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DVD Review HTF DVD REVIEW: Watchmen: Director’s Cut: 2-Disc Special Edition (1 Viewer)

Ken_McAlinden

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Watchmen: Director's Cut: 2-Disc Special Edition Plus Digital Copy

Watchmen: Director’s Cut: 2-Disc Special Edition

Directed By: Zack Snyder

Starring: Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Carla Gugino, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson, Stephen McHattie


Studio: Warner

Year: 2009

Rated: R

Film Length: 186 minutes

Aspect Ratio: 2.4:1

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

Release Date: July 21, 2009

The Film ***½

Zack Snyder's Watchmen is a cinematic adaptation of the celebrated graphic novel from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.  Set in an alternate 1985 where costumed vigilantes operating since before World War II have changed the course of American history (e.g. Vietnam was a victory and Nixon is President for his third consecutive term).  It opens with the murder of Edward Blake aka The Comedian (Morgan), one of the first generation of costumed crime-fighters.  When the single-minded borderline sociopathic Rorschach (Haley) investigates, he becomes convinced that someone is targeting costumed heroes, all of whom except for Rorschach have been retired since their vigilante activities were banned in the late 1970s.  As Rorschach continues his investigation, the audience is introduced to his former crime-fighting associates including the reclusive Dan Dreiberg aka Nite Owl, the original Nite Owl Hollis Mason (McHattie), the wealthy philanthropic industrialist Adrian Veidt aka Ozymandias (Goode), the god-like nuclear powered superman who is gradually losing interest in humanity known as Dr. Manhattan (Crudup), his girlfriend Laurie Jupiter aka Silk Spectre, and Laurie's mother Sally Jupiter, the original Silk Spectre.  The murder and ensuing events trigger a complex series of feelings and memories spanning two generations and 45 years that come to a head as the investigation reaches its surprising conclusion.

Almost since the mid-1980s release of the original graphic novel, there has been talk of making a Watchmen theatrical film with a revolving door of writers and directors rumored to be attached to the project only to abandon it for one reason or another.  A general consensus seemed to be developing that the project was unfilmable.  Enter director Zack Snyder hot off the box-office success of an adaptation of the Frank Miller graphic novel 300. Snyder was determined to not only make the film, but to be as faithful as possible to the spirit of the book, embracing rather than streamlining the thematic and structural complexity via his adaptation in collaboration with screenwriters David Hayter and Alex Tse.  To his credit, he comes awfully close to succeeding.

Starting with the good, Snyder and his collaborators do an impressive job of adapting the graphic novel: appropriating strong images, suggesting complexities that they did not have time to fully dramatize, and employing a non-linear cinematic narrative structure that approximates the graphic novel's decades spanning storytelling techniques using the psychology of the characters to provide a through-line despite frequent jumps backward and forward in time.  The production design seems to be filled with more details than the viewer can actually see, creating the sense of a real time and space.  Much of the cast is quite good, with Jackie Earle Haley being a particular stand-out as fan-favorite character Rorschach.

With so much going for it, the film stumbles in a few key areas that prevent it from achieving greatness.  One of the oddest is the unconvincing wigs and make-ups applied to characters both to make them look older/younger than they are, and to make them look like real-world personalities such as Richard Nixon and Lee Iacocca. They look and act like sketch comedy show caricatures rather than the people they are supposed to be playing. Additionally, the film’s soundtrack is filled with lots of popular music, much of it distractingly inappropriate.   For every instance where the song makes a point (such as the opening “The Times They Are a-Changin’” montage) or establishes the era, there are strange choices such as having a 1985 funeral scored to Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” or a sex scene set to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. That particular moment has to be one of the least sexy sex scenes ever captured on film. It is staged awkwardly, goes on way too long, and ends ridiculously. Whatever minor chemistry existed between the actors/characters involved somehow seems to evaporate by the time the scene has played out. Finally, the casting of Matthew Goode in the key role of crime-fighter turned philanthropic industrialist Adrian Veidt was a big mistake. He does not physically fit the part, he gives a completely unconvincing performance, and his accent is distractingly inconsistent from line to line, let alone scene to scene.

Snyder caught a lot of flack for changing the ending of the film, but in truth, the changes he makes are still thematically consistent with the original.  The real problem with the ending is the fact that, just like the source graphic novel, it goes on seemingly forever and is 90% expository dialog.  The fact that a good chunk of this exposition is being delivered by Goode does not help matters.

The Video ****

After the disaster that was The Dark Knight, I was a bit nervous about how this even longer superhero effort would fare on SD DVD.  I am happy to report, that for the most part, it fares quite well.  Compression artifacts are few and far between, detail is above average, and shadow detail is rendered quite well for this very darkly lit film although certain sequences seem to have intentionally crushed blacks.  The only weaknesses in the presentation stem from some light ringing along high contrast edges that will be noticeable on larger displays and occasional "jaggies" along edges.  Both of those problems seem to be most prominent during the film's first half hour, and then appear much less frequently after that.

