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In an alternate reality, it's 1985, costumed superheroes are part of the fabric of everyday society, and the "Doomsday Clock" - which charts the USA's tension with the Soviet Union - is permanently set at five minutes to midnight. When one of his former colleagues is murdered, the washed-up but no less determined masked vigilante Rorschach sets out to uncover a plot to kill and discredit all past and present superheroes. As he reconnects with his former crime- fighting legion - a ragtag group of retired superheroes, only one of whom has true powers - Rorschach glimpses a wide-ranging and disturbing conspiracy with links to their shared past and catastrophic consequences for the future. Their mission is to watch over humanity...but who is watching The Watchmen?
For more about Watchmen and the Watchmen Blu-ray release, see Watchmen Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on July 9, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Carla Gugino, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Director: Zack Snyder
» See full cast & crew
Watchmen Blu-ray Review
Zack Snyder's startlingly dark adaptation receives a marvelous Blu-ray release...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, July 9, 2009
"Watchmen" is a great many things to a great many people. To some, it's legendary writer Alan Moore and artist David Gibbons' masterwork; a complex, groundbreaking piece of literature in the guise of a hefty graphic novel; an unrivaled achievement that continues to gather readers to its fold some twenty-three years after it first took the comics industry by storm. To others, it's both daunting and impenetrable; a dense, confusing epic that requires more attention, reflection, and introspection than some readers are willing to invest. Regardless of where you stand, it's difficult to deny the impact and influence "Watchmen" has had on film, comicbooks and, most recently, the profitable mingling of the two. But even though the original graphic novel has been heralded by critics the world over for the last two decades, Moore and Gibbons' subversive superhero stunner has long been considered unfilmable. Screenwriters have thrown down their pens, countless directors have walked away, and studios have shuddered at the notion.
Enter Zack Snyder. Hot off the striking artistry and unexpected success of 300, Snyder brushed aside suggestions that he radically alter the original source, poured over Moore and Gibbons' every page and note, and simply decided to film the unfilmable.
Set in an alternate '80s America (where Richard Nixon is serving his fourth consecutive term as president after using superpowered "heroes" to swiftly win the Vietnam War), Watchmen opens with the death of Edward Blake (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a washed-up nobody who means little to the policemen scraping his corpse off the sidewalk. However, to a borderline-psychotic vigilante named Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), Blake was actually the Comedian, a depraved superhero of sorts who made more than a fair share of enemies over the years. Convinced that Blake's killer is plotting the murder of other former heroes, Rorschach sets out to warn his once triumphant, now scorned and dejected colleagues -- Dan Dreiberg, aka the Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), a stodgy coward who would rather stay out of sight; Laurie Jupiter, aka the Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman), a perpetually victimized failure who wraps her identity in whatever man she falls for; Adrian Veidt, aka Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), a wealthy, calculating entrepreneur whose greatest asset is his arrogance; and Doctor Manhattan (Billy Crudup), a scientist whose ability to manipulate matter has transformed him into an inhuman demigod. As Rorschach and the ex-heroes begin to uncover the roots of a terrifying conspiracy, the crime fighters encounter far more than they bargained for: a villain willing to sacrifice an entire city to see his twisted agenda come to fruition.
As the story unfolds, Snyder follows in Moore and Gibbons' footsteps and fleshes out the world of Watchmen with meticulous attention to detail. With a wonderfully bleak and wordless montage (set to Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changing"), he gives viewers a succinct overview of the rise and fall of golden age heroes, the emergence of their cynical and nihilistic replacements, and the world's ultimate reaction to the new regime of superpowers. From there, the young director weaves flashbacks, revelations, and numerous subplots into the central narrative to create a nonlinear experience many comic-to-film adaptations avoid altogether. We learn about the Minutemen (a team of freedom fighters who preceded the Watchmen), their tarnished legacy, the heated rivalries that were abandoned when masked heroics were outlawed, and the in-fighting that occurred behind closed doors. But most of all, Snyder provides glimpses into the soul of each man and woman who crosses the screen; into the very nature of those placed into positions of power and left to their own devices. We're faced with their faltering humanity, their at-times callous disregard for human life, and their raging inner-conflicts.
