Warner Bros. // 2009 // 325 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // March 3rd, 2009
The graphic novel comes to life, page by page.
As a so-called Marvel Zombie growing up, the depth of my comic book knowledge rarely extended beyond the walls of the house that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby built. Sure, I was a Saturday morning Superfriends junkie and watched reruns of the Adam West Batman and George Reeves Superman series after school, but I was missing out on some dark and dangerous stories being told by the Distinguished Competition (DC). It wasn't until I got to college that I ventured into the world of Alan Moore, the legendary Rasputin-esque master of the macabre. From Swamp Thing and Captain Britain, to V for Vendetta and The Dark Knight Returns, I devoured every twisted word, riding this roller coaster of mind-bending tales while eagerly anticipating the next. For some reason, I saved Watchmen until everything else had been read. Having heard so much about this series, I wanted to wait until the time was right. That moment arrived late one night, six years after the limited series had been published. I was not disappointed.
This was the tale which every comic book geek said could never be brought to the big screen. The size and scope of its story and the dark pathos of its characters would be reduced to ridiculousness, in the hands of any mainstream writers and directors. What's more, creator Alan Moore wanted no part of it. Many tried their hands at the project -- Sam Hamm, Terry Gilliam, Charles McKeown, David Hayter, Darren Aranofsky, Paul Greengrass -- and all of them failed. Yet despite it's seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Zack Snyder marshaled on, eliciting the assistance of Alex Tse to rework Hayter's screenplay. Despite an 11th hour cash grab lawsuit by Twentieth Century Fox to halt the film's release, Snyder and Warner Bros. have accomplished what most felt was impossible. Whether it lives up to the source material from which it sprang will be left to the fans, critics, and scholars of the ages to discuss and debate. However it turns out, the book stands on its own as a testament to the creative genius of Alan Moore, artists Dave Gibbons and John Higgins, and editor Len Wein. And for those with no exposure to the original, Warner Bros. gives us Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic on DVD and Blu-ray.
It's an ingenious idea, really; taking Gibbons and Higgins artwork and breathing life into it. There's a depth and humanity here I never expected to experience, and the fluidity of it all is remarkable. We see foreground and background action, special effects, and character interactions once only created by the mind filling gaps between the printed panels. There are no distracting mouth movements, ala Robot Chicken or Clutch Cargo, and rarely do you find yourself taken out of the action by a poor visual choice. Instead, we are thrust into the heart of Alan Moore's disenfranchised world of humanity on the brink of self-destruction.
Where the motion comic fails however is in the narration. Tom Stechschulte does an admirable job establishing distinct voices for several of the principal characters -- Rorschach, Doctor Manhattan, The Comedian, and Daniel (Nite Owl II) -- but the female characters are his downfall. Tom tries, but each appearance of Laurie, her mother, or any supporting females further punctuate the mistake of having one person tackle this project alone. I understand it's very much a visual representation of an audiobook, but there are far too many personalities for even the best voiceover artist. Enlisting the help of one female actor could have knocked this project out of the park. Instead, we're left with a great idea that settles for an extra base hit on execution.
Fans of the original book may prefer not to indulge, holding onto their own inner interpretations of these characters, and that's perfectly understandable. And while they may not have all lived up to my expectations, I appreciate the effort the creative team brought to the Motion Comic.
Presented in crystal clear 1.85:1 1080p native widescreen, John Higgins alternate color palate pops off the screen. While not as crisp as the printed imagery I kept next to me as reference, much of the softening is due to the enlargement of the original small panel art. The creative team has also employed lighting effects, enhancing the story with ambience and mood, while making the pages seem harsh in comparison. The TrueHD 5.1 track is also fantastic, not for Tom's voiceover narration, but for the magnificent scoring of Lennie Moore. Warner Bros. would be wise to release a soundtrack CD of the project, because the music is brilliant, packing an emotional punch all its own.
One wouldn't expect much in the way of bonus materials, but Warner Marketing does throw in one of Zack Snyder's video diaries focusing on artist Dave Gibbons; a BD-Live scene from the feature film (Rorschach's prison break); $7.50 worth of movie money to the defer the price of the box office ticket; promotional pieces for the fully animated Tales of the Black Freighter and DC's Wonder Woman direct-to-DVD animated film; plus a digital copy of the project for your laptop or iPod. Not sure why you'd want to cart around this massive file, but it's there if you want it. If you don't already have a BD-Live user account with Warner Bros. you'll have to jump through the hoops of setting one up, but the good news is it's considerably less painful than Disney's registration process.
Those looking for a Watchmen primer to prepare for the feature film, who prefer not to indulge the graphic novel, will find this a wonderful alternative. It's still a near six hour investment of your time, but provides a wealth of detail on these characters, their lives, and their present circumstances, much of which is sure to be left out of or reinterpreted by Snyder's live-action adaptation. You won't get the Nova Express, New Frontiersman, Veidt memos, Under the Hood excerpts, and other supporting materials found in its printed form, but there's more than enough of Moore and Gibbons world to satiate the uninitiated.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? I do. Not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2009 Michael Stailey; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Digital Copy
* IMDb: Watchmen (live action)
* Wikipedia: Watchmen (the limited series)