The Audio ****½

The English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack presents the theatrical mix with its dynamics completely intact, resulting in many whisper to scream moments, particularly when violence erupts on screen.  The opening sequence where The Comedian is attacked by a mysterious assailant is one such moment that conveniently lets you set your system to appropriate levels to avoid complications such as divorce or neighbors calling the police with noise complaints.  The mix is aggressively directional when it makes sense and LFE enhancements frequently add to the fun as appropriate.  Unfortunately, during the moments where all 5.1 channels are engaged aggressively, the fidelity seems to suffer, likely due to to the relatively low 384 kbps bitrate used to encode the soundtrack.  A French 5.1 dub is also included.

The Extras ***1/2

The film itself may be viewed by some as a special feature since it is an extended "Director's Cut" with 24 minutes of additional material from the theatrical cut.  Most of this comes in the form of scene extensions including bits of business like a fight between Rorschach and two cops after his visit to the Comedian's apartment or some minor plot beats such as establishing that government agents follow Sally Jupiter because of their concern that Dr. Manhattan stay happy. The most significant addition has to do with a scene involving original Nite Owl Hollis Mason that is significantly spoiled by the promotional text in the DVD's press release (read it at your peril, I will not repeat it here). The scene is directly from the source graphic novel, is very well played, and is editorially interesting, but ultimately not crucial to the plot or characterizations. All in all, I prefer the theatrical cut, and would have preferred to see most of these additions as deleted scenes.  None of the additions is particularly harmful on its own, but the collective effect is to make a film that already felt a bit long at two hours and 42 minutes seem almost interminable at over three hours. The version of the film due out on video in December will reportedly incorporate the animated Tales from the Black Freighter into the body of the film, and some of the additions in this Director's Cut include footage around a news stand that suggests how that tale from the pages of a pirate comic book will fit into the film.

Disc One has no extras, but when it is first played, the viewer is greeted with a series of skippable promos.  All are presented in 4:3 video, letterboxed when appropriate, with Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound unless otherwise indicated below:
  • Warner Blu-Ray promo (16:9 video - 1:43)
  • Anti-smoking PSA comparing smokers to lab rats (:34)
  • Observe and Report BD/DVD trailer (2:22)
  • Watchmen: Justice is Coming Online iPhone/iPod Touch Game promo (:40)
  • Watchmen: The End is Nigh Video Game Promo (:36)

Disc Two has all of the extras as well as the following series of skippable promos that appear when it is first played:
  • Fringe Season One TV on BD/DVD trailer (2:02)
  • Trick ‘r Treat BD/DVD Trailer (2:32)
  • Watchmen Music from the Motion Picture, Motion Picture Score, and Picture Disc Box Set CD/LP Promo (:32)
  • Green Lantern: First Flight BD/DVD Promo (1:07)

Proper extras consist of the following series of featurettes and a music video.  All are presented in 4:3 letterboxed video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound with available English SDH or French subtitles unless otherwise indicated below:

The Phenomenon: The Comic that Changed Comics (28:45) Looks primarily at the original graphic novel, how it came to be, and what made it so unique.  On camera interviews are intercut with still photographs, film clips, and clips from the "Motion Comic" of the graphic novel.  It is divided up into chapters identified by the following on-screen titles: How it Began, Genesis, The Books are Unleashed, Breaking Conventions: Post-Modern Reflections, Breaking Conventions: The Anti-Superhero, Breaking Conventions: Moral Ambiguities, Breaking Conventions: Abuse of Power, Breaking Conventions: Science Fiction and Alternate History. Breaking Conventions: Non-Linear Time, and The Unfilmable is Filmed.  Topics covered range from how the project evolved from an initial attempt to revive super hero characters from the Charlton Comics, to the working methods of Artist Dave Gibbons and writer Alan Moore, to a deconstruction of various aspects of the graphic novel.  On-camera comments are provided by Malin Ackerman, Jackie Earle Haley, Carla Gugino, Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance, Journalist Lev Grossman, Billy Crudup, DC Comics Senior VP & Creative Director Richard Bruning, 1981-2002 DC Comics President and Publisher Jenette Kahn, Zack Snyder, Producer Deborah Snyder, DC Comics Senior VP & Creative Director Gregory Noveck, Watchmen Artist Dave Gibbons, Former DC Comics Editor Len Wein, Watchmen Colorist John Higgins, DC Comics President and Publisher Paul Levitz, Producer Lloyd Levin, Watchmen and Philosophy Editor Dr. Mark D. White, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Co-Producer Wesley Coller.

