No one can fault Warner Bros. for not giving their best marketing effort to get people to come find out for themselves why the fans and the mass media have been falling over themselves to hail Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen as the greatest graphic novel of all time. Last summer they hooked the geekerati at Comic-Con International and spent the fall and winter making certain the rest of the world knew the film adaptation was coming. When the press reviews began hitting, the mixed commentary all talked about the difficulty of translating the dense, layered narrative into a film regardless of length. Some found it faithful and well-done while others couldn’t follow the story and thought it was too somber for its own good.
While the diehards attended more than once to sop up every nuance, the rest of America seemed not to care anywhere near as much. For those of us familiar with the language of comic books and graphic novels, we easily followed the movie while those less versed found it off-putting despite the brilliant 12-minute opening that set the stage. As a result, the film earned just $107,509,799 domestically and with additional $75,225,483 from international screens, it stands as a commercial disappointment.
As I said in my review last March, the film was not at all a creative disappointment. There are sharp performances, especially Jackie Earl Haley and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and while there are favorite characters missing or diminished, the movie does a solid job condensing the story. Still, it feels constrained and probably would have worked better as either two films or an extended premium cable miniseries (although that would have been prohibitively expensive to mount). Now we have additional footage in [[[The Watchmen Director’s Cut]]] being released tomorrow by Warner Home Video. It’s available in standard and Blu-ray editions, each packed with extras. Here’s a sample:
"The Art of Watchmen" co-curator, comics historian Peter Sanderson, will lead a screening and discussion of the two new short films Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter and Under the Hood at MoCCA. Sanderson will discuss the role of the two books within the Watchmen graphic novel from DC Comics.
Executive produced by Zack Snyder, the Director of Watchmen and 300, comes 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 300’s Gerard Butler) brings to strikingly animated life the graphic novels richly layered story-within-a-story, a daring pirate saga whose turbulent events may mirror those in the Watchmen’s world. Stars from the Watchmen movie team in the amazing live-action/CGI Under the Hood, based on Nite Owl’s powerful first-hand account of how the hooded adventurers came into existence.
Peter Sanderson is a comics historian and critic who has taught "Comics as Literature" at New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies. He regularly writes about graphic novels for "Publishers Weekly’s" online "Comics Week and has authored and co-authored numerous books, most recently Marvel Chronicle for DK Publishing. He also co-curated "Stan Lee: A Retrospective" at MoCCA in 2007 and was Marvel Comics first (and only) archivist. He will be teaching a course in comics and film at New York University’s SCPS this summer. Sanderson did his undergraduate and graduate work in English literature at Columbia University, and lives in New York City.
The event will be at MoCCA, Thursday, March 26th, 7pm. Admission is $5, free for MoCCA members.
One of the key differences between watching [[[Watchmen]]] and reading the complete book is the rich variety of extras in print. In addition to the story, there was the secondary story, [[[Tales of the Black Freighter]]], in addition to newspaper clippings and excerpts from Hollis Mason’s [[[Under the Hood]]]. Initially, these extras were never considered but were instead added after DC’s management wisely decided the maxiseries should appear without advertising. Freed, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons filled the pages with rich context, inviting readers further into their imagined universe and making for a more fulfilling reading experience.
Watching Tales of the Black Freighter, available to buy or download on Tuesday, you feel like you’re getting supplemental material divorced from the main story as opposed to being fully integrated with the Zack Snyder-directed feature film. One supposes we must all wait for the director’s cut where at least the Pirate tale will be once more edited in with the main story.
The animated version of the pirate comic book looks nothing like Gibbons’ art (or for that matter, the one page Joe Orlando contributed) but more generic. Having said that, it uses Gerard Butler’s narration to great effect along with a muted color palette. The actual animation is fine as is the music but it’s the haunting story of one man’s survival from the wreck of the [[[Black Freighter]]] (a named plucked from Berthold Brecht) and how this experience has changed him. In many ways, it’s Moore’s contribution to an issue of House of Mystery, but it also shows the kind of escapist literature read by the denizens of a world where Dr. Manhattan exists. The animation runs about 26 minutes and does a nice job overall. You hear Nina Simone’s version of “[[[Pirate Jenny]]]”, also on the soundtrack disc, over the final credits, further tying the pirate to Brecht.
