Watchmen: Directors Cut (US - BD)
Our Marcus watches as Watchmen re-assembles itself on Blu-ray disc
Set in an alternative 1985 where Nixon is still President and a super powered being works with the US government, Watchmen begins with the death of Edward Blake, AKA the Comedian(Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Blake is thrown from his high-rise apartment window and so begins a series of events that leads to the literal changing of the world.
After my recent review of the UK theatrical cut DVD, it’s time to take a look at the Blu-ray and an extended director's cut edition to boot. Having covered the theatrical cut in plenty of detail, I’ll use this review to focus on the additions made to this directors cut. So here goes, the second step in the on screen evolution of Watchmen.
It has to be said that this cut isn’t revolutionary at all. You’re not going to see massive changes or huge alternatives or anything to rock your perception of key events (and no there’s no squid either). The extensions here mainly consist of odd lines or moments within scenes that flesh things out. Moments like Hollis Mason (Stephen McHattie) reminiscing a bit more about his superhero golden age, Dan (Patrick Wilson) noticing that Laurie (Malin Akerman) has been followed by the government on their date, more shots of Kovacs (Jackie Earle Haley) walking through scenes with his ‘End is Nigh’ sign, a few extensions on some of the Comedian scenes, including a helicopter landing in Vietnam before he pulls the flame thrower and even Doc Manhattan (Billy Crudup) arriving with Janey, via teleportation, to the Watchmen meeting.
However there are some new added scenes as well, shorter ones such as our first proper look at the News Vendor and the Comic Book kid, which of course means we get to see the Black Freighter comic book in all its motion picture glory. Though it has to be said the glimpse we get at the inside of the comic (from the recently animated side project) doesn’t look at all like a comic book from 1985, adding more weight to my worry that this won’t work in the final cut (still think they should have used the Motion Comics stuff instead but I remain open minded—sort of).
Thankfully, the big sub plot additions of this director’s cut come at exactly where the theatrical cut started feeling rushed. Doc Manhattan doesn’t just teleport to Mars in a quick jarring cut (one of the major gripes I had), we get to see the empty television studio and we get to see Laurie going back home to be greeted by the government bods scanning the place and ready to question her, though why Snyder needed to have her smash a guy’s head on the table and then beat him up and chain him to a sink in order to leave is beyond me. Same goes for the bizarre addition after Rorschach discovers the hidden Comedian costume at Blake's, when two cops walk in and Rorschach beats on one of them while the other watches him jump out of the window or to have Veidt’s (Matthew Goode) assistant get most of her fingers blown off in the assassination attempt. That stuff’s not even in the book and just seems to be Snyder enjoying his R rating again. We even get multiple swings of the cleaver on the child killers head to celebrate the adult rating.
Other additions I did like were Laurie mentioning how she’s shaking after the alleyway fight, a short but sweet shot of Veidt watching the map burn at the Watchmen meeting as well as an extended speech from the Comedian. We also get the Laurie scene with the Comedian after the meeting placed earlier in the movie to add a bit more weight to the her flashback later on (but sadly still no banquette scene). Also, there’re a few small extensions with Rorschach doing some investigation. We get the Happy Harry’s matchbook discovery and even Rorschach picking up his hidden costume in an alley with a bit more journal entry voiceovers. Finally at a Watchmen fans delight we get to see Nite Owl, Silk Spectre and Rorschach on the prison roof having their little verbal snaps at each other before boarding the Owl Ship. These are small but thoroughly enjoyable moments.
Out of everything on offer here, one scene really delivers the goods. The scene where Hollis finishes talking to Sally on the phone and is attacked by the Knot-Tops is fantastic. It was always a powerful scene in the book and Snyder has really done it justice. Watching old Hollis swing away and seeing his old villains' faces as he tries to defend himself is pretty much perfect. It’s heartbreaking, it’s intense and the last devastating blow, which immediately wipes out the nostalgia of the moment and turns it into devastation, is well handled. It’s great stuff and is nicely backed up with the scene where Nite Owl II finds out about the attack and rips into a Knot-Top in the bar. Again, it’s probably a scene that goes a little too heavy into the Snyder violence territory, with teeth smashed out and what not but it gets the message across that Rorschach ain’t the only hardcore one in that scene.
Generally this extended version of movie offers space for Watchmen to breathe. Small scenes and moments that don’t really affect anything but offer a richer experience to the viewers who enjoy these characters and the world of Watchmen. I still don’t think there’s enough time given to the set up of the New Frontiersman and I’m hoping this isn’t the only scenes we’ll see of the news stand characters, what with the Black Freighter cut on the way, but out of the list of things I'd hoped to see added, it’s a positive step forward toward the final cut at the end of the year.
Watchmen is gritty, textured, packed with shadows and dark scenes and this Blu-ray disc shows it off beautifully. Whether a scene is bathed in moonlight, bright TV screens or Manhattan's blueness it all looks great and with a real filmic quality as opposed to an overly clean and glossy digital transfer.
Noticeable step ups from the DVD release I looked at (and there are loads) include the texture of Rorscach's mask, which in some scenes you can see every fibre, the tiny particles floating around Doc Manhattan's aura catch your eye and can become mesmerising as well as the movement of energy under his skin. The landscape of Mars can look fantastic with close ups of the ground looking beautifully detailed.
