Watchmen (UK - DVD R2)
Marcus's Journal: October 12th, 1985. Tonight, a comedian died in New York
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). 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.
Regular readers of DVDactive may know that I’m a long-time fan of Watchmen. Having already reviewed all of the other Watchmen releases over the last few months we’ve now arrived at the main event, the movie itself. Well sort of. Us UK residents are only getting the theatrical version of the movie, which is a nice start, but considering on the 21st July the US get the Extended Directors Cut, there’s a bit of a feeling we’re getting gypped.
I have to admit the excitement levels were riding high for a home-viewing and this review will pinpoint what worked for me, what didn’t, and what I’d like the longer cuts to bring. One more thing before we get going, this review is spoilerific, so beware if you’ve not seen/read Watchmen yet, but it’s pretty hard to cover the glory of Watchmen without at least hovering around the big events. I’ll do my best but you have been warned.
Opening with the ultra cool Watchmen yellow retro logos for Paramount and Warner Bros. my fanboy glee is switched to ‘on’. Then getting to see The Comedian/Edward Blake’s (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) apartment bought to life on film makes this immediately Watchmen. Admittedly, I find the news report about the countdown to nuclear war a little too heavy handed, but I understand that placing it at the front end of the movie is probably the easiest way to get a fresh non- Watchmen audience on board with the movie's climate as soon as possible and it does its job.
Smash! When Blake’s door gets kicked in two things happen. One, Watchmen really begins and two, I’m hit with the realisation that this is going to be Zack Snyder’s Watchmen as opposed to just Watchmen. Initially the beefed up fight scene feels epic and brutal, but it quickly becomes too drawn out and with a few too many smashes around the apartment—I always saw this to be a fairly short and concise overpowering. However, I do adore the use of Nat King Cole’s Unforgettable as a musical backdrop to the scene.
After hitting the pavement, Snyder pulls off one of the finest moments of his career when he literally takes us into the smiley face badge and we're presented with a glimpse at the history of this alternative 1985. All set to Bob Dylan’s 'The Times They Are A-Changin’. This sequence is up there with the greatest opening credits of all time. It gives us a fine look at how these costumed heroes have affected alternative historical events and with the use of slow motion and almost 3D photography, everything feels so important and genuine. I never imagined that the richness of the Watchmen back-story would be captured in a movie, but Snyder has excelled himself here (even if the placing of the Watchmen title comes a little too early in the sequence. Shouldn’t it have been when the Watchmen took their picture as opposed to the Minutemen?).
With the set up out of the way, we move onto many a fan favourite, Rorschach. Now, I have a friend who firmly believed that if they got Rorschach right, that’s half the battle. Well if that is the case, half the battle is well and truly won because Jackie Earle Haley owns this role. From the Rorschach hands in pockets stance to his questioning “Hurm”, Rorschach is brought to life with near perfection.
As with the graphic novel we begin to meet the rest of the retired heroes, starting with Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl II. Patrick Wilson does a great job of making Dan the fairly normal guy that we can all connect with. Yeah he has a few moments where you can feel the acting, but he’s got the attitude right and makes Dan Dreiberg great.
Breaking away from the book, the movie adaptation opts to have Dan approach Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) and discuss the death of Blake. Snyder uses the scene to set up a few more details about Doc Manhattan (who we haven’t really even met properly yet, so it’s got to be pretty hard to follow for a non Watchmen fan) and gives us our first meeting with Veidt, who has the dialogue down well, but there’s something about his appearance that doesn’t quite click for me. Again this is a scene that gets the nuclear war backdrop back into the audiences mind but for me, this disjoints the flow of introductions and Rorschach’s involvement in bringing all the players together as well as feeling tacked on rather than a legitimate re-work.
Continuing with the meet and greets, we’re back to Rorschach as he goes to visit Doc Manhattan and Laurie. Billy Crudup’s CGI Doc Manhattan is a glowing mass of awesome in this movie and pretty much just as I’d imagined he would be from the book. The same, for the most part, can be said for Malin Akerman’s Laurie. She’s received a lot of flak for her odd deliveries of lines and some responses to moments are indeed a little off, but outside of that, this is Laurie. Young, brash, and not at all like the rest of the characters around her. I really like what Snyder has done with her, it’s just a shame that the same cannot be said for her mother Sally Jupiter (Carla Gugino) -well the old variety anyway. Carla Gugino's original Silk Spectre is instantly iconic and played wonderfully, but the older Sally Jupiter is not how I read the character in the comics at all. Here she is a bitter old drunk, angry with the past and the secrets she holds. I always saw here as a sweet old lady with a melancholy attitude to the past, countering her daughters bitterness towards past events. It also doesn’t help that Gugino’s old lady make up is awful and her acting is a little too hammy.