Also on the disc is a mockumentary that delves into how prime time would have featured Under the Hood’s release in 1975 with a retrospective look fro 1985. Many of the Minutemen appear on camera in one way or another, from faux newsreel footage to on camera interviews, and this fleshes out the Watchmen’s world quite well. The interviews, the probing questions, and television advertising of the era (along with some for Veidt-produced products) make for a nifty 38 minutes.
Will your appreciation for Snyder’s film change by watching this? Probably not, but it does help immerse you further into this world and you can appreciate the effort, be entertained, and find more context for the world.
“Story within a Story” is a nice look at these supplemental features as former DC president Jenette Kahn, current DC President & Publisher Paul Levitz, Senior VP Richard Bruning, and initial [[[Watchmen]]] editor Len Wein all talk about the evolution of the backup material and how it became integral to the story. Some of the cast and crew also discuss the movie’s fidelity to the source material and how much fun it was to make.
The disc comes with trailers for the Watchmen, its video game, [[[Terminator: Salvation]]], and the [[[Green Lantern]]] featurette also found on the [[[Wonder Woman]]] disc. You can either get this now or hope it is all included in some mega set down the road.
After years of eager anticipation, the fan community was given a film version of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ classic [[[Watchmen]]] story. DC President & Publisher has noted that after 20 years of attempts to mount this project, the sophistication of special effects and the growth of acceptance among the general audience for the super-heroic fare have come together. After several years of successful comic book adaptations, the mass audience is now ready for a movie that essentially deconstructs the genre. They have a better understanding of the unique vocabulary and storytelling needs of the super-hero story to appreciate what Watchmen attempts to do.
Zack Snyder, having proven adept at translating a graphic novel to the screen with [[]], was perhaps the best possible choice to handle this project. He also recognized the film had to resemble the graphic novel as opposed to various changes suggested by Paramount Pictures and later Warner Bros.
Having said that, the adaptation largely works but is far from perfect. He has so faithfully replicated the dense look and feel of the movie that repeated viewers will be required and that’ll be something to look forward to. On the other hand, his fidelity is so complete that it robs the film of its flow every now and then. One such example is Silk Spectre landing on a burning rooftop and pausing, perfectly capturing Gibbon’s panel but stopping the story when she should be in motion.
Snyder has stripped the film down to its core story: who murdered the Comedian and why? In some ways, that makes it a lesser film for being a simple murder mystery and by evaluating how much screen time each Watchman receives also somewhat telegraphs the murderer’s identity. Gone all many of the touches that made the comic so rich a reading experience, from the [[[Tales of the Black Freighter]]] to the excerpts from Hollis Mason’s [[[Under the Hood]]]. These are necessary trims when considering you’re adapting 400 pages of story for a film. At 2:40 it certainly sounds long but was so riveting that it didn’t feel like it dragged but any longer, to add these touches, may prove problematic. We’ll see when the complete director’s cut is released in the future.
Other trims make sense such as downplaying the first generation of heroes and the man-on-the-street moments that added color to the comic book. Some threads such as the relationship between Rorschach and his prison psychiatrist are trimmed and are missed and the introduction of the New Frontiersmen late in the film robs the film of some of the moral issues at play.
The film is expertly cast from the celebrity impersonators to the main characters since none are that well-known you stop and recall their other parts. Instead, you see them as the Watchmen. Dramatically, Rorschach might be the toughest part since so much of it is done under the mask but Jackie Earle Haley is wonderful and imbues the figure with a sense of calm that belies his total dedication to protecting good from evil.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan clearly loved playing the Comedian. And in watching the film, I came to realize that as immoral as the Comedian is, how despicable his acts are, in every case, he was the only one speaking the unvarnished truth, painful as it is to hear. You can somewhat understand what sort of attraction there is between him and the first Silk Spectre.
