Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson, Carla Gugino
David Hayter, Alex Tse, Dave Gibbons (graphic novel illustrator), Alan Moore (graphic novel - uncredited in film)
Who watches the Watchmen?
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?
$55.214 million on 3611 screens.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Runtime: 186 min.
Release Date: 7/21/2009
• “The Phenomenon: The Comic That Changed Comics” Featurette
• 11 Video Journals
• Music Videos
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Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.
Watchmen: Director's Cut (2009)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 15, 2009)
After the success of 2007’s 300, director Zack Snyder returns to the graphic novel well with 2009’s Watchmen. An adaptation of the mid-80s comic, the movie found favor with fanboys but unlike 300, it didn’t go much of anywhere with the general public. While 300 earned a stunning $210 million, Watchmen petered out around $107 million. That’s a decent figure but below expectations for the big-budget action flick.
Which is too bad, as I think Watchmen offers a much more satisfying experience than the all style, no substance 300. Set during an alternate version of 1985 in which the US won the Vietnam War and Nixon remains president, Watchmen posits a world in which superheroes have been banned. Most go underground or into retirement, as only two heroes – nearly omnipotent Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) and hotheaded Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) – operate with government approval. Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) continues to do his thing as a vigilante, however. When government official Edward Blake gets murdered, Rorschach discovers that Blake was The Comedian, and he sets out to solve the crime.
This leads to a potentially deeper plot. Questions remains whether The Comedian’s death was an isolated incident or a grander scheme to eliminate superheroes from the world. As Rorschach attempts to discover the truth, we follow the lives of his former compatriots and learn more about their lives and situations.
When I first saw the trailer for Watchmen, I commented to my friend, “Is the whole movie gonna be in slow-motion?” Given the stylistic excesses Snyder packed into 300, I think this was a reasonable question. No, I didn’t actually think Watchmen wouldn’t possess a single real-time moment, but if anyone was likely to create an all slo-mo flick, it’d be Snyder.
No one will confuse Watchmen for a documentary, but Snyder manages to reign in his stylistic excesses to an acceptable degree. Oh, Snyder definitely packs in a lot of visual gimmicks and varying techniques, but these don’t overwhelm the story ala 300. Instead, they complement the action and add to the film’s effectiveness.
It probably helps that Watchmen boasts a much deeper story than 300. To a certain degree, the larger series of events – the potential “mask killer” and the threat of nuclear war – feels like something of a MacGuffin. Those elements motivate the story but don’t present as its main focus.
Instead, Watchmen provides a surprisingly strong character base. At times it teeters on the edge of soap opera, as it digs into the various participants and their interactions. That side of things – and how it effects the world as a whole – becomes the program’s main focus, and it makes the series effective. Watchmen absorbs us into the lives of the characters, and it fleshes them out in a satisfying way.
For a nominal superhero piece, we don’t find a heck of a lot of action. The occasional set piece occurs, but again, characters and drama remain the most important elements. They become more than enough to keep us absorbed.
Some have accused Snyder of a slavish adherence to the source material. To be sure, fans of the comic will find many direct references here, especially in the visual realm. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, though. Instead, Snyder’s focus on the original graphic novel allows the film to feel like a comic brought to life. It boasts the strengths of a movie but still feels true to its roots; it just feels like a comic, and that’s a good thing.
Snyder does embellish the source in some interesting ways. The opening credits – which take us from 1940 to 1985 – throw out good background for the characters/situations, and they do so in a terrifically clever and creative way. Heck, the movie could’ve ended after the credits rolled and I still might’ve felt satisfied.
Of course, Snyder needs to omit some elements of the original novel, some of which become reinstated in this “Director’s Cut”. It adds about 24 minutes to the theatrical version; these scenes give us more with Rorschach’s pursuit of the Comedian’s killer, bits with Laurie, and Hollis Mason’s fate.
That means we still lose some major parts of the original comic, though. In particular, the running Tales of the Black Freighter tale remains absent. I’ve heard that a super-edition of Watchmen due in the future will include those elements, but they’re not here.