As we get into Blake’s funeral we start to get our first taste of the characters' flashbacks. Starting with the brutal attempted rape of Silk Spectre and moving through other moments in Blake’s shady past, it dawned on me why the opening fight in his apartment was too long. It’s in these flashbacks that we should learn about Blake and to a degree, having that long opening already forms a feeling for the character. All of the flashbacks are very well put together but I have to say the Watchmen meeting being led by Ozy feels very wrong in comparison to the graphic novel. Ozy always felt like more of an outsider as he watched the turmoil in the group boil over and what’s even more of a letdown for me is that we don’t get to see Ozy staring at the burnt map as the others walk away. I’ve always considered there to be a whole lot of weight to that quiet moment. Oh and while we’re on moments I love. I wanted to see Rorschach jump out of the fridge in Moloch’s apartment.
Having nearly an hour runtime passed on what is essentially the first two chapters of the twelve chapter book, it’s no surprise that from here on in is where I started noticing the moments lost. Moving through the bright blue threesome and into the Doc teleporting Ozy the machine (that Manhattan really should have known better with), we hit the alleyway fight scene. I have to say that I didn’t find the violence half as brutal this time out. I think that the only thing that makes this scene seem so over the top is the use of wire work which makes Laurie and Dan look like they have superpowers—which of course they don’t. However cutting across to the one blue dude with super powers, we get one of Watchmen’s finest moments and one that is a joy to see unfold on film.
Starting with a jarring edit to Doc Manhattan on Mars, (which is one moment I definitely want slowed down in the extended cuts because it’s too big a leap from the TV station to Mars), this chapter from the book is probably the most memorable and it unravels on film beautifully. The use of music, visuals and Crudup’s voiceover is exactly the right feeling this scene should have, but watching it again on this DVD, I have an issue to raise. In the graphic novel, this chapter is used as a way for us to see how the Doc experiences time. His consciousness is in multiple points of his life and we are leading up to the inevitable moment where he drops the photo, showing us that even though the Doc knows what’s coming, there is no control over it. Within the movie (and hopefully only for the sake of the shorter running time) this segment is used merely as a beautifully presented flashback. Yes, we jump back and forth between time frames, but we never hop back to Doc Manhattan on Mars, there’s no build up to the photo and sadly that sense of the Doc’s perception of time and the sense of inevitability is almost totally missed.
Back to Veidt and it dawns on me that he’s being played (spoilers ahoy people) as the villain way to early, especially with his back story explained so ominously to the businessmen in his offices. The assassination attempt is far too graphic and over blown to match the short, sharp confusion of the masterful red herring in the comic and it’s at this point where I start realising how thin the Veidt character is without the Black Freighter elements included.
With the pace picking up and Snyder showing off Watchmen as a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining piece of cinema, despite the dense story and multiple story arcs, it all comes down to Rorschach getting captured by the police. This works pretty well, especially in its build up but certainly needs more time dedicated to it. The action is played with a little too much 'Snyder cool’ and when our masked vigilante ends up outside we get another unnecessarily overblown fight leading up to the big reveal of who Rorschach actually is, which even though I know, I still enjoy every time I see it.
The Nite Owl/Silk Spectre II tenement fire rescue gets beefed up a little more than it was in the books, but still captures that sense of nostalgia well enough, but then comes that cringe worthy sex scene. I’m not too sure what Snyder is going for here, other than celebrating his adult certificate, but as with many a sex scene in an action movie, it does a grand job at taking you out of the movie, with all those naked bums bopping about.