On the other hand, Malin Akerman’s second Spectre required more emotional shading in the performance. As my daughter put it, “she’s a hot mess” and you don’t necessarily feel why she falls for Nite Owl. You certainly can see why Patrick Wilson’s Owl is attracted to her, though. While nebbishy in appearance, he’s not the overweight figure poignantly depicted in the book. Their scenes together work well enough and their fight in the prison to free Rorschach may be the best action sequence in the entire film and one of the top super-hero fight sequences of all. They calmly walk through the prison, exploding into action when threatened, but do so with purpose. Nothing is wasted.
The biggest quibble people will have is with the changed ending. How the world is to be denied Armageddon is altered, not the why. My bigger issue has to do with the more dramatic change to Silk Spectre and Nite Owl. There resolution is a departure from the book and not necessarily a better one.
As an adaptation, it’s entertaining and exceptionally well done. As a movie, it should satisfy the mass audience since it has a beginning, middle and an end. There’s action, violence, sex, romance, moral ambivalence and some kickass music. There’s no question you should see this whether you know the source material or not.
How do you exploit a finite series and wring every last licensing dollar out of it? DC Comics has come up with a plethora of nifty brand extensions from the long awaited action figures to the nice art book from Titan Books. But, the most interesting and innovative has to be the Watchmen Complete Motion Comic which has effectively animated the dozen issues, added narration and music, and turned it into something new. This has been available for purchase on line, chiefly through iTunes, but today the complete series is being released in a two-disc DVD set.
Those of us with long enough memories have equated it with the cheaply animated [[[Marvel Super Heroes]]], from Grantray-Lawrence Animation in 1966. Unlike that hodge podge, all the art you see is from Dave Gibbons’ illustrations. He was actively involved with the production and his attention to detail comes through.
One of the biggest advantages to this method is that each panel can now be studied on the big screen. You can check out all the background details, all the little things that Alan Moore had Dave add to scenes to get the message subtly across. This, in some ways, surpasses the Absolute Watchmenfor that enlargement.
Characters walk, wave their arms, move their eyes, and so on. The motion is more fluid than one would expect and the background characters and objects move nicely. The captions and word balloons are retained to give it that “comic book comes to life” feel but director Jake S. Hughes also employs film techniques to change scenes and tosses in some CGI animation for special effects but is judicious with their use.
What you lose, though, is the tightly constructed format which was also done intentionally. The 9-panel grid that Dave employed was as much an element in the maxiseries as was the story. In fact, the [[[Watchmen]]] may well have been one of the first comic books to have been designed from the ground up prior to work beginning on the scripts.
It’s all a tradeoff. Much as I miss the grid, I miss more the excised dialogue which was trimmed, we’re told, in the in interest of time. As a result, this is an adaptation and not a complete retelling of the comic in animated form. Similarly, all the backup material which rounded out each issue is gone. You’ll have to a buy Tales of the Black Freighter on DVD later this month for that pirate tale along with Under the Hood. Of course, you could wait for the mega-version when director Zack Snyder integrates everything into one master story but I digress.
One of the additions, which I found myself enjoying, was the music, scored in a James Horner style. It was moody, low key and totally appropriate to the subject matter. And in a goofy way, I loved that the word balloon tails followed the characters as they moved, always how I imagined things working after reading Who Censored Roger Rabbit?
The vocal work is entirely handled by one voice actor, rather than a complete cast. Tom Stechschulte, a television actor, does a superior job giving life to each character. His female voices were off-putting but he nailed all of the male parts which was quite a challenge.
The extras here are trailers for related product and an extended look at the just-released Wonder Woman animated feature. There are other, cooler, extras on the Blu-ray disc which was not reviewed. Now, is this affordable and worth having? Overall, this was a satisfying experience and helped me refresh myself on the story in time for the movie. You could download each chapter for $1.99 ($24 total) or buy the DVD which retails for $29.98 but obviously will be discounted just about everywhere you look. The kicker, though, is that it comes with a $7.50 coupon to use with purchasing your movie ticket so there is a cost savings to be had.
When Zack Snyder took footage from The Watchmen around the world, he told journalists in every city that the film was clocking in at 2:43 and would like remain in that range. He and his wife Deborah confirmed to Sci Fi Wire that the film is actually getting a tad shorter.
"We’re getting really close," producer Deborah Snyder told the website. "We’re at two hours and 35 minutes."
