- 4-Disc Set
- 2 BD-50 Dual-Layer Discs
- 1 BD-25 Single-Layer Disc
- Digital copy
- Region Free
- English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround
- English SDH
- Audio Commentaries
- The Complete Motion Comic Blu-ray
- Music Video
- Digital Copy
Exclusive HD Content
- BD-Live Functionality
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Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut (Blu-ray)
Warner Brothers / 2009 / 215 Minutes / Rated R
Street Date: November 03, 2009
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- Price: $59.99
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Reviewed by M. Enois Duarte
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
'Watchmen' takes place in an alternate reality of America, where Richard Nixon is serving his fourth term as president and the U.S. won the Vietnam War. This is also a world where men and women actually donned what were essentially Halloween costumes in the 1940s and served street justice to the criminals the law couldn't catch. This has significantly altered the events of history, including comic books. Nearly forty years later, the public and the police force have grown resentful of these individuals working outside the law. With the Keene Act of 1977, all acts of masked vigilantism are effectively outlawed, forcing many into retirement and others to seek work within the government. By 1985, the year in which the plot is set, superheroes are a thing of the past while civilization teeters on the brink of nuclear holocaust.
One October night, the murder of Edward Blake interests Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), a masked avenger considered by the public more as a psychotic criminal than a hero. His investigation leads him to discover that Blake was the man behind The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a fellow crime fighter turned secret operative. Fearing a conspiracy against costumed adventurers, he sets out to warn his former comrades: the Batman-esque Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), the successful businessman Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), an angst-ridden Laurie Juspeczyk/Silk Spectre (Malin Ackerman), and the only true superhero of the bunch Dr. Jon Osterman/Doctor Manhattan (Billy Crudup). As the investigation progresses, the band of superhero outcasts uncovers a plot more sinister and gruesome than they initially expected, revealing an enemy no one would've anticipated.
At the time of its theatrical release, the 'Watchmen' film was seen as a mild success, never coming close to expected box office figures. It was also heavily criticized by fans around the globe for failing to truly capture the spirit of the series. Being one of those critics, the 162-minute adaptation felt rushed and heavily cluttered, as a wealth of information was quickly thrown at the audience with little time to digest it. In the end, the theatrical cut seemed more concerned with reverence for its source than a commitment to being a legitimate film. Much of the novel's power and depth was lost in the translation. Last summer, we saw an extended Blu-ray version where director Zack Snyder added 24 minutes of footage back to the film, which better maintained the comic's central conceit. The Director's Cut better captures the story's dark, gritty appeal, providing it more substance and an improved narrative flow.
Six months later, filmmakers again released what is dubbed "The Ultimate Cut" — a version of the story which could only be appreciated by the most devoted of fans. Clocking in at 215 minutes, this much longer adaptation is truer to its source by incorporating an integral section of the 'Watchmen' narrative, one which allows viewers to delve deeper into this alternate reality and the psyche of costumed heroes. The Tales of the Black Freighter is the comic within a comic subplot and was filmed separately as an animated feature. Here, those sequences have been integrated with the live-action portion of the movie in the order as they would appear in the original novel. For those with little interest, this cut of the film understandably feels like a daunting chore, maybe even boring. But for fans, this only adds another layer and depth to already complex story about masked vigilantism.
The Black Freighter comic functions as a commentary to the action occurring outside itself. By deliberately interrupting the flow of the story at key moments, it becomes an allegorical subtext and provides a metaphysical insight into the psychology of superheroes. It makes it possible for viewers (or readers) to fully deconstruct the archetypes, which each central character typifies, and confronts them with contemporary real-world events. The plot of a sea Captain caught on dark, tormenting, and all-consuming journey to save his family from the clutches of evil relates one way or another back to our ragtag group of costumed avengers.
Despite its short length, the story exposes questions about the limitations inherent within these would-be heroes and posits thoughts on the failure of salvation when humanity is so heavily flawed. The captain's need to quell and conquer a perceived evil prefigures their subconscious motives. His compulsive purpose and dedication for one end alone leaves an especially dramatic implication of both Rorschach and The Comedian — the madness born of only seeing the world as black & white, and the comic irony of knowing that building a raft of dead bodies is wrong but doing it nonetheless to satisfy one's personal goal. The shock at the end of the captain's journey hints at the reality of their lofty pursuits. It's the answer to the question often asked throughout the film: Why do they do it?