Watchmen: Video Journals offer up a series of brief featurettes that were previously available on the web looking at specific topics related to the film’s production. On-camera and on-set interviews are mixed with film clips, on-set,  and behind the scenes footage:
  • The Minutemen (3:35) Looks at the 1st generation of super-heroes in the film’s world.  On-camera comments are provided by Deborah Snyder, Haley, Stephen McHattie, Morgan, Gugino, Gibbons, Costume Designer Michael Wilkinson, Snyder, and Still Photographer Clay Enos
  • Sets & Sensibility (3:55) Looks at the film’s sets.  In particular, the Prison, Carnac, and New York Street sets.  On-camera comments are provided by Production Designer Alex McDowell and Snyder
  • Dressed for Success (3:06) Looks at costumes  including the various periods represented in the film and how the graphic novel was used as reference.  On-camera comments are provided by Wilkinson and Snyder
  • The Ship Has Eyes (4:22) Looks at the life size prop for the owl ship “Archimedes”.  On-camera comments are provided by Zack Snyder, Wilson, McDowell, Head Sculptor Jack Gavreau, SFX Cordinator Joel Whist, and SFX Assistant/Electronics Andrew Verhoeven
  • Dave Gibbons (3:24) Looks at Watchmen co-creator/illustrator Gibbons and impressions from his visits to the film sets.  On-camera comments are provided by Akerman, Gibbons, Crudup, and Haley
  • Burn Baby Burn (2:14) Looks at the  prison riot sequence from the film and the pyrotechnic effects and stunts.  On-camera comments are provided by Stunt Coordinator/Fight Choreographer Damon Caro, Canadian Stunt Coordinator Douglas Chapman, Fire Technician Colin Decker, and Fire Technician Dustin Brooks
  • Shoot to Thrill (3:16) Looks at the cinematographic style of the film.   On-camera comments are provided by Deborah Snyder, Director of Photography Larry Fong, Chief Lighting Technician Dennis Brock, and Zack Snyder
  • Blue Monday (3:01) Looks at how the Doctor Manhattan character was realized on film.  On-camera comments are provided by VFX Supervisor John “DJ” Desjardin, Crudup, Global Effects’ Chris Gilman, and Fong, 
  • Attention to Detail (2:55) Looks at how the movie’s props took their cue from the level of detail from the Graphic Novel.  On-camera comments are provided by Deborah Snyder, McDowell, Property Master Jimmy Chow, Set Decorator Jim Erickson, and Co-Producer Wesley Coller
  • Girls Kick Ass (3:06) Looks at the mother/daughter characters of Sally and Laurie Jupiter in the film with some extra emphasis on the action sequences involving Akerman.  On-camera comments are provided by Akerman, Zack Snyder, Wilkinson, Gugino, and Stunt Coordinator/Fight Choreographer Damon Caro
  • Rorschach’s Mask (3:45) Looks at the Rorschach character as well as how his morphing ink blot mask was realized via costume and visual effects.  On-camera comments are provided by Zack Snyder, Haley, Wilkinson, and Desjardin, 

My Chemical Romance “Desolation Row” Music Video (16:9 enhanced video - 3:14) finds the band applying a buzzsaw guitar pop-punk treatment to the Bob Dylan Classic.  It is a performance video with the band on stage in front of a Rorschach-themed backdrop while their riotous audience clashes with police and SWAT teams who eventually throw everyone in a Paddy Wagon.

Finally, disc two also contains a Digital Copy of the “Watchmen” Theatrical Cut (162 minutes).  It is compatible with both iTunes and Windows Media.  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.

Packaging

The discs are packaged in a standard sized “Ecobox” with a hinged tray allowing it to accommodate both discs.  The case contains three paper inserts.  One is a double sided promo that contains ads for various versions of the Watchmen graphic novel on one side and a plug for the Watchmen: The End is Nigh video game on the other.  A second is a two-side promo plugging the forthcoming Watchmen Ultimate Collector's Edition 5-disc set due out in December 2009 and explaining how fans can get $10 off if they sign up with the "WB Insider" web site.  Finally, a third insert contains the code to unlock the digital copy of the Watchmen theatrical cut for either iTunes or Windows Media.  The hard case is in turn covered by a cardboard slipcase with lenticular 3D effects applied to the front image.

Summary ***1/2

Zack Snyder's cinematic take on Watchmen manages to incorporate an impressive amount of the graphic novel's visual, thematic, and psychological complexity, but stumbles a bit due to some odd choices for music, make-up, one particular casting decision, and an unnecessarily drawn out conclusion that was also a problem with the book. It is presented on this two-disc special edition DVD in an extended "Director's Cut" that incorporates even more plot details from the source book, but tends to drag in spots.  Audio and video are quite strong, although the early parts of the film are plagued by light ringing and occasional "jaggies" along high contrast edges and fidelity suffers at times due to a relatively low audio bitrate. Extras include a half hour documentary on the Watchmen graphic novel, several informative webisodes looking at various aspects of the film's production, and a music video by the band "My Chemical Romance". An iTunes and Windows compatible digital copy of the theatrical cut is included as well.

