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(Director’s Cut)

I originally saw director Zack Snyder’s cinematic adaptation of the celebrated Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons graphic novel WATCHMEN ($36) on a huge IMAX screen and immediately fell in love with the film. Some have complained that the film is far too slavish to its source material, but I see it as one of the film’s greatest strengths… Snyder maintains the integrity of the original graphic novel, while still creating a compelling, and completely unconventional, piece of superhero movie cinema. Although I am sure there are many who will beg do differ, but for my money WATCHMEN is one of the best films of 2009. Not only does Snyder have a total command of the visual aspects required to bring the story of WATCHMEN to life, he has also cast the film with a number of lesser-known actors, who don’t let the weight of their own celebrity distract one from the characters they inhabit on the screen. All of the actors strike the right chord with their characterizations, but I have to give special recognition to Jackie Earle Haley, who makes a tremendous impression throughout the film, even though his face is completely hidden behind a mask most of the time.

For those unfamiliar with the graphic novel, WATCHMEN is set in an alternate reality, circa 1985. In this reality, the USA won the war in Viet Nam, Richard Nixon is still president and "superheroes" have been outlawed. Of course, in this alternate reality, superheroes are nothing more than masked vigilantes, as almost none of them have any actual super powers. However, there is one exception to this rule… Doctor Manhattan (Billy Crudup) is a nearly god-like being who received his powers as the result a nuclear accident, and now serves as the United States ultimate deterrent against Soviet aggression. The story of WATCHMEN opens with the brutal murder of sixty-seven year old Edward Blake (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who, despite his age, puts up one hell of a struggle against an unknown assailant. The subsequent murder investigation by New York City police detectives is shadowed by that of an outlawed costumed vigilante called Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), who has his own reasons for probing into Blake’s death. As it turns out, Blake was once The Comedian, one of afore mentioned "superheroes," who continued to work out of costume, as a sanctioned U.S. government agent against the communist threat.

Believing himself onto a conspiracy to eliminate "superheroes", Rorschach, warns his retired fellow colleagues Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman), Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), as well as Doctor Manhattan of his findings. Although Rorschach’s conspiracy theory is initially written off as a paranoid delusion, circumstances arise that makes it evident that said "superheroes" are being manipulated out of the way of an impending nuclear Armageddon. This realization causes a few of these middle aged costumed adventurers to pick up their now illegal old habits… and try to save the world one last time. The cast of WATCHMEN also features Carla Gugino, Matt Frewer, Stephen McHattie, Laura Mennell, Rob LaBelle, Gary Houston, James M. Connor, Mary Ann Burger, John Shaw and Robert Wisden.

Warner Home Video has made the twenty-four minute longer Director’s Cut WATCHMEN available on Blu-ray Disc in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the VC-1 codec. Seeing WATCHMEN in IMAX was an amazing visual experience and the 1080p presentation on Blu-ray is every bit as good, if not better. WATCHMEN is a movie that makes tremendous use of digital elements, as well as other manipulations that give it a stylized look that helps replicate the flavor of a graphic novel, so what one sees on the screen is never wholly organic. Still, the image is wonderfully sharp, dimensional and produces excellent texturing and fine detail. Colors favor an earthy and slightly desaturated pallet that enhances the "period" setting of this alternate reality. Contrast has a slight push in places, but shadow detail is generally excellent. The elements from which WATCHMEN has been mastered are without flaws. Modest grain is present and creates a filmic quality for the presentation.

WATCHMEN is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack (it is nice to see Warner trying a change of pace with audio codecs on this release). This is an excellent soundtrack, where the subtleties of the sound design make it outstanding, as opposed to the expected bombastic elements. WATCHMEN has an openness and effortless quality that creates totally natural sonic environments, as well as keeping talky passages true to life. Action sequences are aggressively mixed with all of the outlying channel being fully utilized. Sound effects are localized with pinpoint precision and can cleanly pan through the soundstage when required. Fidelity is utterly tremendous, especially where the musical component is concerned. Pop songs are beautifully integrated into the sound design and are rendered with excellent clarity and sense of presence. The bass channel is percussive and shakes the ground whenever required. Voices are cleanly reproduced and the film’s dialogue is always completely understandable. A French 5.1 Dolby Digital 5.1 channel track is also present. Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish.

The interactive menus allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental materials, which have been spread across this set. Disc one features the Immersive Warner Brothers Maximum Movie Mode, that offers viewers an enhanced version of the film hosted by director Zack Snyder, which includes Snyder’s comments, picture-in-picture pop up window that contain scene relevant ancillary programs, as well as panels from the original graphic novel (requires a Profile 1.1 player). Disc two offers the following Featurettes and other programs: The Phenomenon: The Comic That Changed Comics (thirty minutes), Real Super Heroes, Real Vigilantes (twenty-seven minutes) and Mechanics: Technologies Of A Fantastic World (twenty-seven minutes). A Music Video for the song Desolation Row by My Chemical Romance closes out disc two. Disc three provides a Digital Copy of the film.

As I stated above, WATCHMEN is a compelling, and completely unconventional, piece of superhero movie cinema, as well as being one of the best films of 2009. The Blu-ray presentation is as extraordinarily good, as this reviewer believes the film to be. Absolutely recommended.



Watchmen (Director's Cut) (Amazon Digital Bundle + Digital Copy and BD-Live) [Blu-ray] (2009)


DVD & Blu-rayDisc reviews are Copyright © 2009 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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