Director Zack Snyder added: "The movie’s pretty long … compared to 300, which was an hour and 58 minutes. The director’s cut [of Watchmen] is about three hours and 10 minutes long. It has even more than the theatrical version as far as the detail that gets even closer to the graphic novel."
Snyder also said, "The Black Freighter version of the movie that we’re working on — which has the ins and outs of the Black Freighter comic book woven through it, with an animated version of the Black Freighter — will be about three hours and 40 minutes. So there’s a huge epic version of Watchmen, which will probably come out after the movie’s theatrical release, for hardcore [fans]."
The film remains on schedule for its March 6 release.
Fans have long wondered how any director could condense Watchmen into a feature-length film (I always liked the suggestion of doing it as an HBO miniseries), and now director Zack Snyder is feeling that pinch.
The Geek Files blog has a comprehensive entry about Snyder’s difficult editing task. The current length sits at an epic three hours, and this is already after the Black Freighter storyline and other material has been excised into a wholly separate film that will come out as a companion DVD.
[Snyder] added: "I’ve lost perspective on that now, because to me, the honest truth is I geek out on little stuff now as much as anybody. Like, people will go, ‘We’ve got to cut. You don’t need that shot of Hollis Mason’s garage sign.’ And I’m like, ‘What are you talking about? Of course you do. Are you crazy? How will people enjoy the movie without s**t like that in it?’
"And we had Dave Gibbons in there, too, and he would draw on our books, and it was just sick cool.
"And so then you come back from that experience, and you go to the studio, and the studio’s cool, don’t get me wrong, but they don’t love it like we do. Right? It’s like just a movie, like, ‘Oh, we have this movie, Watchmen, and it’s ****ing long.’ Like, ‘What are these superheroes? They look crazy.’ So you have that experience. So for me, right now, I’m in the middle of that."
Snyder has already said he is planning a 4hrs 30mins Director’s Cut DVD edition of the movie. There will also be a companion DVD called Tales of the Black Freighter, based on a background story depicted within the panels of Watchmen.
One of the big looming questions with the Zack Snyder adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen was how they would handle the Black Freighter side story.
Now we have an answer: It’s going straight to DVD, says The New York Times (via Cinematical). For those unfamiliar, the story of the Black Freighter is contained within a comic book that’s being read by a character in Watchmen. It features a man who had been captured by undead pirates and escapes, only to meet an even worse fate.
Instead of filming the Black Freighter story and splicing it into the Watchmen film (as Moore does in the graphic novel), Snyder decided to break it out into a separate film. The Times, which doesn’t usually cover such Hollywood business, uses the news as an example of efforts to drive up DVD sales, which have been stagnant:
The second film, tentatively called “Tales of the Black Freighter,” follows a side “Watchmen” storyline about a shipwreck and will arrive in stores five days after the main movie rolls out in theaters. The DVD will also include a documentary-style film called “Under the Hood” that will delve into the characters’ backstories.
Warner, the No. 1 distributor of DVDs, bills the effort as a way to renew retail excitement for little silver discs now that the once-booming market has matured.
After years of blistering growth, domestic DVD sales fell 3.2 percent last year to $15.9 billion, according to Adams Media Research, the first annual drop in the medium’s history. While it is still a blockbuster business, any decline is cause for concern because DVD sales can account for as much as 70 percent of revenue for a new film. Results for the first quarter this year were mixed, with overall sales flat but notable softness for some new releases like Warner’s box office hit “I Am Legend.”
Tales of the Black Freighter, the story-within-a-story found in the original issues of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, will indeed make it into the film adaptation of the groundbreaking graphic novel.
Actor Gerard Butler (300) confirmed to Empire today that not only will an animated version of Black Freighter be produced for the Watchmen DVD, but he will voice the main character of the tale.
“I actually read the script before reading the comic book and I thought it was awesome,” continued the 38 year-old. “Then I read the comic book and it’s great. The little bits that have been added define it so much more. It’s very dark and there’s just something so descriptive and scary. It’s this descent into madness but explained in such a sane way that you totally feel it yourself. By the end, my heart was pumping!”
According to Butler, the project will use anime-style animation.