLINE   RickyB

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Posted July 16 2009 - 07:56 AM

If you've never read the graphic novel I recommend watching the movie first. After you've read the graphic novel you can revisit the movie and see how your perception has changed.


#9 of 73 OFFLINE   Brian Borst

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Posted July 16 2009 - 08:36 AM

Oh, I have read the comic before. I just think I would read it again, so I could compare the two more easily. But maybe the differences would just stick out more.

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#10 of 73 OFFLINE   EricW

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Posted July 16 2009 - 11:31 AM

did anyone get the BD-Live special viewing event email invitation?  it's similar to the Dark Knight event.  so similar, in fact, that at the RSVP screen from Warner.com, it asks "what three questions do you want to ask director Christopher Nolan?" :)  hopefully they change it soon

post script - > i just went back to get a screencap, they changed it :P


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#11 of 73 OFFLINE   Sam Favate

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Posted July 19 2009 - 04:50 AM

Do we know for sure that a more expansive edition is coming for the end of the year?


#12 of 73 OFFLINE   TravisR

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Posted July 19 2009 - 04:52 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sam Favate View Post

Do we know for sure that a more expansive edition is coming for the end of the year?
 

The flier included with this release says it is. I guess in the unlikely event that this release completely tanks, they might shelve it but other than that, it seems like you'll see it under 5 months.

#13 of 73 OFFLINE   Jefferson Morris

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Posted July 20 2009 - 09:39 AM



Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian Borst 

Oh, I have read the comic before. I just think I would read it again, so I could compare the two more easily. But maybe the differences would just stick out more.
That was my approach--I had read the comic years long enough ago to forget many of the details. I saw the film, then re-read the comic, and came away with a greater appreciation for both.

In fact, I was surprised at how many things I didn't remember from the comic that I thought were inventions of the filmmakers, but which turned out to be straight from the book. It's really a very faithful adaptation, by any realistic standard, despite the grousing of some fanboys.

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#14 of 73 OFFLINE   Dave Scarpa

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Posted July 21 2009 - 12:06 AM

the wife is kinda hedgy on gore, she's not a horror fan by any means ( I Am) how gory is the gore aspect of the picture?

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#15 of 73 OFFLINE   TheBat

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Posted July 21 2009 - 12:50 AM

watchmen is not a horror film.. on the scale of 1 to 10 about the gore.. I would say 11.
its not going to be a movie for everyone. a few scenes here and there that are a bit disturbing.

Jacob


#16 of 73 OFFLINE   Sam Favate

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Posted July 21 2009 - 04:20 AM

I found the excessive violence to be somewhat juvenile in the movie (which I liked overall). There are some things we simply didn't need to see (like the chainsaw and the prisoner's arms).


#17 of 73 OFFLINE   Jefferson Morris

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Posted July 21 2009 - 06:49 AM

I would call the film occasionally quite graphic, although it's not wall-to-wall blood and guts. The aforementioned scene with the chainsaw is like something out of a horror movie--a reminder that this director came to prominence with a 'Dawn of the Dead' remake.

Just picked up the blu-ray, now counting the minutes until I can leave work and give it a spin. I just replaced the aging lamp in my projector to ensure a good presentation.

--Jefferson Morris

"If fakes, they were masterpieces."

--The New York Times commenting on Willis O'Brien's dinosaurs in The Lost World (1925).

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#18 of 73 OFFLINE   Aragorn the Elfstone

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Posted July 21 2009 - 08:29 AM

Just watched the DC. Loved the movie (more than in the theater, even), but did not care much for the excessive gore. It really didn't seem necessary to me. Otherwise though, great film. I'm probably gonna hear from the neighbors on account of the DTS track though. :)


#19 of 73 OFFLINE   TravisR

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Posted July 21 2009 - 11:13 AM

Just finished the director's cut and it makes a very good movie even better. Loved the scene with

the original Night Owl's demise.

As for the violence, I have no problem with it but I can see how others do. Violence is ugly and unpleasant and I'd rather see it portrayed that way then just cutting away to someone else reacting.

#20 of 73 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted July 21 2009 - 12:54 PM


Quote:
As for the violence, I have no problem with it but I can see how others do. Violence is ugly and unpleasant and I'd rather see it portrayed that way then just cutting away to someone else reacting.
My primary issue with it was there wasn't that kind of violence - in particular the saw to the arms - in the graphic novel. So making it as graphic as it was seemed to serve no purpose other than to titillate.

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