• Watchmen (Director's Cut)

    Released by: Warner Brothers
    Released on: 7/21/2009
    Director: Zack Snyder
    Cast: Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Good, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson, Carla Gugino, Matt Frewer, Stephen McHattie
    Year: 2009

    The Movie:

    Seemingly in pre-production for an eternity and originally slated to be directed by Terry Gilliam, it seemed like Watchmen was literally as ‘unfilmable’ as so many fans of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal graphic novel said it was. Well, more than a decade after it was originally intended, Zack Snyder, the director of the Dawn of the Dead remake and 300, finally got the project finished and surprisingly enough he did a damn good job of it. It’s not a perfect adaptation of the source material, but despite a couple of (not inconsequential) changes, it holds up very well.

    The story takes place in an alternate America where the presence of the superhero has grown from a bunch of guys fighting crime to a serious political force, affecting not just purse snatching thugs but the outcome of major wars and presidential elections. One man calling himself Doctor Manhattan (Billy Cruddup) is the most powerful of the lot of current ‘heroes' and his loyalty to his country helps America hold it's place as a superpower. President Nixon even went so far as to send him in to Vietnam to ‘win the war’ for America. A few of these costumed heroes formed a group called The Watchmen and worked together to keep various super villains in check and hopefully make the world a better place. In 1977, however, superheroes were outlawed. This resulted in some caped crusaders hanging up their tights for good, while a few others such as Doctor Manhattan and The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) accepting positions with the government. However, one former hero, Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), essentially went underground, refusing to give up his fight and continuing to bring vigilante justice to the streets of New York City.

    When the man believed to be the Comedian's alias is found dead and the cops come up empty handed, Rorschach figures that there's a scheme to wipe out costumed heroes afoot and so he feels he needs to warn some of his former comrades - Doctor Manhattan, his girlfriend the Silk Specter (Malin Akerman), Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson) and Ozymandias (Matthew Goode). After the funeral for their fallen comrade, Doctor Manhattan's powers are accused of causing cancer in humans, causing Manhattan to head to Mars in a self imposed exile which affects American's superpower status and results in a Russian invasion of Afghanistan. When his girlfriend, who has been seeking solace in the arms of Nite Owl, comes to visit him, they have to come to terms with her relationship. Back on Earth, Rorschach and Nite Owl try to figure out why the Comedian was murdered and what the real motive behind the plot against the superheroes is and what Ozymandias has to do with it all.

    Probably the most epic and high concept of all the superhero movies made so far in history, Watchmen is pretty bleak stuff. Politically charged and at times almost nihilistic in its message, it’s never the less a pretty compelling film particularly when judged on its own merits and not held up against the comic book that it’s based on (which is tough when you consider how well known and influential that comic is). Quite faithful to the source material in many ways, Snyder’s film may rely on ridiculous ‘bullet time’ camera work a few too many times (an annoying trend that almost completely ruined 300 and which is used far more sparingly here) but it is a very well made take on the story with some ridiculously good set pieces and a strong ensemble cast. It’s interesting to note that there aren’t really any serious ‘A-list’ performers in the cast. Not to knock those who appear in the film, the acting is uniformly strong across the board, but there’s no Robert Downey Jr., Hugh Jackman or Ben Affleck here to headline the film –a good thing, really. The various performers, most of whom have more TV experience than feature work on their resumes, give believable and enjoyable performances that rely more on emotive and consistent acting than star power or per-conceived screen presence.

    The art direction and set design is also excellent, really nailing the look of the comic. Gibbons’ original artwork had a dark feel to it and used a lot of heavy blacks and thick lines. The film replicates this look very convincingly by making clever use of shadows and setting the film in a world made to look very much like that in which the comic takes place. There are shots in here that replicate exactly some very specific panels and it’s obvious that Snyder and his team tried very hard to keep this quite close to the source. The film benefits from this, despite the aforementioned changes (to elaborate on them too much would spoil the movie for those who haven’t seen it), and this director’s cut elaborates on a fair bit of welcome character development.

    A great mix of drama, action, suspense and even dark humor, Watchmen proves that superhero movies can be done well. It’s not a perfect film and the bullet time effects are obnoxious to a fault but the film holds your attention, entertains you and manages to make you think at the same time.


