Available now is the double feature DVD tying in to Watchmen, and is a must for fans of the film or ground breaking comic series.
As Watchmen readers know, the pirate adventure Tales of the Black Freighter, was a comic within the comic. As an eager kid read it at a newsstand, sometimes the panels would spill over into the narrative of the Watchmen tale. Originally, film director Zack Snyder wanted to film Black Freighter in a manner similar to how he approached 300, but due to budgetary and time constraints, chose to make it a stand-alone animated feature instead. And it was a good choice as Black Freighter is a lush, engrossing story. Written by Snyder with Alex Tse, and directed by Daniel Delpurgatorio and Mike Smith, this 25 minute short film mirrors its printed inspiration beautifully. 300’s Gerard Butler is the primary voice, narrating the descending horrors faced by his sole survivor of an attack by the titular ship of ghouls. Washing ashore, he uses the bloated carcasses of his dead crew as a makeshift raft, fighting sharks and his own descent into darkness, to Davidstown. It is here that his wife and daughters live, and it is also the Freighter’s next target. At least that’s what the captain believes.
The mini-comic inside Watchmen gave me just as many memorable moments as Watchmen did, and it’s satisfying to see them on the screen. It’s filled with simple, yet bold colour choices and gross visuals such as seagulls eating brains and plucking eyeballs. Thus the R rating is understandable, compared to the PG of Under The Hood. The animation is superb and fluid and though not a lot happens, it’s still highly entertaining. You don’t have to look too far to see the allusions to Watchmen’s thematic explorations. Though at first a dark pirate tale may seem an odd companion to a superhero deconstruction, it does sit proudly on the same shelf, just like the other film included on the DVD.
The live action Under The Hood is an imagined documentary about the life of Hollis Mason, who was the original costumed adventurer Nite Owl in the 1940’s world of the Watchmen. Played by Stephen McHattie, as he did in the film, it also includes interviews with Carla Gugino as Sally Jupiter/Silk Spectre, her agent and former husband, as well as bad guys (also seen in the film) Moloch, and the imprisoned midget Big Figure. Set in 1985 TV host Larry Culpeper (played by Ted Friend) introduces us to his 1975 report on Mason in an episode of the Culpeper Minute. He and Mason talk about Mason’s career as a baddie-basher, first as a cop, and then as Nite Owl, in the Gunga Diner. Dialogue from Alan Moore’s Under The Hood excerpt is used, and it brings a geeky smile to my face as Mason explains how he constructed his costume, his motivations for being a superhero (“because it was fun, and the right thing to do.”), how he was inspired by the mysterious debut of the first costumed do-gooder, Hooded Justice, and the assembling of the Minutemen (whose members are seen in authentic looking news footage).
Tying into DC Comics’ rich history, Mason mentions also being wowed by Superman’s first appearance in 1938 in Action Comics #1, and the Golden Age Green Lantern and Blue Beetle are also shown on comic covers.
The archival footage of WWII is used well, but we are only jarred out of the realism when obviously Photoshopped pics of the young Mason are revealed. The whole Hood doco really is well done though. The interviews look like they’ve been lifted directly from 1975, with their slightly grainy and faded look, without being distracting, and the 1985 ads for products such as Veidt’s Nostalgia fragrance, and Seiko’s cutting-edge LCD watches, just add that extra realism.
The actors are vital to these kinds of endeavours. All the cast sell the premise well. Sometimes these kinds of fake docos can be very unconvincing, but writer Hans Rodionoff, director Eric Matthies and the actors pull it off ably.
The extra features are a nice touch too. Usually on straight to DVD experiences like this, the bonuses are usually just an afterthought from the marketing department. However, with Under The Hood, Black Freighter plus the extras the running time for the whole shebang comes in at a rather impressive 2 hours.
Story Within A Story – The Books Of Watchmen is essentially a combination of behind the scenes footage of Watchmen and Tales of the Black Freighter. There are interviews with cast members (Stephen McHattie, Carla Gugino, Jeffrey Dean Morgan), DC creators of the original maxi-series (Jenette Kahn, Len Wein, artist Dave Gibbons and colourist John Higgins) and the director of Under The Hood, Eric Matthies. It’s not exactly a riveting 25 minutes, but is necessary viewing for those unaware of the importance of Alan Moore’s original extras, such as newspaper cutouts and prose pieces as well as the Black Freighter pirate comic that runs within, and alongside the Watchmen story. And if you feel like getting intellectual, influences of Black Freighter, such as German playwright Bertolt Brecht, are mentioned by a few of the interviewees.
Curiously, it also includes a behind the scenes look at the original Nite Owl, Hollis Mason attacking a punk in his home. I assume this will be on the Director’s Cut of the film. Speaking of which, it’ll be interesting to see how director Zack Snyder manages to squeeze the Black Freighter into the film itself when the Director’s Cut DVD is released in July.
The other substantial extra is Chapter One of the Watchmen Motion Comic, which also runs at 25 minutes. I’ve seen so-called animated comics before, and the concept has been around for a long time, but this is far and above the best approach I’ve ever seen. The original Watchmen comic really does come alive, but I’ll say more once I check out the whole 2 discer Motion Comic soon.