Unlike its peers of the same genre, 'Watchmen' is more dramatic and lacks the action-packed heroics typical of comics, especially now with the inclusion of The Tales of the Black Freighter. Also missing is a central villain or villains commonly utilized to move such stories forward because the real enemy is within. The conversation between Ozymandias and Dr. Manhattan alludes to this. And if the ending feels at all like a letdown due to its build up, that's precisely the point and clearly expressed by Bernie's reaction in reading the comic within the comic. The discovery that the young boy and the newsstand owner happen to share the same name only deepens the story's overall theme of a flawed world.
As viewers (and readers), we can choose to acknowledge the coincidence of two completely opposite individuals sharing a similarity and contemplate further on the possible meanings. (This is in reference again to the philosophical implications of the Ozymandias/Dr. Manhattan conversation at the end.) Or, we can choose to simply ignore the whole thing as a big load of incidental hogwash and walk away, choosing to never think about it again.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Home Video brings this 4-Disc Blu-ray edition of 'Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut' in an attractive, durable black box-set that closes magnetically. Inside, we find a large gatefold cardboard box with three discs on opposing plastic panels and the same Complete Motion Comic Blu-ray package released in early 2009. The first BD50 disc contains the film in its entirety and goes straight into the film at startup while the second BD25 disc holds all the bonus material. The third is a Digital Copy of the movie's theatrical cut for mobile devices.
For this complete story version of 'Watchmen,' Warner Home Video uses the same 1080p/VC-1 encode (2.40:1) from the Director's Cut, so portions of my assessment of that review are reiterated here. This is also the same encode used for the standalone release of 'Tales of the Black Freighter.' Although the switching back and forth from live-action to animation is a bit jarring at times, the picture quality is consistently beautiful, with the actual film taking the obvious edge, which is astounding and one of the finest video presentations on Blu-ray.
The heavily-stylized film is drenched in heavy, dark shadows, so black levels are very important to the overall effect. Fortunately, they are exceptional, delivering some the truest, blacker-than-black renderings available, and the cleanest gradients I've seen on this side of CGI movies. The fine lines of background objects are clearly distinguished in the darkest areas of the picture. Contrast is intentionally muted for a dreary tone which complements the subject matter, but offers plenty of visibility without hindering the rest of the video and provides the film with excellent depth. Even in the animated sequences, blacks remain inky and intense while whites are bright and crisp, but it's understandably a two-dimensional feature.
Details are remarkable and distinct, adding to the terrific dimensionality of the image. Facial complexions are equally impressive, appearing natural with incredible lifelike texture. In the 'Black Freighter' segments, the artwork shows terrific definition and resolution, but there are times when they suddenly go a bit fuzzy. This same section also shows some aliasing in a couple frames. The palette consists generally of pastel colors, and they yield a strong, bold tonality with accurate vividness. The animated portion is, of course, more energetic with very enthusiastic primaries. The only nitpick in the presentation is the minor instances of banding that are negligible and don't distract from enjoying the gorgeous film-like quality of 'Watchmen' on Blu-ray.
Surprisingly, Warner has replaced the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack from the Director's Cut with a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack for this Ultimate Cut. For all intents and purposes, the tracks are identical, and comparisons reveal no discernible, real-world difference. With that in mind, the high-resolution audio is nothing short of reference, with a sound design focused on subtle ambiance and generating a believable environment.
Whether we're watching live-action or the animated segments, the track is excitedly immersive, with tons of activity filling the speakers and creating a wonderful 360-degree soundfield. Dialogue reproduction and character interaction is perfectly discernible, even in the whispered conversations of Laurie and Dan, and remains fixed in the center of the screen. The original musical score by Tyler Bates fills the entire soundstage with great separation and room penetration, full of warmth and breadth. But where the lossless mix really shines is in the stunning and spacious dynamic range, exhibiting some of the sharpest and cleanest differentiation between the highs and mid-levels without a single loss to detail. Imaging is convincing, with seamless pans and excellent directionality, enveloping the listener with great depth, clarity and definition. Low-frequency effects are very aggressive with a nicely refined punch, adding serious weight and power to each punch, kick and explosion. As with its predecessor, 'Watchmen' arrives on Blu-ray with a reference quality audio presentation that will surely impress.
The same set of special features from previous Blu-ray releases are repackaged here for 'Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut.' Missing is the very excellent Maximum Movie Mode commentary found in the Director's Cut, which is replaced by two new commentaries. Also gone the Digital Copies for 'Tales of the Black Freighter' and 'The Complete Motion Comic,' as well as the first look at 'Green Lantern.'
- Audio Commentaries — Although it doesn't compare to watching the movie with the PiP track, these all-new commentaries suffice and provide interesting perspectives on the Watchmen universe from two different points of view.