Long before Watchmen has reached its provocative endgame, Snyder has submerged his audience into the darkest depths of the human heart. Murder, rape, revenge, insolence, pride... regardless of the subject matter at hand, his camera is unflinching, and his fittingly morose atmosphere remains unparalleled. Like Moore and Gibbons, Snyder isn't interested in the flashy superheroics of the genre, nor is he distracted by the bubblegum idealism proliferated by the industry's earliest icons. His eye is pulled toward the bloody edges of sanity; the vicious tit-for-tat genuine vigilantes would bring to the table; the unsettling ease with which normal men and women would abandon their moral fortitude if they had no fear of consequence. He revels in the psychological tatters of his characters' minds, and the duality of their purpose and motivations. He pulls the best out of his cast -- Crudup brings Manhattan to life, Haley is an absolute revelation, and Morgan portrays the Comedian as a fittingly tragic nightmare -- and manages to deliver a grim ensemble piece that leaves no ugly stone unturned.
I know a lot of purists were underwhelmed or disappointed by the results and inevitable omissions, but I didn't have the same hangups. Moore apologists were appalled by a significant change to the third act (involving space-faring calamari of all things). I thought his changes streamlined the story, strengthened Manhattan's purpose in the tale, and eliminated the need for unnecessary exposition he wouldn't have had time to incorporate into the film anyway. Comic shop veterans were annoyed by the number of supporting characters that were neglected by the time-constrained director. I'll wager this new 186-minute Director's Cut will put many of those concerns to rest. Viewers who hadn't cracked Moore's graphic novel were unprepared for the film's meandering pace, dense backstory, and character-centric action. I believe it perfectly represents the tone and atmosphere of everything Moore and Gibbons committed to the printed page. Critics were bothered by the level of faithfulness he brought to the project, confusing his love of the material for a cinematic weakness. I say Snyder's hand is perfectly visible in the piece, as is his flare for the visually dramatic, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Is that to suggest Watchmen is perfect? No, I'll readily admit to some concerns of my own. Akerman is a bit bland (a shortcoming somewhat remedied by the appearance of several key scenes that have been reinserted into the Director's Cut); the amped-up superheroics of Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, Ozymandias, and others seems to go against Moore's everyday-vigilante concept; and I missed a few emotional gut punches that always resonate with me when I read the original limited series (Jon and Laurie standing amidst thousands of mangled corpses, for one). At the same time, I can't imagine a more remarkable adaptation, and I'm in awe of Snyder's ability to juggle so much and drop so little. I know Watchmen will continue to divide audiences as much as its predecessor will continue to divide modern readers but, once given the opportunity to absorb the film multiple times, I think that Snyder's adaptation will continue to grow on both its fiercest fans and harshest detractors. Personally, I'm enamored with its every sequence, shot, and frame.
Watchmen Blu-ray, Video Quality
I know more than a few people who were blown away by The Dark Knight's arrival on Blu-ray, but I was one of those sad saps who couldn't get past its alternating aspect ratios, its overheated contrast, and the rampant edge enhancement on display. As such, I approached Watchmen with a bit of hesitation, worried Warner's 1080p/VC-1 transfer would suffer a similar fate. I'm pleased to report that isn't the case. Not only does Watchmen retain all the brooding grittiness Snyder intended, it boasts a filmic presentation complete with unobtrusive grain, clean object definition, revealing textures, and striking skintones. That's not to say the film's absorbing gloom and bottomless blacks have been tempered -- just as Gibbons used heavy inks in 1986, Snyder uses similarly stark shadows in 2009 to bathe his rendition of Moore's city in darkness -- but, in my humble estimation, the somber elements of the picture never appear overcooked or artificial. Witness the pores dotting Rorschach's unmasked face, the flecks of blood splashed across the Comedian's stubbly chin, the remnants of a devastated metropolis, the bits of rubble raining down from Jon's emerging fortress, the controls in Dan's ship, the... I could go on and on, but I'll save you three paragraphs.
