If masked vigilantes and super powers existed in the real world, what would the comic books then be? Artificial adventures or dramatizations of real life heroes and villains, compilations of real heroes whose exploits are still fiction, or tales of themes long gone, though still riveting and mysterious? Alan Moore's subversive and innovative tale of a flawed world inhabited by flawed (read: more realistic) heroes needed a counterpoint, something to draw comparisons to the world in which we live, and what better way for a comic to show a world much like ours, than to have its youths idolize and dream over fictional characters and tales of heroics, rather than the costumed heroes that may already be ingrained in their minds, present for every waking minute of their lives?
'Tales of the Black Freighter' is the comic book within the comic book, the tale within the tale. After an attack on his ship, the Captain (voiced by Gerard Butler) is thrown out to sea, the corpses of his crew mates littering the water. Washing ashore on a small island, he is troubled with the thought of his wife and children being attacked by the same pirates who destroyed his ship, those aboard the Black Freighter, the thought instilled in him by the corpse of one of his dead crew members. He must build a raft, and survive the journey home, though his greatest obstacle is his own wavering sanity.
Originally planned to be filmed using real actors, using the same technique as "Watchmen' director Zack Snyder's previous film, '300,' the idea was scrapped due to budgetary and run time concerns, and has instead been crafted into a short animated piece, and while the thought of seeing this tale in live action makes me salivate beyond belief, what we are given instead is far better than most consolation prizes out there.
'Tales of the Black Freighter' is as dark as they come, an analyzation of the human psyche and what it takes to drive a man insane. The thought of losing one's entire family, with no ability to stop it, is certainly a motivating force that can undermine the sanity of most men, especially those surrounded by death and decay. The way it plays out is golden, the actions taken by the Captain are very realistic for his situation, the byproduct of what he feels has already happened, the equal and opposite reaction to the action he has perceived.
The 'Black Freighter' itself, a pirate ship much like the more recognizable Black Pearl from the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' series, is a fantastic embodiment of the dark and cruel possibilities that the world may bring, manned by embodiments of evil and death (much like the Pearl), a foreboding doom like a cancer or plague. The fact that this entire story line directly parallels one found in the actual 'Watchmen' tale is just the icing on the cake, something like a dark prediction for the future.
Short (clocking in at a mere 25 minutes) and ever so sweet, 'Tales of the Black Freighter' is more than just a beautiful companion piece, it is a work of art with a touch of black humor that's sure to infect its viewers (or readers) with a sense of despair. Definitely not for children, or the weak of stomach.
'Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter' arrives on Blu-ray in a 1080P, VC-1 encoded transfer, and it looks quite nice, though it's limited by it's own aesthetic.
The striking colors only band slightly, despite the existence of countless shades of crimson fading overhead and underfoot throughout the feature, bearing great depth, popping right off the screen. Reds replicate beautifully, whites are bright but realistic. Detail is restrained by the inexpensive two dimensional animation design, with somewhat thick lines detailing characters, while not giving much room for finer features. On the downside, there were quite a few jagged lines to be found, and aliasing is evident on occasion.
The audio for 'Tales of the Black Freighter defaults to a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, and since the feature plays without menu prompt, it's easy to forget to switch the track over to the lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix that is quite respectable.
Surrounds are active and alive (more so than the victims of the Black Freighter), from the very start, with flames roaring and crackling all around. Ambiance is present with some great water splashes against the raft once at sea. Directionality is great, with the bow of the ship cracking and falling across the room, waves crashing right at you, and wind sweeping to and fro, while rain fills the entire room in the few scenes present. The bass has a nice understated presence, accenting the feature rather than defining it, though the cannon fire sequence has an excellent thud. Gerard Butler's narration is clear over every element, raising in volume appropriately, raising in severity along with any moment of increased score presence.
There's a tale or two within the tale of 'Watchmen,' and they're just as interesting and relevant as the main piece. Fans already know that the upcoming double dip on the 'Watchmen' will include 'Tales of the Black Freighter' in the main feature, but for those who want to keep it separate, this is a great release, with solid extras (even if you don't consider 'Under the Hood' an extra like I do), and great audio and video qualities. Recommended.
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