The Watchmen

Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut (Blu-ray)

Watchmen is a film that was essentially doomed from the start.

For years, the original graphic novel was touted as “unfilmable,” though that didn’t stop people from trying. Finally, Hollywood’s hottest new director takes the task upon himself to film the unfilmable and give fanboys something they’ve dreamed about for years.

Now keep in mind: this reviewer has never read the graphic novel and didn’t get around to seeing the film in theaters. My only experience with Watchmen is the “Director’s Cut” Blu-ray and – as an old-school comic lover – the original story’s reputation. Also keep in mind that I loved Zack Snyder’s remake of “Dawn of the Dead” and thought “300” was one of the most brilliantly entertaining movies in a good, long while.

Naturally, I thought that if anyone could turn something unfilmable into something worth being filmed, it was Hollywood’s “Next Big Thing.”

Set in an alternate 1980’s America, the world is on the brink of nuclear war. Masked vigilantes, once commonplace, are now outlawed and in “hiding.” When one of them is killed, it spurs suspicion that they are about to be “offed” one by one. Can they give up their new, “normal” lives and work together one last time? I guess you’ll see, won’t you…?

The plot is far too convoluted to possibly explain it faster than the film can. Just be prepared for a large number of scenes that don’t actually have much to do with anything. It’s mostly backstory, subplots and character development (though “development” may be too generous a word). On the other hand, if only the scenes related to the plot were used, it would be a half hour movie that made even less sense.

Now, please don’t lash out at us for saying such things. Several people have complained they didn’t like the film because of its nonsensical qualities, unnecessary length, and apparent lack of focus. Personally, I found the film completely awesome in nearly every way, despite these arguable drawbacks. The action is well-staged, the story engrossing, and the effects damn near flawless. In fact, if I had one complaint, it’s that some of the characters didn’t get enough time dedicated to their backstory.

It’s hard to say enough about Watchmen without simultaneously saying too much. Basically, you probably know if you’re the type who can stomach it. If you have three hours to invest in something slow-moving yet relentlessly entertaining, you could do a lot worse.

Now on DVD and Blu-ray is “The Ultimate Cut” of the film. While the director’s cut was 24 minutes longer than the theatrical version, the new cut adds almost another half hour to the story. Most is the animated “Tales of the Black Freighter” incorporated into the film in bits, but there are some smaller patches of live-action, as well. While we commend Zack Snyder for wanting to be true to the source material, it comes at a great cost. The already borderline-too-long movie is now seriously crossing the line. The new sequences only further convolute the narrative without really adding anything of any inherent value. Again, it’s nice to see these bits overall, but they should be best left as a separate Watchmen-related animated short film. Not only is it too much, but periodically going from such a well-produced live-action film to random bits of mediocre animation is distracting and throws the pacing way off.

If, while watching the film, you said to yourself: “I would really love to see ‘Tales of the Black Freighter’ in here as well, even if it were animated,” then you’re probably who this version is for. Everyone else should probably stick with the director’s cut.

The Director’s Cut Blu-ray is one of the best-looking Blu-rays yet released. Even for such a dark film, you never have trouble seeing what’s going on (unless you’re supposed to). Detail is absolutely stunning; colors (when present) are rich, and Dr. Manhattan in particular really makes you appreciate High Definition. There is nothing negative we could possibly say about the transfer. With the ultimate cut, the live-action additions are on par with the rest of the film, while the animated sequences don’t quite have the same luster. They look all well and good we suppose, but comparing them to such a fantastic transfer as the rest of the film has makes them seem subpar.

Audio quality is very good, but suffers from a bit too much volume fluctuation. Some scenes are completely overpowering and could very well cause your neighbours to complain, while others are so quiet you need subtitles to hear a single word being uttered. On one hand, we’re pretty sure it’s supposed to be like that; on the other hand, when you live off of a busy street with large vehicles constantly driving by, it can get a little frustrating. When it really kicks into gear, however, it gives the whole surround system a great workout.

Most of the special features on disc two are available on other versions. Many are from the Director’s Cut Blu-ray while the others are from the separate “Tales of the Black Freighter” release. There’s some good material here, but chances are only die-hards will be willing to sit through the bonus material after spending so much time on the movie.

Disc three in the set features Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic, a very long (over 5 hours) direct rehash of the graphic novel with voices and some movement. It’s by no means as entertaining as the movie itself and is, again, only for the most hardcore of the hardcore. It’s a nice addition to the set, but yikes…

Finally, disc four has a digital copy of the director’s cut of the film. This seems odd considering the director’s cut itself is not actually available in any way on Blu-ray in the set, but we guess this is why we’re not in charge of such things. Regardless, few could justify using up valuable space on their portable device for the ultimate cut.

Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut, from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
215 minutes, 1080p High Definition (2.40:1), 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio
Starring Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Carla Gugino, Jackie Earl Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson
Screenplay by David Hayter and Alex Tse
Directed by Zack Snyder

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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