The first track comes from director Zack Snyder obviously delivering the filmmaker's angle to the final product. Full of on-set anecdotes about the production and crew, his comments tend to leave much desired and often screen-specific. There are good moments of directorial insight and challenges which add value to the commentary. The second track features co-creator and illustrator Dave Gibbons in a less entertaining discussion, but it's agreeable nonetheless. He spends the majority of the time praising Snyder's accomplishment in adapting the graphic novel and pointing out particular scenes he likes. Overall, they're not bad tracks, but fans will surely miss the PiP track.
- Featurette: "Under the Hood" (HD, 37 min) — A faux television program in the tradition of 60 Minutes called "The Culpeper Minute," complete with fake commercials. Although not directly taken from anything in the novel, this interview with the original Nite Owl and author of his autobiography, Under the Hood (Stephen McHattie) is a wonderful companion piece for fans of the film and the graphic comic. With a historical background on masked heroes and some perceptive, insightful comments on the Watchmen narrative, this short doc is a highly-recommended watch before the actual film, especially for neophytes.
- Featurette: "The Phenomenon: The Comic That Changed Comics" (HD, 29 min) — Featuring interviews with the cast and crew, execs at DC Comics, John Higgins, Dave Gibbons, and others, this entertaining short doc examines the comic book's creation and its impact. At times, some comments come across as shallow, but overall, this is an enjoyable featurette as each person offers their thoughts and opinions of the novel and its relevance.
- Featurette: "Real Super Heroes: Real Vigilantes" (HD, 26 min) — Arguably the most interesting doc of the bunch, this is an extensive look at real-life vigilantes and people who take matters into their own hands. It examines the ways in which people romanticize the idea of protecting society from crime and how their behavior leaves them walking the very thin line of being criminals themselves.
- Featurette: "Mechanics: Technologies of a Fantastic World" (HD, 17 min) — Another interesting featurette (especially if you're a science geek like myself), this interview with Dr. James Kakalios, Professor of Physics at the University of Minnesota, gives fans of the 'Watchmen' comic a fascinating opportunity to think of the science in the book as a plausibility. The professor also joined the film crew as an advisor to the production and set design, ensuring that everything Doctor Manhattan worked on had a reality base.
- Featurette: "Story within a Story: The Books of Watchmen" (HD, 25 min) — Another great short segment that takes a closer look at the books mentioned throughout the film and novel. With interviews of cast, crew and those involved in the original graphic comic, the discussions are well-worth a listen before or after the film as they reveal some thoughtful comments on the relevancy of Under the Hood and The Tales of the Black Freighter.
- Watchmen: Video Journals (HD, 37 min) — The segments are "The Minutemen", "Sets & Sensibility", "Dressed for Success", "The Ship Has Eyes", "Dave Gibbons", "Burn Baby Burn", "Shoot to Thrill", "Blue Monday", "Attention to Detail", "Girls Kick Ass", and "Rorschach's Mask."
- Music Video (HD, 3 min) — My Chemical Romance performs their song "Desolation Row."
- Digital Copy — The third disc in the package offers a standard definition copy of the film's theatrical cut for portable devices, via iTunes or Windows Media Player.
- Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic (HD, 325 min) — Finishing the package is the 'Motion Comic' that was originally released separately early last year, and for which we provided a review here.
- Watchmen Video Journal #4: Dave Gibbons (HD, 3 min) — The original artist of the comic-strip novel spends the entire time talking about his excitement over Snyder's film adaption, interspersed with scenes of its production.
- Wonder Woman Sneak Peek (SD, 10 minutes) — This EPK of sorts is a behind-the-scenes look at the production for the animated feature of Wonder Woman, released the same day. Consisting mostly of storyboards, the sneak peek includes interviews with top executives at DC Comics, producers of the movie, and voice talents, such as Keri Russell, Rosario Dawson, Virginia Madsen, and Nathan Fillion.
- BD-Live — A BD-Live link takes you to Warner's online portal, where you can view various trailers, including one for the 'Watchmen' film, and sign up with Facebook.
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After twenty years of hardcore fans hearing that the Watchmen comics are "unfilmable", Zack Snyder defies logic and gives audiences the closest we'll ever come to experiencing the novel on film. By integrating the animated short for The Tales of the Black Freighter into the Director's Cut live-action film, it's difficult to imagine we'll ever see a better adaptation of the Watchmen universe. This Ultimate Cut Blu-ray edition delivers a top-notch audio/video presentation and arrives housed in a 4-disc package, offering fans the most comprehensive and in-depth collection of bonus material for the film. This is a must-have for fans everywhere.
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