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Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter & Under the Hood(2009)
They're in the book. And on this disc. From the director of Watchmen and 300 come two tales from the celebrated graphic novel that do not appear in the extraordinary Watchmen Theatrical Feature. Tales of the Black Freighter (featuring the voice of 300s Gerard Butler) brings to strikingly animated life the novels richly layered story-within-a-story, a daring pirate saga whose turbulent events may mirror those in the Watchmens world. Stars from the Watchmen movie team in the amazing live-action/CGI Under the Hood, based on Nite Owls powerful first-hand account of how the hooded adventurers came into existence. Two fan-essential stories. One place to watch the excitement. Watching the Watchmen begins here.
For more about Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter & Under the Hood and the Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter & Under the Hood Blu-ray release, see Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter & Under the Hood Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on March 10, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter & Under the Hood Blu-ray Review
Two uniquely-fashioned companion pieces for Watchmen fans everywhere...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, March 10, 2009
I didn't discover Alan Moore and David Gibbons' critically acclaimed Watchmen series until I was well into my college years, but I was immediately smitten with its sprawling, at-times unwieldy story and countless subplots. The 12-issue miniseries not only subverted the superhero genre and satirized the politics of its era, it captured the ever-evolving fluidity of society; offering brief glimpses of everyday men and women witnessing the exploits of the Watchmen, reacting to their masked vigilantism, and trying to come to terms with the very real threat of nuclear annihilation. Moore used two particular side-stories (among others) to accomplish this: a comic-within-a-comic called Tales of the Black Freighter and excerpts from a tell-all book by Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl, titled Under the Hood.
Produced for Watchmen director Zach Snyder's extended cut, the animated adaptation of Tales of the Black Freighter is based on a comicbook a young man reads in Moore and Gibbons' skewed superhero epic. Moore supposed that, in a world growing tired of real superheroes, the comic industry would be focused on other genres like swashbuckling adventure stories. In one such tale strewn throughout Watchmen, a shipwrecked mariner (voiced with seething rage by Leonidas himself, Gerard Butler) goes to unspeakable lengths to return home before an otherworldly ship of demonic swordsmen can reach his family. Using the bodies of his fallen crewman to fashion a raft, battling a swarm of frenzied sharks, and facing the depths of his own madness, the captain fights to overcome his hallucinations and save his wife and daughters from a bloody fate.
Seemingly unrelated to the central Watchmen storyline, Tales of the Black Freighter actually deals with the moral struggles, justification, and eventual fall of the graphic novel's central villain. It's a subtle parallel to be sure, but one that reveals the mindset of a man who longs for peace, yet is willing to resort to violence to achieve it. It also works as an unsettling standalone horror story. Even if I knew nothing about Watchmen, its characters, or its endgame, I could have easily enjoyed every minute of Tales of the Black Freighter. Butler and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button's Jared Harris are perfectly cast in their respective voiceover roles, infusing genuine pathos and tragedy into what could have been a throwaway short film. The animation itself is a bit choppy and simplistic, but it deftly captures the tone of Moore's comic-within-a-comic and even injects an eerie undercurrent into the Mariner's turmoil.
Under the Hood, on the other hand, is less of an integral part of Watchmen and more of a mockumentary made specifically for fans of the comic and film. Presented as an episode of an '80s Dateline-esque television news show called The Culpeper Minute (with commercials!), Under the Hood centers on a diner chat between a journalist and the original Nite Owl (Stephen McHattie), and intercuts the former hero's comments with Silk Spectre (Carla Gugino) interviews, accusations from ex-villain Moloch the Mystic (Matt Frewer), and a few brief and volatile appearances by the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).
Delivering dense backstories for many of the first-generation heroes that appear in the film, this companion piece details their initial role in global politics, the government-sanctioned inquiries into their identities and motivations, and the eventual wane of the superhero lifestyle. Moreover, it allows the characters to discuss the emergence of Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) and allude to many of the events prominently featured in Snyder's adaptation. Ultimately, it may not be able to stand on its own like Tales of the Black Freighter, but it should give Watchmen junkies plenty of opportunities to clap their hands and grin at its endless nods and references.