Prison Rorschach is as frickin’ awesome as he is in the books, but “let me tell you about Rorschach” comes painfully early in his meeting with the psychiatrist and I don’t care how good some viewers think the meat cleaver to the child killers head is, it’s nowhere near as great as how it unfolds in the graphic novel and nowhere near as poignant a moment in Rorschach’s evolution. Staying in the prison, I pretty much love seeing Nite Owl and Silk Spectre kicking the crap out of the rioting inmates and it suddenly dawns on me that Silk Spectre proves that superhero flicks could totally work with superchicks in spandex. In your face X-Men movies. Also there’s actually one change from the book I really, really like. Even though Rorschach getting his costume back takes away the greatness of him hanging out with Nite Owl and Silk Spectre on the Owlship costume-less, seeing Rorschach in costume going into the men’s room when Nite Owl and Silk Spectre arrive to rescue him is inspired. It’s worth it for the look on their faces and is an understated way of showing off Rorschach’s infinite coolness.
With the rescue out of the way and Laurie off with the Doc on Mars, we head towards the closing events. With the nice handshake moment between Rorschach and Nite Owl adding a great deal to their relationship, they head off to Antarctica and with a music choice that feels a bit iffy. Jimi Hendrix's 'All Along the Watchtower' is there because of the book, but here it just feels like they’re playing it in the Owlship and it makes this journey feel like two buddies on a road trip. Maybe it’s just me. Meanwhile back with Laurie and the Doc on the big red planet, I add another moment to my list for scenes that need to be in one of the extended cuts. The Laurie flashback is painfully short and missing the scene with her confronting Edward Blake at the banquet. This is a devastating absence because first it’s probably Laurie’s best moment and makes for some incredible drama for the character and second it means it’s been about an hour and a half without any Comedian in the movie and his presence is notably absent from the second half of the movie.
OK, now we’re at the big conclusion and for those who don’t want to know, big spoilers and indeed changes from the original story, turn away now. So Veidt (seriously, spoilers) is the bad guy (and has a file on his office computer simply called ‘boys’—distracting). He’s orchestrated all of these events and he’s kicking the crap out of Rorschach and Nite Owl (with wire work that makes him look super powered—he’s not) while he explains what he’s actually done. Cue the biggest change from the book, he hasn’t teleported a giant man-made squid to New York, he’s teleported the machine Doc Manhattan made earlier in the movie, vaporised everyone and the world is blaming the Doc himself for the attack. This might work as a variation because studios are worried the audience won’t buy a giant squid (you hardly even see), but what it takes away is the devastation of the New York citizens' demise (violent images Snyder doesn’t get to show—he must be gutted) and frankly because we haven’t even had time with all of the victims (which we do in the book) you hardly even get a chance to feel how devastating this all is.
The changes to the big event at the end are passable (even if I want the squid), but what comes next is where I start to lose faith. For starters, I don’t know why Nite Owl has to witness the end of Rorschach. It seems to be just to get a Star Wars style “noooooo” in the trailer and to get Nite Owl to start beating on Veidt. I don’t like how things are left, especially with the total avoidance of the final summing up of what’s occurred in the Doc Manhattan/Veidt conversation in the book, which is another scene I’d like to see in the longer cuts. I really don’t like the Laurie line "I know what Jon would say—nothing ever ends" as opposed to actually having Jon say it and the Rorschach journal being found by the New Frontiersmen staff, is proper clunky considering the total lack of setting up exactly what the New Frontiersmen is (though I can let this one slide as the full Black Freighter cut should include these scenes, hopefully). It’s a bit of a shame because it was all going so well up until these closing scenes and while they’re not at all showstoppers, they do taint my satisfaction with the project.
So there you have it, Watchmen the theatrical cut. I have to say my feelings on this second viewing are the same as when I saw it back in March at the cinema, in that I feel that up until Doc Manhattan left for Mars I couldn’t have asked for more, but beyond that point everything got a little rushed and the closing scenes are where you really feel the segments from the book that have been missed. Despite my feelings that this is an incomplete Watchmen experience in this theatrical cut form, Zack Snyder set out to achieve the impossible here and I have to say that he’s succeeded. To re-create Watchmen for the movie screen, without updating its eighties setting, changing its characters, spreading it over multiple movies and keeping its adult themes is a miracle in filmmaking. No matter your feelings on how this project turned out (and let’s face it with more editions on the way, we’re yet to see how it’s turned out in its entirety yet) this achievement needs to be commended.