And that’s fine with me. I was never especially wild about Freighter, and I don’t think the movie suffers from the absence of that side of things. I’m sure more passionate Watchmen fans will disagree – and maybe I’ll change my mind when I see the longer edition – but I can’t say that I mind the omission of that subplot.
In fact, even the extra 24 minutes of the “Director’s Cut” pushes Watchmen to the boundaries of the viewer’s patience. Already quite long in cinemas, the film now passes the three-hour mark, and I expect the super-long cut will go past four hours. This three-hour version remains enjoyable, but the tighter theatrical edition seems a bit more satisfying. Except perhaps for the segment with Hollis Mason – arguably the most emotional part of the graphic novel – I don’t think any of the additions found here seem particularly valuable.
That said, I still like the movie even in its longer edition; like I said, it threatens to tax our patience, but it remains entertaining. It helps that Watchmen relies on its characters more than its action. It’d be tough to sustain our attention over three hours of slam-bang, but since those moments continue to punctuate more than dictate, the film still works.
It also helps that most of the actors do pretty well in their roles. No, I can’t say I’m wild about Malin Akerman’s Laurie Jupiter or Matthew Goode’s Adrian Veidt; she’s a little too petulant, and dsadsad just seems too slight for the role, as he always looks like a mild wind will knock him on his butt.
Nonetheless, they don’t harm the movie, and we find a few abnormally strong performances. Even translated into a motion-captured CG character, Crudup brings a sublime sense of humanity to an otherworldly role. It’s an appropriately understated piece of work that translates well.
Though he speaks in a voice that seems to channel Christian Bale’s Batman – and unmasked looks a freakish amount like Danny Bonaduce – Haley’s take on Rorschach becomes the film’s most impressive turn. He brings the most grit to the flick, and he also provides the most three-dimensional performance despite the fairly monotone nature of the character. Haley probably won’t follow Heath Ledger to an Oscar nomination, but I think he deserves one; he delivers a simply terrific encapsulation of an extremely disturbed personality.
After the looks great/no filling nonsense of 300, I expected Zack Snyder to make a similarly pretty but unaffecting film with Watchmen. Instead, Snyder uses his stylistic conceits to accentuate the story and keeps matters on target in a satisfying way. Watchmen offers an unusual superhero tale that comes to the big screen in a positive manner.
The DVD Grades: Picture C/ Audio A-/ Bonus C
Watchmen appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. I felt unimpressed and disappointed by this erratic presentation.
More than a few problems resulted from compression artifacts. Watchmen occasionally took on a blocky look that affected definition. Close-ups demonstrated pretty good definition, and some wide shots worked well, too. However, too much of the movie was less than concise. No issues with shimmering occurred, but I saw sporadic instances of jagged edges, and mild/moderate edge enhancement occasionally appeared. Source flaws remained absent, though the artifacts gave the movie a rather grainy look.
Colors appeared lackluster. The movie used a varied palette that was stylized but not in a consistent way; it’s not like the cool blues that dominate some films, for instance. The film offered decent reproduction of the hues, but they usually came across as somewhat flat and bland.
Blacks tended to be somewhat mushy and lacked the expected depth. Shadows were another issue. Low-light shots were often a bit too opaque and impenetrable. None of these concerns made Watchmen unwatchable, but the transfer didn’t live up to expectations.
At least the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Watchmen worked better. I figured the movie would come with a pretty dynamic soundfield, and it often came through with the anticipated vivacity. Though not chock full of action scenes, we got enough material of that sort to open up the soundfield well. Shots of Archimedes were the most consistently involving, as the airship swooped around the room in a convincing manner.
Other elements fared well, too. Fights and explosions used the various speakers to add (literal) punch to the package, and the track featured nice involvement from all five channels. Music presented nice stereo presence, and we even got a bit of directional dialogue.
Audio quality worked nicely. Speech was natural and distinctive; no edginess or other issues affected the dialogue. Music was lively and full, while effects presented the expected clarity. Those elements demonstrated good accuracy and range; low-end was powerful and tight. I found a lot to like about this fine soundtrack.