Together, Tales of the Black Freighter and Under the Hood make for a compelling and entertaining addition to any Watchmen fan's collection. Some may not think their combined value justifies paying new release prices, but I'd drop twenty-bucks on this pair of short films in a second. Give them a shot and see if you agree.
Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter & Under the Hood Blu-ray, Video Quality
Tales of the Black Freighter and Under the Hood feature distinct, yet wholly proficient 1080p/VC-1 transfers that bring their respective short films to life. Tales of the Black Freighter offers a bold rendering of its source, lining up well with the transfers offered on other recent Warner Brothers Animation releases like Wonder Woman and Justice League: The New Frontier. Its palette is vibrant, blacks are inky, and detail is refined and revealing. Even though faint pixelation disrupts some of the film's finer lineart, it's rarely a distraction. Likewise, while banding appears from time to time, it doesn't undermine the quality of the presentation. In fact, the picture is extremely clean -- significant artifacting and noise aren't a problem, and color fills are consistent and stable. I did notice a bit of motion smearing when sea gulls cluttered a handful of shots, but the overall transfer was nevertheless impressive from beginning to end.
Under the Hood is a different beast altogether, going to great lengths to recreate the faded look and rough-hewn feel of a dated '80s television show. While it's framed at 1.33:1 and filtered to resemble a standard definition presentation, color saturation is spot on, skintones are natural, and the convincing mock-archive footage weaved throughout the various interview segments evoke an actual broadcast expose. More importantly, fine detail is surprisingly sharp despite the nature of the production. Granted, noise, grain, and soft shots are rather invasive throughout, but an aged, authentic appearance is clearly what director Eric Matthies was going for. For all of its visual wear-n-tear, I never got the impression that the technical transfer was the source of any of the film's shortcomings.
All things considered, Tales of the Black Freighter and Under the Hood look nothing alike, but both manage to deliver the high definition goods. Watchmen fans won't be disappointed.
Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter & Under the Hood Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Both short films include noteworthy Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround tracks as well. Tales of the Black Freighter flexes the most sonic muscle, populating its full and immersive soundfield with weighty LFE-supported effects, crisp dialogue, and a healthy dose of environmental ambience. Crashing waves are all-encompassing, tearing flesh has a wet and sloshy realism, and the ominous songs of the Black Freighter crew seem to materialize from every direction. The film's swelling musical score is a treat as well, first appearing in the front soundstage and slowly creeping around the listener with increasingly atmospheric presence. Channel pans are slightly stocky compared to other notable animation releases, but I found myself shrugging off such minor inadequacies in light of the track's impact.
Once again, Under the Hood initially seems to suffer from an underwhelming audio mix until you consider what an '80s television broadcast would sound like. Matthies goes for an immersive experience rather than an immersive soundfield, replicating the front-heavy stereo presentation of a dated TV show. Make no mistake, the mockumentary's mix still delivers the fidelity and clarity of a high definition lossless track, but intentionally evokes the nuances of lower quality audio. Ultimately, both Tales of the Black Freighter and Under the Hood sound quite good. I'm sure audiophiles will have a few complaints, but I was more than pleased with the results.
Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter & Under the Hood Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Blu-ray edition of Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter & Under the Hood includes the same supplemental content as its standard DVD counterpart, and adds in a few intriguing BD-Live exclusives for good measure. I would have loved to listen to an audio commentary for each, but the main featurette does a fine job of explaining how both stories fit into the Watchmen mythos.
Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter & Under the Hood Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
In this reviewer's humble opinion, both Tales of the Black Freighter and Under the Hood flesh out the Watchmen mythos, fill in some of the tonal blanks left empty by Snyder's theatrical adaptation, and work separately as engrossing short films. More importantly, the Blu-ray edition boasts excellent video transfers, strong lossless audio tracks, and a decent collection of supplements. Watchmen fans and newcomers owe it to themselves to nab this fantastic pair of companion pieces to Snyder's film and Moore's graphic novel.
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Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter & Under the Hood Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Watchmen Animated Features Announced (UPDATED) - January 30, 2009
Warner Home Video has announced that they will bring the animated double feature 'Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter & Under the Hood' to Blu-ray on March 24th, day-and-date with the DVD release. These two stories appear in the Watchmen comics, but were left ...
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