Jackie Earle Haley
And to put it lightly, Zack Snyder nails WATCHMEN. He gets it; the story, the genre, the history of the medium and the time in which it was told, and most importantly the subversive nature of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal comic. There were some changes that obviously needed to be made, but Snyder and Alex Tse’s adaptation definitely feels like the Watchmen universe come to life. There’s a sense of background and history to the world that comes through (just look at the incredible opening credits sequence), and is greatly aided by some amazing set design and special effects. There’s the awe of a real-life Dr. Manhattan or the amazement at witnessing the Owlship roar to life, but seeing little things like the street corner where the two Bernies hang out come so faithfully to life was definitely surreal, and luckily the film has the story to back up the great visuals on screen. Snyder also makes some great musical choices that give the film a pop culture sensibility and places it nicely within appropriate eras of society. Others, like the choice of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” during the Nite Owl-Silk Spectre sex scene, are inspired to say the least.
I was apprehensive about the cast when first announced, but for the most part, they all work for me. (Though I wish the old age makeup was a bit more convincing in spots.) Jackie Earle Haley’s Rorschach is pretty much exactly how you picture him in the comics, from the voice to the costume to the all-important hurm. His partner Nite Owl, played by Patrick Wilson, is also almost too perfect. Call me a nerd, but I got chills watching the famous shot of Dan Dreiberg sitting down and cleaning his glasses. On the other hand, Billy Crudup seemed like a left-field choice for Dr. Manhattan, but his calming voice for the character grew on me. (His visual effects, though not always photoreal, looked right for the character.) Jeffery Dean Morgan was perhaps the biggest surprise from me, mainly because I was unfamiliar with the actor prior to this. However, his Comedian keeps the raw, maniacal edge of the character but with a somewhat sympathetic undertone that is felt more than seen. The ladies are all acceptable, though non stand out. For me, Matthew Goode is unfortunately the odd man out. His acting is fine: he just looks way too young for the role to the point where I never bought him as the Smartest Man in the World. [SPOILER] Along those lines, I also thought the ending was a bit too predictable as portrayed in the film. I don’t know if it was Goode’s performance or Snyder’s direction, but even my girlfriend who had no prior experience with Watchmen was able to guess the villain almost immediately. That, along with the near bloodless and squid-less atrocity in the end, somewhat pulled the punch from the story’s conclusion that is so powerful in the graphic novel.
As a total experience, this Ultimate Cut of the movie is pretty much what every fan is looking for. The live action director’s cut of the film feels complete, robust and fittingly epic, and the animated Black Freighter sequences are well done (thanks to growly voicework by Leonidas himself, Gerard Butler.) I will say that the combination of the two was a bit jarring. In the comic, the pirate tale is given room to breathe so the reader can reflect on the thematic connections between the two intertwining stories. In this Ultimate Cut, the Black Freighter portion just doesn’t feel like it naturally fits, randomly popping up every now and then. I can imagine the audience getting antsy to get back to the live action story, especially viewers not familiar with the source material. Then again, this version (and in some ways, the movie as a whole) was not made for them. And we should be thankful for that.
Commentary by director Zack Snyder: As you’d expect Snyder is unbelievably knowledgeable about the universe of the graphic novel and the film and is more importantly obviously still excited to talk about his vision. You get tons of background on pretty much every aspect of WATCHMEN, some colorful stories, and amazingly enough the man is able to go non-stop for pretty much the entire 4 hours with minimal lulls in conversation.
Commentary by “Watchmen” illustrator Dave Gibbons: Gibbons is well respected, and while Alan Moore’s been off doing God knows what, has been the supportive voice of Watchmen as the film was made. Here he discusses the history of the project and his take on the final product (shockingly it’s positive). Unfortunately, he isn’t quite as energetic as Snyder, nor with the stamina to talk for the entire time. It would’ve made more sense and strengthen each of the two commentaries if they were recorded as one. I would’ve also liked more Alan Moore stories too.
Under the Hood: You may have seen this incredible faux-documentary if you picked up the Black Freighter standalone disc last year. It’s an incredibly realistic 70s style news program investigating Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl, and chronicling the superhero craze of that time. The attention to detail is amazing and some of the film’s cast pops up as well. At nearly 40 minutes, this is definitely a must watch.
The Phenomenon: Running almost half an hour, this feature gives the uninitiated a good history of Watchmen as a graphic novel and then as a film. It’s good for beginners, but there’s also plenty for fans to enjoy, including a good interview with the original comic’s publisher.
Real Superheroes, Real Vignettes: This is kind of sappy, but it looks at “superheroes” in the real world, from fantasy crimefighters to actual real life vigilantes making a difference like the Guardian Angels. It’s a half hour, so you might be tempted to fast forward.
Mechanics: Technologies of a Fantastic World: A really interesting, untraditional featurette. James Kakalios is a physics professor famed for his book The Physics of Superheroes. Here he discusses his work on keeping the film grounded in reality. His most fascinating stuff is trying to explain Dr. Manhattan.
Story Within A Story: An in depth look at the relationship between the original graphic novel and the Black Freighter story within. Interviews from the filmmakers and cast convince you of its importance.
Watchmen Video Journals: Remember these 3-5 minute BTS clips that were premiered on a bunch of websites? (I think JoBlo got the costume one.) Here you can watch all 11 at once, offering an interesting but brief look at a variety of things on the filmmakers’ plate.
My Chemical Romance’s “Desolation Row” Music Video: I’m not gonna lie. I dug MCR’s debut album my freshmen year in college, especially since they wrote songs about George Romero and made music videos inspired by Takashi Miike. And though this Bob Dylan cover is thankfully not as goth-emo as some of their later stuff, it still feels unnecessary.
The third disc is a copy of the WATCHMEN: COMPLETE MOTION COMIC (in its original packaging), which was released last year. It’s essentially a sparsely animated audio book version of the original graphic novel, but it’s surprisingly well done and fairly faithful to the comic. (Though it’s a bit strange hearing one man do all the voices, including the women.) With over 5 hours of material here alone, this is a substantial extra.
The fourth disc is the obligatory Digital Copy of the film, in case you’d like to carry Dr. Manhattan’s blue wang with you on your iPod.
Extra Tidbit: Alan Moore snidely disowned this movie without watching it. The man’s a genius but methinks he needs to get laid.