I was happy I went into this “blind”, not having seen the movie in theaters. At the time Watchmen came out, I was kind of tired of hearing about it, so now I could approach it with fewer preconceptions. Plus, since the director’s cut is now about three hours long, I appreciated being able to pause it as needed. An extra 25 minutes have been added into this version, promoted as “more Rorschach and a scene of Hollis Mason’s death”.
I think most people have already made up their mind about the film, and I don’t disagree with the general opinion. I found it very visually faithful but cold and slow. It’s about style over substance; in this film, appearances are all. I’m glad I saw it, and certain images from it have stuck with me, but I don’t think I’ll be rewatching it. The effects were very well-done, but as others have mentioned many times, the music was ham-handed and obvious, symbolism with a sledgehammer.
Watchmen: Director’s Cut
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I missed being able to set my own pace. When reading, I frequently move rapidly through fight scenes or violent images instead of lingering over them in detail, because I’m not that interested. Here, I had to sit through them, sometimes in slow motion and quite often gorier than needed. (During Rorshach’s origin flashback, I plugged my ears and put a pillow over my face. That wasn’t the only scene I didn’t want to see, either. Watchmen is definitely a hard-R movie.)
I had concerns about Malin Akerman, but she really looked the part of Laurie/Silk Spectre. Then she talked, and I was disappointed again. Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) was hard to understand and didn’t have the physical presence or charisma to pull off the role. Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson) was a forgettable schlub, which is good for the character, not so much for someone I’m supposed to want to watch on a movie screen.
Hearing Rorshach’s narration was too much for me. It sounded dumb and over-written in that hoarse whisper, whereas reading it gave it much more power. And the moving mask, when I could see it (lots of shadow in this movie), wasn’t very effective either. Glowing blue Doctor Manhattan was distracting and didn’t work in context with the other characters. I was reminded that things that looked cool in comics (especially twenty-year-old comics) don’t always look good in real life.
The Themes of the Piece
I think I could have stopped about 8 minutes in, when JFK’s assassination was shown. At first I thought, “how much difference could these heroes make, if they couldn’t stop that?” Then when the killer was revealed, that sort of summed up the whole film to me. At the beginning of the movie, KC mentioned that the visuals, especially the 1985 setting, reminded him of the classic Apple “1984” commercial in its lack of subtlety. Thus, we were tickled to see it appear near the end on Veidt’s wall of televisions.
It’s a shame that the Comedian gets killed at the beginning, because I wanted to see a lot more of Jeffrey Dean Morgan. He was the only one I could say that about. (Well, unless you want to talk about the horrible lighting; many times I wanted to see more of whatever it was I was supposed to be seeing.) It’s strange how the Comedian is one of the villains of the piece — a reprehensible rapist and murderer — and yet he’s also what we’re supposed to admire in superheroes, a macho vigilante. At least he takes action, you think, even if it is against his own people.
On the bright side, watching the film led to some interesting discussion between KC and me. I got to hear about when he worked with Dave Gibbons, for example. KC also had a surprising theory of what Watchmen suggested to him: all the characters are fanboy archetypes. The nerd, the psycho, the violence addict, the artsy elitist, the science freak (the kind who endlessly debates how Superman’s powers would work in real life), and the fangirl.
The Lack of Special Features
I was surprised that there weren’t more special features. There’s one featurette, some repurposed marketing material, and a music video. The lack is because this isn’t the real special edition. That one’s coming at Christmas. I know this thanks to a handy flyer in the package promoting the upcoming 5-disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition. Nice of them to let us know, but it also feels like they’re saying, “nyah, nyah, spend more money”. The UCE will have the movie interwoven with Tales of the Black Freighter, plus the “Under the Hood” fake documentary, all the motion comics, and commentary by Dave Gibbons and director Zack Snyder. In other words, it’s the package this should have been.
As always, I was most interested in the documentary about the comic origins of the film. “The Phenomenon: The Comic That Changed Comics” praises the graphic novel for 30 minutes. I was expecting a real examination, but instead, I got a promo reel. Most of the discussion is about the content of the comic (either describing it, even though any viewer is presumably familiar with it, or simply saying how important and revolutionary it was) instead of adding any new insight. Maybe you can’t say anything new about it, but I would have liked to have heard more comparing before and after the book was published, more about how it really did change comics, both in terms of content and the industry. Only Dave Gibbons really addressed this.
After quotes from the actors and Gerard Way (My Chemical Romance), KC and I were pleased to see a comic person appear. Richard Bruning, Senior VP – Creative Director for DC Comics, comments on how important Watchmen was. Jenette Kahn, President & Publisher from 1981-2002, is also there to call it “ground-breaking” and talk about changing comics into something that wasn’t just for kids. Also included are editor Len Wein, colorist John Higgins, the usual DC staff members, and many excerpts from the motion comics.
There are also 11 promotional “video journals” (3-minute behind-the-scenes webisodes) explaining various aspects of the movie’s premise; a music video for “Desolation Row” by My Chemical Romance; and instructions on how to download a digital copy of the theatrical version. You can watch a trailer at the official movie site. The DVD is also available in Blu-ray, or the single disc carries the theatrical edition of the film, available in either fullscreen or widescreen. The iTunes download is $14.99.
(A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the studio.)