Watchmen Director's Cut [Blu-ray]

One of the problems with Watchmen was that it was too damn long. Don't worry, though, Director Zack Snyder is fixing that in his "Director's Cut" by adding 24 minutes. It’s hard to write a review of the superhero fable Watchmen and not mention Billy Crudup’s big blue wang. I sat for awhile trying to think of how to place it casually in the review (“Dr. Manhattan, played by Billy Crudup, is the only hero with an actual superpower and his immense abilities even extend to his prominently displayed blue penis”) but that seems a little forced. So, I’ll just start right out and say Watchmen gives you a pretty faithful adaptation of the classic comic book….and full frontal male nudity. Who could ask for anything more?

I could actually ask for a little less. While the theatrical version of Watchmen was overlong at 2 hours and 40 minutes, the “Director’s Cut” on Blu-ray is a mind and butt numbing 3 hours and 6 minutes. Director Zack Snyder puts so much effort into faithfully recreating Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s 1986 comic, he lets things like pacing and plot development fall by the wayside. Snyder is a visual master, but he’s not yet a particularly good filmmaker. There is too much of “Watchmen” the comic in Watchmen the movie, and Snyder’s emphasis on a note perfect look to the film, primarily using green screen, although extensive sets are used as well, takes away from the other elements that make a movie different from a comic book.

The movie also suffers from a timing issue. Taking place in the mid-1980s, when superheroes have caused some changes from our history (including victory for America in the Vietnam War and a five term Presidency for Richard Nixon), the main fear is nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Current concerns about Iran and North Korea notwithstanding, there just isn’t the same immediate concern about this issue in 2009, making the movie seem a bit dated. Also, the superheroes of Watchmen are from the “we’re all flawed and our superheroes are super flawed” school. That was pretty groundbreaking in 1986, but now, not so much. The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is a sadistic asshole, big deal; Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman) and Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson) get it on while she wears hip length black boots, yawn; Dr. Manhattan (Crudup) is detached from humanity, I’m detached from his boring character; Rorschach (Jackie Earl Haley) hates everyone, say it ain’t so Kelly Leak.

The visuals are worth watching as Snyder gets more out of actors standing in front of a computer background than anyone, including Peter Jackson. This is a big and bold (and amazingly violent) film. Wilson, Haley, and Morgan put some life and interest in their characters. I especially liked the relationship between Wilson’s Nite Owl and Haley’s Rorschach, former partners on edge as one continues to operate outside the law and the other too readily accepts the law that put costumed superheroes out of business.

If you love the comic, you’ll really, really like the movie since it looks like a moving version of the panels from the comic. In fact, you almost have to have read the comic to keep up with what is happening. The movie’s non-linear storyline is somewhat confusing to the uninitiated. It incorporates the big themes of right and wrong, black and white, vigilantism, humanity, pain, the greater good and all that stuff from the comic. It just has a little too much stuffed in there.

Yes, Silk Spectre is hot. Yes, Dr. Manhattan’s penis is glowing blue. Yes, the legions of fans will be satisfied by Snyder’s slavish desire not to leave much out or offend (the altered ending be dammed). If you’re just jumping on the Iron Man or Batman bandwagon, be prepared for a little more than you bargained for. And lots, lots more blood. The Watchmen Blu-ray is a three disc set with one disc providing a digital copy of the film for use on your computer or portable digital player. The other two discs contain the “Directors Cut” of the film (with 24 additional minutes of footage) and an assortment of extras.

The Blu-ray comes with a coupon for “The Watchmen Ultimate Collector’s Edition” coming in December 2009, so be aware that a lot of cool stuff is probably being held back for this five disc set, including a commentary by Zack Snyder and comic artist Dave Gibbons, the Watchmen motion comic, and the “Director’s Cut” with Tales of the Black Freighter included within the movie, all things missing from this set. Still, you get a nice selection of extras and it should satisfy all but super hardcore completist fans.

The main extra, which is on the first disc, is called “Maximum Movie Mode.” Although this is advertised on the 3-D slipcover (which is cool) as “watch it with Zack Snyder” that’s not exactly true. Snyder shows up regularly during the movie for two to three minutes each time standing between two screens. One screen shows the movie and the other shows a behind-the-scenes view of the scene. Snyder talks about filming the scene and sometimes stops the movie to talk about a specific issue or point out something onscreen (like a copy of the “Watchmen” comic in Nite Owl’s underground lair.) It’s like a commentary, except you see Snyder talking and it’s not consistent. However, that’s just one part of “Maximum Movie Mode” there are also picture-in-picture comic to film comparisons, actor’s talking about their characters, and timelines comparing real world with the Watchmen world. While Alan Moore famously disdains this whole project, Dave Gibbons is around quite a bit in the extras.

The “Maximum Movie Mode” also gives ability to jump into a view of storyboards at various times after you’ve watched a certain scene. Finally, the 11 online video journals that showed up before the movie was released are placed in the part of the movie they relate to, so you can jump into those as well. They are each three to four minutes and function as “how’d they do that” for some of the bigger stunts and scenes. Altogether, the “Maximum Movie Mode” is a pretty cool way to get more info about the film. Fans will love and even casual viewers will get something out of it. It’s not quite as comprehensive as a full length commentary, but there is more variety.

The second disc has three featurettes along with a music video. The three featurettes, running in length from 16 to 28 minutes, cover the phenomenon of the comic book and its impact on popular culture and comics in general, actual vigilantes in society, and the physics of some of the movie’s activities, primarily those of Dr. Manhattan. The vigilante extra is sorta stupid. Although it seems like their main goal is to tell impressionable idiots not to put on costumes and fight crime. They do this, in part, by showing two idiots who put on ridiculous costumes and fight crime, allegedly. The physics extra is actually quite interesting if you like hearing a physics professor talk about what is actually possible with all the things you see in the movie. The music video, by My Chemical Romance, is lousy.

The Blu-ray picture is brilliant and brings out the colors well. You can’t hope to do much better. This is the kind of movie you go out a buy a Blu-ray player for and it doesn’t disappoint. The sound is also excellent, although my set up did not bring out the full impact of the DTS-HD Master Audio.

Although the second disc featurettes are underwhelming, the “Maximum Movie Mode” is a fan’s dream and will keep you busy. It’s discouraging to know that a better release is coming in just a few months, but with the information you get on this release, most fans should be satisfied.