If I have any complaint it's that the image isn't quite perfect. While artifacting, aliasing, and unintended noise are nowhere to be found, the blue glow of Doctor Manhattan's skin is the source of some faint banding and other minor digital anomalies. Likewise, while it's kept to a bare minimum, slight (almost negligible) ringing appears on occasion. Regardless, the encoders at Warner have outdone themselves with Watchmen, creating a high definition transfer worthy of legitimate praise. I'm sure some viewers will inevitably gripe about Snyder's aesthetic choices but, as far as technical presentations go, this one is stunning.
Watchmen Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Warner makes its long-rumored leap to DTS-HD Master Lossless Audio with Watchmen, and what a leap it is. While a Dolby TrueHD track would have delivered an equally impressive sonic payload, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track included on this release is a marvelous, memorable endeavor that captures all the power and fury of Snyder's ode to dark superheroics. Dialogue is crisp, clean, and impeccably prioritized in the mix, imbuing Dan and Laurie's hushed conversations with the same care afforded to their less-than-subtle prison break. LFE output is refined as well, adding heft and presence to every potent punch, gut-churning teleportation, and deafening explosion. Rear speaker aggression rounds out the lossless trifecta with enough ambient effects, musical score support, and atmospheric acoustics to satisfy the needs of a dozen separate audio tracks. Not only are pans as smooth as they come, directionality (while intentionally skewed at times) is precise and the resultant soundfield is eerily enveloping. Even key cues from the soundtrack resonate: Leonard Cohen's baritone lulls in "Hallelujah" are deep and satisfying, Bob Dylan's nasally whine is sharp and stable in "The Times They are A-Changing," and Simon and Garfunkel's "Sound of Silence" has never sounded better.
Despite its comicbook roots, Watchmen is as much an aural experience as it is a visual one. To that end, Warner's faithful DTS-HD Master Audio track fulfills Snyder's every demand and the film's every need. Fans will be bouncing in their seats at the sheer sonic majesty of this one.
Watchmen Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The 3-disc Blu-ray edition of Watchmen not only includes a 186-minute Director's Cut of Zack Snyder's love letter to Alan Moore and David Gibbons, it offers an absolutely magnificent Picture-in-Picture track (unlike anything I've ever seen), a collection of well-crafted documentaries, and a Digital Copy of the theatrical cut. The only downside? With Warner's Ultimate Edition looming on the horizon, it's likely that Snyder and the studio have even more content up their sleeve (a filmmakers' audio commentary has already been announced). That being said, the supplemental package on hand adds tremendous value to this release, and should easily please fans and newcomers alike.
Watchmen Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Like Moore and Gibbons' original masterwork, Zack Snyder's Watchmen will never appeal to the masses as readily as films like The Dark Knight and Iron Man. However, it's a smart and faithful adaptation that challenges its viewers, pushes its fans, and makes the most of its every frame. Thankfully, Warner's 3-disc Blu-ray edition is just as rewarding. It not only features the 186-minute Director's Cut of the film, it offers a near-perfect video transfer, an astounding DTS-HD Master Audio track, a fantastic PiP Maximum Movie Mode, and a generous helping of supplemental materials. All things considered, Watchmen is a must-have release that videophiles and audiophiles will be overjoyed to add to their collection.
Watchmen: Other Editions
Blu-ray bundles with Watchmen (2 bundles)
Watchmen Blu-ray, News and Updates
• BD Snags over Half of Watchmen Ultimate Cut Sales - November 23, 2009
According to data from Nielsen VideoScan First Alert for the week ended November 15, 54.31% of all sales of 'Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut' came from the Blu-ray edition. This is a new first-week record for a title simultaneously released on Blu-ray and DVD. 'Watchmen' ...
• Watchmen Breaks BD Share Record with 36% Ratio - July 30, 2009
As we reported on our previous post, a full 36 percent of disc sales of Warner's 'Watchmen' have been on Blu-ray. This is a record-breaking figure, even for action movies. For example, back in September 2008, 'Iron Man' got "only" 17% of its sales from Blu-ray. ...
• Today on Blu-ray - July 21st - July 21, 2009
There are some movies where the story of the production is almost as entertaining as the resulting film (or sometimes more, as was the case of 'Superman Returns'). Twenty-two years in the making, 'Watchmen' finally reached the silver screen earlier this year, led ...
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