Skin textures all look pretty natural (other than the Doc's of course)and the shot where Kovacs first goes to prison really looks great. The detail on his face, what with skin, blood and freckles is very impressive.
Sometimes the darker scenes can take the sheen off the overall effect and sometimes the thin layer of grain can dance about in some scenes but these are such minor things when it comes down to how well the quality here captures the style of Snyder’s work, they are easy to forgive.
The DTS-HD Master Audio track here does Watchmen proud. Dialogue is crisp and clear no matter what the situation, the track feels wide and mutli layered and everything just comes with a whole lot of oomph. Atmospherics and acoustics seem bang on, no matter the setting, sound effects, music and speech all feel well thought about and balanced and when the track wants to go wild it does so with satisfying aggression.
Arguably you might say that some of the higher impacts, such as explosions or fight scenes jump up the audio levels that little bit too much, but it's all for show and nowhere near as jarring as Warner Bros. big hitter last year, The Dark Knight.
Also impressive here is the music. Dylan's Times They Are A-Changin' could very well be the best I've ever heard it, Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah sounds delicate and even though I don't like it's placing in the movie, All Along The Watchtower rocks.
The Watchmen Blu-ray release comes with the much hyped Maximum Movie mode, which I’ll admit I was quite excited about getting onto with this release. Initially I was very impressed, especially with the seamless nature of Zack Snyder walking on screen in a virtual set with the movie running in the background. His introduction for what’s in store for us with this new feature really sounded impressive, with director walk-ons, graphic novel comparisons, cast and crew interviews, a time showing Watchmen world and the real world, still galleries and even some storyboards. Now don’t get me wrong, this is still impressive stuff, but it has to be said this is the same old stuff with a bit of a makeover.
The Snyder walk-ons were brilliant, but there’re not enough of them. I think I was expecting a video commentary of sorts, but really it’s only a few key moments in which he pauses the movie, highlights or zoom‘s into things (for example the Manhattan bomb has S.Q.U.I.D. written on it). The short picture-in-picture interviews are good as is the presentation of the storyboard on screen, but I didn’t really like having to pop out of the movie to see stills or the web docs offered. I would have much preferred them running along with the movie with the option to turn the movies audio on or to have the option to watch them on their own elsewhere. The timeline really turns out to be pointless as well offering unrelated facts that only slightly tie into the movies events. Generally this is all going to come down to personal preferences but for me, while enjoying the new presentation it wasn’t quite as revolutionary as I’d hoped it might have been even if Snyder's involvement was pretty great.
Jumping across to disc two, we begin with ‘The Phenomenon: The Comic That Changed Comics’ (27:38 HD), which is very much in tune with the great featurettes that appear on the DC animation titles. Cast, DC guys and girls, journalists and the lead singer of My Chemical Romance discuss just how good the Watchmen graphic novel is, the themes, the history of its creation and leading up to how the ‘unfilmable is filmed’. As expected there’s no surprise involvement from Alan Moore (seriously did anyone think there would be?) and even though I really enjoyed this featurette, it would have been far more fitting on the recent Watchmen: The Motion Comics release in my opinion.
‘Real Superheroes : Real Vigilantes’ (25:25 HD) takes a look at the history of vigilantes in the real world. Giving a brief overview of the crime ridden New York of the seventies and eighties and highlighting what the Guardian Angels set out to do in their own vigilante ways to help the citizens. The featurette then covers Bernard Goetz, the New Yorker who took the law into his own hands and shows the mixed views on his actions as well as informing us of the American laws about lethal force. In amongst all this, questions are raised about how and why you’d become a vigilante but then when real life costumed vigilantes Tothian and Ecliptico show up and give their thoughts, while striking super hero poses in front of graffiti covered walls, any dreams that this might be a cool thing are shattered forever.
We also get the Zack Snyder directed My Chemical Romance video for Desolation Row (03:09 HD), which is good as the video depicts them as support act for Pale Horse (the band in the Watchmen Graphic Novel), but I was never a fan of the songs inclusion in the movie, so thankfully it's a much shorter version than the Dylan original.
Also included is BD-Live, which promises plenty of interactivity, with even the possibility to link to Facebook and use it to arrange community screenings. Finally, a digital copy of the movie is included.
Watchmen proves that Blu-ray is the place to watch it and really has the feeling that Warner Bros. are presenting it as a show-off title. The director’s cut offers a few more slices of insight and a few more slithers of Snyder violence, but overall you’ll see why the scenes were cut for time. Not that you'll catch me complaining about the run time. Until every frame from the graphic novel is in a cut, could a Watchmen fan ever be satisfied?
Until we arrive at the full cut later in the year this edition feels a little like a stop gap but a stop gap that’s satisfactory, so until we get the full Black Freighter Watchmen, which is the one I’m really waiting for, have fun with this one.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 21st July 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 French
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Extras: Maximum Movie Mode, The Phenomenon: The Comic That Changed Comics, Real Superheroes, Real Vigilantes, Mechanics: Technologies of the World', Music Video: My Chemical Romance 'Desolation Row' BD Live, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson
Genre: Action, Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi and Thriller
Length: 186 minutes
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