    Watchmen looks excellent in this VC-1 encoded 1080p anamorphic widescreen transfer. The film has a pleasantly gritty look to it with a welcome coat of natural looking film grain but no real print damage to note. Color reproduction is fantastic, especially the blues of Dr. Manhattan’s glow, though this same glow does show some minor banding. Aside from that, however, the disc is very well authored. There aren’t any problems with compression artifacts or heavy edge enhancement. If you really look for it you might pick up on some ringing but it’s never overpowering or particularly distracting. Detail is strong throughout, especially in close up shots, letting you really appreciate the attention to detail that the production team paid to this picture. Blacks are nice and inky, shadow detail is excellent, and skin tones look dead on. Say what you will about the look of the film that Snyder has created, but Warner Brothers’ Blu-ray is top notch in the visuals department.

    Similarly praise worthy is the English language DTS-HD 5.1 track that accompanies the movie. From the opening crash of the door being kicked down in The Comedians apartment to the swirling debris orbiting Dr. Manhattan’s Mars base to showdown in Ozymandias’ Antarctic lair this is a very aggressive mix with perfect directionality and punch. The low end delivers all the rich, strong bass you could hope for while dialogue stays clean and clear. There isn’t a hint of hiss or distortion in the mix to complain about and the rear channels are used almost constantly to fill in directional effects, background and ambient noise and plenty of other little bits of aural detail. The score, both the instrumental bits and the pop/rock bits used, sounds incredible and this is really one of those reference quality tracks that is rich in both atmosphere and power. An optional Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track is provided in French while subtitles are available in English, English SDH, French and Spanish.

    The biggest and best of the extra features on this disc is the Maximum Movie Mode picture in picture track in which Zack Snyder basically watches the movie with you. While this might sound intensely dorky, and to an extent it is, this turns out to be a remarkably in-depth look at what went into the making of this picture. Not just a commentary from Snyder, this option throws in all manner of excellent behinds the scenes footage, comic book comparison, scene deconstructions, and much, much more. This works incredibly well, as Snyder will periodically pop up and really go into a lot of detail into what he was going for with a specific scene or point out what parts of the comic he was trying to recreate and you really get an appreciation for all of the work that went into this movie. Amazingly enough, with all of the information, pop ups, and picture in picture info flying at you throughout the picture, the disc keeps moving along without hiccupping or pausing. This is the type of interactivity and enhanced viewing experience that Blu-ray was made for and it’s rarely done as well as it is here.

    The rest of the extras are on the second disc, starting with the thirty-six minute long Watchmen Focus Points, which is a collection of some of the Maximum Movie Mode bits put into featurette material. Choose from a bunch of different shorts that take a look at creating Archie, the importance of the female characters in the film, how Rorschach’s mask was made, Dave Gibbons’ involvement in the film and more.

    The Phenomena: The Comic That Changed Comics is a decent half hour documentary that includes interviews with all manner of people involved in the film and in the creation of the comic. Not surprisingly, Alan Moore doesn’t show up here but Dave Gibbons and some of the DC higher ups do to offer some input. It’s a bit of a love fest, all involved have nothing but positive things to say about the comic that inspired the film, but it’s still quite interesting to get some input from the participants.

    Real Superheroes – Real Vigilantes is a twenty six minute featurette that takes a look at the history of vigilante justice in America with a focus given to the seventies and eighties. Bernie Getz and The Guardian Angels are given a fair bit of attention but it also covers cowboy style/wild west justice and some rather misguided types who believe themselves to be real superheroes. Some interesting comparisons are made between the characters in the comic and movie and some of these real life counterparts.

    The last featurette is Mechanics: The Technologies Of A Futuristic World, which is a seventeen minute segment about the production and design team’s efforts to make the technology and sci-fi elements of the film look as real and believable as possible in the film.

    Rounding out the extras are a music video for My Chemical Romance’s Desolation Row, a digital copy of the film, and some downloadable Blu-ray live content. Menus and chapter selection are included and all of the supplements are in high definition.

    The Final Word:

    It might not be perfect but Watchman is a surprisingly good adaptation of some dense and dark material. Far better than most of us probably expected, it’s a tense and intelligent take on the superhero film and Warner Brothers have done a fine job on the extras and delivered the Blu-ray with superb A/V quality.