The final inclusion amongst the special features is the first look at Green Lantern: First Flight, the next animated DVD release from Warner Bros./DC. It’s being released in July and it looks fantastic, and is a nice present for Hal Jordan, seeing as it’s the 50th anniversary of his creation this year.
Hollywood has been trying to make Watchmen ever since the lauded 12 issue series from DC Comics was released twenty years ago. With a variety of writers and directors attached, the adaptation kept going nowhere. Director Terry Gilliam (Monty Python, The Brothers Grimm) was attached to the project in the late 80s, but soon gave up, after realising that Watchmen was unfilmable. Alan Moore, the writer behind the much loved series agreed with him, and after witnessing unfaithful Moore adaptations, such as V For Vendetta and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Sean Connery’s last film before retiring), it became glaringy obvious that Moore’s works should remain on the page, not the screen.
However, as it was announced that director Zack Snyder was attached, after his faithful 300 film stuck close to Frank Miller’s comic, fans became cautiously optimistic. Snyder is a brave man though. Watchmen is revered, and rightly so. You’re not a fanboy unless you’ve read it. Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons’ masterpiece is to the medium of sequential art what War and Peace is to literature, or Citizen Kane is to cinema. Yep, that’s how big a deal it is.
Of course, it’s really only those who have been reading comics for any considerable amount of time who know anything about Watchmen. That’s all due to change now though, and that’s a good thing. Those expecting just another standard superhero movie won’t find that here. It’s a good thing Watchmen wasn’t made twenty years ago, as superhero films weren’t the hot commodity they are today (and Watchmen subverts expected superhero clichés) and special effects have advanced greatly. So, what’s it all about then?
On the surface, Watchmen is about a group of retired superheroes set in 1985 who loosely reform when one of their own is brutally murdered, and it looks like every other superhero is a target. Gruff voiced vigilante Rorschach (named for his moving ink blot like mask), played by Jackie Earle Haley, discovers the death of The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan from TV’s Grey Anatomy and Supernatural) in the film’s brutal opener by a mysterious man. As Rorschach narrates throughout most of the film, he warns his former team mates, Silk Spectre II (Malin Ackerman), the unearthly Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson) and Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) about the potential mask killer.
The film does an excellent job of creating a fully immersive environment. I can’t remember the last time I was transported to another world with such relish. Keeping the story set in late 1985 is a wise decision, with the U.S versus Russian threat of nuclear Armageddon being pivotal to the story’s structure. The relatively unknown cast do a superb job with their distinctive characters, but Wilson as the slightly overweight Nite Owl II, pining for days of glory past, and Haley as the menacing anti-hero Rorschach stand out.
I won’t say much more, for those unfamiliar with the rest of the narrative, save to say that if you’re expecting another Spider-Man or Iron Man, don’t. Watchmen is far removed from any superhero film you’ve ever witnessed. It’s almost 3 hours long, and is riveting all the way. There’s some great dark humour and typical Snyder slow-mo action, and it’s all mixed up with some resounding themes about the meaning of humanity, the cost of peace and the skewed psychology of crime fighters.
The original 400 page book, which collects the 12 issue series, has been flying off the shelves lately, and is filled with extras that the film can’t capture, such as excerpts from diaries, memoirs and psychiatrist’s notes, all which serve to remind the reader about Moore’s brilliant dedication to detail. The other notable omissions from the film would be the catastrophic and bloody ending, and the Tales of the Black Freighter comic woven throughout the book, though an animated DVD of this will be released at the end of March. The main contention with the film, from loyal comics readers, has been the slightly different ending, but Snyder is extremely faithful to the comic, with literal dialogue used abundantly. The ending, as it is in the comic, would be jarring to cinema audiences, but the intent remains the same and doesn’t suffer for it’s variation from Moore’s creation.
This is a powerful film, and one that will definitely be shocking to some. The violence is brutal, the heroes aren’t what you expect (Rorschach kills, The Comedian shoots his pregnant lover, beats civilians, and much worse) and there is nudity, and raw sex scenes throughout. So, be warned, this isn’t intended for children. Watchmen is an adult film.
The music is great and helps sell the time period. Usually it works, such as the subtle use of Tears For Fears’ Everybody Wants To Rule The World, and at times mis-fires, such as with 99 Luftballoons, or The Sounds of Silence. It’s when choral or classical pieces are used that the effect really works.
Snyder should be congratulated for taking on this mammoth endeavour, and for doing the original proud. His hard work, and the studio backing, has paid off. Those unfamiliar with comics in general may be taken aback, but that’s a good thing. There’s a whole world of intelligent, intellectual comics out there, of which Watchmen sits atop the pile. The movie is its cinematic equal, and I never expected to say that.
Or at least updates of the greatly anticipated film. It’s hard to believe that this adaptation fanboys and girls have cautiously wanted to witness on celluloid is just around the corner. Below are some gorgeous promo pics for the Zack Snyder helmed film hitting the screens on March 6. For the uninitiated, Watchmen is a classic DC Comics 12 issue series written by Alan Moore (V for Vendetta, From Hell) with art by Dave Gibbons. It’s an epic telling of an alternate 1985 where Nixon is President and superheroes are real and endangered.
I’ve gotta give props to Warner Bros. All of their marketing for this film has been well orchestrated. From the pics released a year before the film to the recent viral video and variety of bold posters they know how to get the attention of curious geeks.
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