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You've heard this before. Uh, I wasn't as enthused with Watchmen as I thought I was going to be, even using "Who Botches the Watchmen?" as a social network status (and no one else was that clever, I'm sure). But I'd just reread the graphic tome, watched the motion comic DVD, and listened to the superb Comic Geek Speak podcasts dissecting each issue of the comic for themes and subtleties. A film with a limited run-time was bound to disappoint me. Knowing director Zack Snyder was releasing an "ultimate cut" of the movie, I avoided a rewatch when the Director's Cut DVD came out. Snyder used his slo-mo style to put this Ultimate DVD out months later with little fanfare attached, but I can honestly say it was just about worth the wait. Like oral sex, Watchmen works better when it lasts longer, and has animated interstitials running throughout. I'm going to avoid heavy plot description, because there are other reviews on this site that cover them. Tell them where they are, Mr. Wharton. [Right here. -- Ed.]
This cut is 215 minutes long. That's over three and a half hours, for those keeping track. That's as much uninterrupted sleep as I usually get on a daily basis. So it feels kind of strange thinking that this is the version that should stand as definitive. I usually think subsequent cuts of films are done avariciously or for pride alone, and have no doubt that this one is wading in similar waters, seeing as how to be the guy filming the Watchmen comics after other, better directors have decided against, well...a lot of ambition can squeeze out a lesser amount of ingenuity, there's no denying that. If someone had given him the money, Snyder would have made three or four movies. It wouldn't have worked, but that's the kind of fucked-up adaptationeer he is.
So what makes it better? One, I got to see it at home, which looked better than the fuzzy cut I saw in the theater. Dr. Manhattan looked like he needed a shave the whole time. But, and I've thought about it for all of a little while, I think a major part of why I dig this biggun is because the mostly over-the-top violence hasn't been added onto much, and everything else is story or atmosphere based. Just a person walking for five seconds down a quiet street is sometimes enough -- especially when it's Rorschach -- to add breathing room around these dialogue or action sequences. It's still jammed to the margins, but it earns it this way, rather than being a busy mess of tweaked genius. It ended up making the bombastic fight and hatchet-head scenes more gratifying, because I waited for them, I guess. It's weird how a minute or two here and there can make or break the flow of things. That's why I'm waiting for the director's cut of R. Kelly's Southland Tales (waits for tomatoes to be thrown, both for liking that movie and for referring to Richard Kelly as such). Anybody with me?
I suppose I haven't said anything that anybody who has the Director's Cut doesn't know, but this go around the Black Freighter cartoon was added, as were the scenes featuring comic-stand Bernard and comic reader Bernard. That's a plus, right? Oh, that's right, it was already released on DVD. Somebody in marketing is making some cash. And yeah, I watched it already. Oh, so I'm really not adding anything to anybody's lives but people like me? Well, I can say that their addition in the film adds more buffer room to the live-action scenes, and the cut-up segments do the same magic they do in the book. Altogether, it's a solid animation, but alone it kind of felt weird. It's darker and definitely not as retro as it is on paper. No fault though. Gerard Butler does a great job with it. The two Bernards are a hoot as well. In some of the added stuff, the Knot Tops are about the worst actors I have ever laid eyes on, including yours truly in high school plays. Jesus. In the scene where they decide to kill Hollis Mason, I almost thought they were part of the Foot Clan, or all relatives of The Brooklyn Brawler. Silk Spectre doesn't get any better, either. Or any more naked. And Matthew Goode didn't get much more time, which added to my enjoyment but not to his evil role. Also, listening to Zack Snyder's commentary, he mentions various other shots, usually of smaller details, that were exclusive to this cut. Let's jump to the extras now, which are more of the same, and a bit of new.
First, it comes in a nice sturdy case that opens like a book, and the inner lining is a nicely colored promotional poster/photo thing. One inner case is of the three-disc film, extras, and the digital waste-of-space copy disc. The other inner case is the two-disc Motion Comic set. Table of contents complete.
On Disc 1 are two commentaries, one with Snyder, and one with Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons. That's seven hours of combined commentary. I've got a time motif going. Gibbons' information comes in bits and pieces, and is a lot of stuff I've heard before. It's cool, though, because he's well-spoken, but he sits there a lot and watches, like the Brits do. Snyder's commentary is quick-paced and as detailed as the movie is at times. He sounds too caffeinated, but all of it is credible. A lot of effort was put into this thing, and he gives everyone their due credit. He even justifies all the fighting. What a guy. All in all, one of the better commentaries I've heard in a while. (More tomatoes.)
Disc 2 is packed with featurettes. There's the one included with the other cut, "The Phenomenon: The Comic That Changed Comics," which is well done. Granted, it's a lot of the stars and comic folk saying things that I've read more literary-minded people write about, but I have to end my bias somewhere. It's all about the book, and is the longest feature (at 40 minutes or so), as it should be, so that's good enough. Next there's "Real Superheroes: Real Vigilantes," and this is also quite interesting, as it delves more on themes of heroing as a philosophy, not believing in assembled authority so much as an individual moral code. Assumed credible names speak on the subject. Continuing the introspective trend is "Mechanics: Technologies of a Fantastic World," focusing on a physicist and professor of "Everything I Learned About Physics I Learned From Comic Books," or something like that. It's in the tune of the Physics of..., non-fiction dissections of sci-fi/superhero genres. He talks about how many things in Watchmen make some sort of sense, and the few that don't are still within some realm of reality when granted a "miracle" aspect. Anyway, it could have been longer, but what's there is good.
Of the video journals previously seen online and on the other DVDs, all 11 behind-the-scene segments are pretty good, and short enough. There's also the "almost better than the movie if it had half the budget" faux documentary "Under the Hood" (Also out on DVD. Am I repeating myself?). It acts out all of the comic appendices, as well as a few things not seen in the movie from the actual comic, in the style of Slightly Hard Copy. We get to see a lot more of Stephen McHattie, never a bad thing, as well as Carla Gugino both in old and young make-up. I'd bang either knowing that they were the other. The production value is so high that it makes up for the occasionally corny dialogue. There's also a My Chemical Romance video. Nuff said about that.
The Motion Comic discs have also been released previously, and as I mentioned, I enjoyed them immensely. It's the largest I've ever been able to view Dave Gibbons' work, and even though the art doesn't look awesome that large, the details are amazing. Eighties nerds with magnifying glasses be damned. Each 20-minute (or so) segment is well crafted, the animations happening much more frequently and naturally than I would have assumed. Never is the art added to, but things are reworked and make natural small details like smoke and wind play with the scenery. My gal watched and enjoyed it, and she neva eva would have read the comic. The only downside is that every character is played by the same guy, Tom Stechschulte, who is damned talented but really out of place when it comes to rape scenes between a man and a woman. Or just scenes between a man and a woman in general. That line of thinking can go on. But if you can look past it, it's the entire book on screen, spoken to you with sound effects, and it makes the shit come alive.
So, I finally liked the Watchmen film more than just a little bit, even if I didn't enjoy it as immensely as some have. I still don't think a non-fan could make any sense of it, but there's an awful lot to enjoy, and it's cheaper than buying everything individually. A seventh of a day could be spent doing something a lot worse.
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