Regards,
 

Joe:C

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I hope the Watchmen Ultimate Collector's Edition is available in a set without all the extra trinkets and physical items. I know some people love those things, but I'm not a fan of those huge oversized boxes. Just give me the 5-disc set!
 

Dan Gill

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Gotta agree with you on the casting:


Much of the cast is quite good, with Jackie Earle Haley being a particular stand-out as fan-favorite character Rorschach.
And also the criticism of Veidt.

Did you read the graphic novel? I couldn't put it down once I got started and I'm not a comic or graphic novel guy in any way. The feeling I had when I finally saw the movie was that it was faithful enough to the graphic novel to please a good number of its hardest core fans, but if you hadn't read the graphic novel, the length constraints of the film forced Snyder to gloss over may details that would make the story easier for people to "get."

Thanks for an awesome review Ken.
 

MLamarre

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Aside from the Digital Copy, does it contain the Theatrical version via some branching option or something?
 

Ken_McAlinden

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Originally Posted by MLamarre

Aside from the Digital Copy, does it contain the Theatrical version via some branching option or something?
Nope. The only way to get the theatrical cut other than digital copy is the separate single-disc release on DVD. That may actually be the economical way to go if all you want is something to tide you over until the 5-disc mega set comes out in December.

Regards,
 

Joe:C

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I couldn't put it down once I got started and I'm not a comic or graphic novel guy in any way
Same thing for me. I hadn't read a comic or "graphic novel" since I was a kid, but all the hype about the movie got to me and I finally read Watchmen. I thought it was fantastic, even though the Black Freighter stuff was kind of lost on me at first ( okay I get it now ). I thought the movie was good too, though I can see why it didn't cross over to a more general audience.
 

Ken_McAlinden

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I read the book in the early 90s and then again this past year. It is pretty incredible. I also had to review the motion comic DVD which is a lightly abridged version of the whole thing as well, so I have been up to my eyeballs in Watchmen for the last few months. I do not think it has affected me in any way, though.
 

Steve Christou

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Saw this at the cinema, loved it, problem is we're not getting the directors cut on region 2 so I'll have to order it on region 1. And I'll be buying the theatrical version too, I can't imagine not owning the version I saw at the cinema. I still have the theatrical versions of LOTR and I do watch them occasionally. And I must be one of the few Trekkies on the planet who prefers the original 1979 version of Star Trek the Motion Picture to the revamped version, nostalgia rules!

Edited by Steve Christou - 7/15/2009 at 12:42 pm GMT
 

cadavra

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[COLOR= #0000ff]Just saw this today at the Chinese Theatre, and I must respectfully disagree with Ken--IMHO, the restored footage makes this a significant improvement over the initial version, with the story unfolding more smoothly and the characters' motivations clearer. Those disappointed in the original cut might want to take this out for a spin, pun intended.

Mike S.
[/COLOR]
 

Chad E

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Picked up the 2-Disc SE today at a Canadian Wal-Mart... none of the SE copies had a slipcover, lenticular or otherwise. Just out of curiosity, do copies at other Canadian retail locations have the lenticular slipcover, or was that for the US only? (And if it was up here, why wouldn't Wal-Mart have it?)
 

JerryK

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Amazon currently has the 2 Disc Director's Cut DVD for $14.99. I ended up picking it up at Best Buy and got the Black Freighter DVD for $5. Then I caved in a bought the 1 Disc Theatrical Cut DVD and got the Motion Comic DVD for $5 as well. The video looked pretty good upconverted but the audio seems uneven; at times it's too low in the dialogue scenes. I saw some complaints earlier but they seemed to be directed at the Blu-Ray version of the film.



Edited by JerryK - 7/23/2009 at 01:13 am GMT
Edited by JerryK - 7/23/2009 at 01:14 am GMT
 

Lord Dalek

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Ken, I hate to call you into question but this really is not a good transfer. It suffers from all the same pixelization and edge enhancement problems we've been seeing from Warner as of late, and that definetely hurts in my book.
 

Ken_McAlinden

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Originally Posted by Lord Dalek

Ken, I hate to call you into question but this really is not a good transfer. It suffers from all the same pixelization and edge enhancement problems we've been seeing from Warner as of late, and that definetely hurts in my book.
As I saw it, those problems were prevalent for the first 30 or so minutes and then gone for most of the rest of the three hours plus. The absolute worst was the early scene in Ozymandias' office.

Regards,
 

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