It’s been a while since I sat down to watch a big visual movie in standard definition and I have to say upfront that this DVD only really hints at what I’d imagine the HD experience could offer for Watchmen. That said, the transfer is a solid one that manages the darkness of the movie well. Shadows are represented nicely across the characters faces and masks, there is a slight grain to it but it is adds a nice texture to the picture that fits the style and generally the detail is about as good as DVD can offer.
Colours feel a little muted and I’ll be interested to see if they how much more vivid they may be in HD, same can be said for the subtle effects that are barely captured here. For example, the movement of energy under Doc Manhattan’s skin is just about noticeable and his transfixing blue glow lights scenes well, but I felt that a lot of detail was lost in the bluest of blue shots, especially the bright blue threesome.
Generally speaking, there was very little to fault for this DVD transfer, but it's certainly a movie that screams out to be watched in high definition.
The audio here is really quite impressive. The sound field is wide and full of atmospherics, whether it be the rain outside, the hustle and bustle of the city or echoes bouncing around Nite Owl’s basement.
There’s a good amount of bass used in the big moments, such as Manhattan’s bursts of energy and the big musical moments and when the track gets really excited there’s a nice balance between music, sound effects, dialogue and whatever else can be going on in a scene.
Beyond the Manhattan burst of energy I wouldn’t say there were too many stand out moments but generally this is a solid and consistent audio presentation with plenty going on.
Disc one opens with trailers for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Star Trek and G.I. Joe and then all we get features wise is ‘Mechanics: Technologies of the World' (16:10) in which a psychics professor, who was an advisor for the movie, discusses some of the science behind Watchmen. He answers all important questions about intrinsic fields, quantum mechanics, what makes Doc Manhattan’s blue glow? How would the Owl-ship fly? And could a man catch a bullet? This was actually packed full of interesting stuff and a whole lot more fun than it sounds.
Jumping across to disc two, we begin with ‘The Phenomenon: The Comic That Changed Comics’ (27:38), 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) 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.
Next up are all eleven 'Video Journals', that were on various websites and other Watchmen releases in the build up to the movie's theatrical run. They’re all pretty typical of the web-erette, all between three and four minutes long, all virtually spoiler free and giving us the minimal of glimpses at the actual film. All together it works pretty well (better than spreading them over a year anyway) but nothing's really that exciting.
‘Viral Video: NBS Nightly News’ (03:05) delivers a pretty authentic spoof news report from the seventies celebrating ten years of Doc Manhattan’s fist introduction to the world on March 11th 1960. Again this has been online and nothing new to anyone who has been following the movie's production but it’s still great to have it here and is very worthy of Watchmen‘s alternative history
Lastly we get the Zack Snyder directed My Chemical Romance video for Desolation Row (03:09) 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.
With a batch of features much in tune with the theatrical cut releases of Lord of the Rings and a good A/V presentation, Watchmen is a no brainer of a recommendation (even though the US extended cut is probably more tempting).
This cut of Watchmen is great but flawed and the more I think about it the more these flaws become the parts stick with me the most. In a couple of weeks I'll take a look at the extensions Snyder has made to allow Watchmen to breathe a little more and at this stage my main list of wants include a steadier hand getting Doc Manhattan to Mars (and ideally more of a focus on the dropping of the photo), a longer build up to Rorschach revealing his past (ideally with shadows playing a part and him burning the child killer instead of using the cleaver) and the Laurie/Comedian conversation at the Banquet, oh and please Mr Snyder, let us see some Rorschach snapping some pinkies.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 27th July 2009
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio English
Extras: The Phenomenon: The Comic That Changed Comics, Real Superheroes, Real Vigilantes, Video Journals (Webisodes): Minutemen; Sets & Sensibility, Dressing for Success, The Ship Has Eyes, Dave Gibbons, Burn Baby Burn, Shoot To Thrill, Blue Monday, Attention To Detail, Girls Kick Ass, Rorschach’s Mask, Viral Videos: 10 Years Of Dr. Manhattan (1970: NBS Special News Report); The Keene Act & You (1977: US Public Service Announcement); Who Watches The Watchmen? (1983: Celebrity News Feature); World in Focus (1985: British Late Night Discussion Programme) , Music Video: My Chemical Romance 'Desolation Row' ,Trailers
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, Romance, Sci-Fi and Thriller
Length: 155 minutes
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