DVD One opens with a few ads. We get promos for Blu-Ray Disc, Observe and Report, the Watchmen iPhone/iPod Touch game, and the Watchmen: The End Is Nigh videogame.
DVD Two includes the majority of the set’s extras. The Phenomenon: The Comic That Changed Comics runs 28 minutes, 44 seconds and presents comments from musician Gerald Way, journalist Lev Goldman, DC Comics creative director/senior VP Richard Bruning, DC Comics president/publisher (1981-2002) Jenette Kahn, director Zack Snyder, producer Deborah Snyder, DC Comics creative affairs senior VP Gregory Noveck, Watchmen graphic novel co-creator/illustrator Dave Gibbons, former DC Comics editor Len Wein, colorist John Higgins, DC Comics president/publisher Paul Levitz, producer Lloyd Levin, Watchmen and Philosophy editor Dr. Mark D. White, co-producer Wesley Coller, and actors Carla Gugino, Malin Akerman, Jackie Earle Haley, Billy Crudup, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. “Phenomenon” looks at the roots and development of the original graphic novel, aspects of its story, characters and themes, and its success/legacy.
The best parts of “Phenomenon” are those that look at the creation of the original comic. Even without the participation of Alan Moore, we get a lot of good facts related to Watchmen. The rest of the show seems less enthralling. Some decent thoughts about the graphic novel's meaning and impact emerge, but don’t expect great insight.
11 Video Journals fill a total of 33 minutes, 44 seconds. These cover “The Minutemen” (3:35), “Sets and Sensibility” (3:57), “Dressed for Success” (3:06), “The Ship Has Eyes” (4:22), “Dave Gibbons” (3:24), “Burn Baby Burn” (2:14), “Shoot to Thrill” (3:17), “Blue Monday” (3:02), “Attention to Detail” (2:55), “Girls Kick Ass” (3:06) and “Rorschach’s Mask” (3:46). Across these, we hear from Deborah Snyder, Zack Snyder, Haley, Gugino, Morgan, Gibbons, Akerman, Crudup, Coller,
costume designer Michael Wilkinson, still photographer Clay Enos, production designer Alex McDowell, head sculptor Jack Gavreau, SFX coordinator Joel Whist, SFX assistant/electronics Andrew Verhoeven, stunt coordinator/fight choreographer Damon Caro, Canadian stunt coordinator Douglas Chapman, fire technicians Colin Decker and Dustin Brooks, director of photography Larry Fong, chief lighting technician Dennis Brock, VFX supervisor John “DJ” Desjardin, global effects Chris Gilman, property master Jimmy Chow, set decorator Jim Erickson, and actors Stephen McHattie and Patrick Wilson.
The “Journals” examine various characters and story issues, set, production and costume design, cast and performances, stunts and effects, and cinematography. While not a substitute for a coherent documentary, the collection of “Journals” offers a good overview of different aspects of the production. Originally created to publicize the flick on the Internet, the clips are short but pretty informative. They’re a nice way to learn a bit about the movie’s creation.
Next comes a music video for “Desolation Row” from My Chemical Romance. Essentially just a performance clip with anarchic elements involved, the video doesn’t really entertain. The song itself – a cover of a Bob Dylan tune - feels like a cheap attempt to rip off the Sex Pistols but without the sense of threat that seminal band displayed.
A few more Previews show up on DVD Two. We get ads for Fringe, Trick ‘r Treat, Green Lantern: First Flight and the Watchmen soundtrack. No trailer for Watchmen shows up here.
Ambitious and epic, Watchmen doesn’t always fire on all cylinders. However, it more completely captures the spirit and scope of the source comic than one could realistically expect, and it turns into an engaging movie. The DVD provides terrific audio, but picture quality is mediocre at best, and the package comes with average supplements. I think the flick’s worth a rental, but the DVD disappoints.
Viewer Film Ratings: 2.9166 Stars|| Number of Votes: 36|