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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Watchmen (The Complete Motion Comic) [Blu-ray]

 

(Jake S. Hughes, 2008)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Cruel & Unusual & Lawrence Gordon/Lloyd Levin

Blu-ray: Warner Home Video

 

Disc:

Region: All

Runtime: 325 min

Chapters: 12

Size: 50 GB

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: March 3, 2009

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: VC-1

 

Audio:

English Dolby TrueHD 5.1; English Dolby Digital 5.1.

 

Subtitles:

English

 

Extras:

• Watchmen Theatrical Video Journal with Dave Gibbons (2:47)

• Sneak Peak at DC Universe's Animated Wonder Woman (10:46)

• Disc 2: Digital Copy

 

 

The Film:

Let's get this 2-disc thing clarified right off: the second disc is a Digital Copy disc. Period. This means the entire 5 and a half hours of feature content is managed on a single dual-layer Blu-ray disc. The question is: To what extent is image and sound compromised? The short answer is: they aren't.

Moving right along. . .

Watchmen is often talked about in comic book dens as one of the great literary works of our time, reflecting as it does contemporary existential angst in the context of a paranoid thriller about the systematic elimination of costumed avenger/vigilantes, with asides about the space/time continuum. Now, that's a mouthful. The original collaborative work was published as a 12-part limited series, created by writer Alan Moore, artist Dave Gibbons and colorist John Higgins between 1986-87. A live action feature film, directed by Zack Snyder (300, Dawn of the Dead) is opening in theatres as I write this.

 

 


The video, over which Dave Gibbons' name appears prominently, is a quasi-animated version of the complete comic: that is, every frame and text ballooned and narrative comment is reproduced, while the camera moves in a kind of Ken Burns fashion through the frame, as parts of images move within those frames: an eyebrow is lifted, a hand raised, a head is turned, someone walks (more or less) toward or away from their original position, a vehicles drives across the frame, a body falls through space. Except for the fact that there is not a great deal of variation to the dynamic rhythm of the movement from frame to frame, nor a compelling sense of an arc in this regard from beginning to end of each chapter (some are more effective than others in this regard), the visuals are truly stunning.

A decision was made, however, to have the entire comic read by a single voice – as if it were you or I reading out loud to ourselves or as if we were being read to by a friend while we were laid up in a hospital. It's not that a Peter Sellers would have brought it off better, but that a single voice isn't really what we hear in our imagination, no matter how well inflected. And it's not just a matter of there are male and female characters for a single voice to deal with. Tom Stechschulte is moderately competent, but he doesn't rally have the chops for this project even given the intent of the restrictions. I found him too entirely self-conscious: as if he wants to make it very clear that he's doing noir now. And there are many scenes where, if it weren't for the direction of the balloons, I wouldn't know which character is speaking. It's simply too much to ask of one actor. On the other hand, Chapter 4 "Watchmaker" – a fascinating episode on its own terms - is ideal for him since it amounts to a monologue.

The Movie: 6
As "Watchmaker" illustrates so deliciously, Watchmen enjoys examining concepts about the space, time, imagination, constraint, possibility, belief and responsibility. All of these are favorite subjects of science fiction, and Watchmen has its own unique way of working them into the plot and the art work. The slow motion fades and pans that characterize this animation are very effective at underscoring intent of the comic.

The time line, then, takes us via an alternate history from the days of the Manhattan Project that gave birth to the A-Bomb and to the retiring superhero who came to known as "Dr. Manhattan" through our involvement in Vietnam and the Nixon presidency through the 1977 law that drove such costumes avengers underground to the then present day of the mid-1980s. It begins closer to the recent end of that time line with the death of Blake, who is soon revealed to be the costumed vigilante known as The Comedian. It seems he was thrown out of his apartment window - not an easily explained event, considering the size and capabilities of such a man. Rorschach's independent investigations into his death lead us through the bramble of the social history of these superheroes (of widely different talents), concentrating on just a handful.

 


 

Image: 9/9
A work of well over five hours on a single dual disc necessarily results in lowish bit rates – here hovering around 11 Mbps. The question is: does the lack of a dynamic grayscale or of movement in general mitigate against what we might expect – namely a loss
of integrity? The question contains the answer, for I see no compromise that a higher bit rate might have overcome. It helped that the Extra Features do not eat up much space and that there's only one uncompressed audio track plus another in DD 5.1, so these don't take a big chunk either. There are a couple of fleeting moments where I thought I noticed some crawling lines as the camera pans across a frame, but they amount to next to nothing of the total experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 7/8
The music score by Lennie Moore deserves special credit, as it perfectly matches mood and narrative. The music and effects are nicely balanced over the 5.1 surround mix, and there are no problems here – except that I would have preferred better acoustical differentiation between spoken dialogue and internal monologue. The sound envelope is accomplished very well here and it effectively draws us in despite and because of Stechschulte's voiceover.

 

 

 

Operations: 7
Chapter One begins immediately after loading and a brief encounter with the Warner Premier logo. Short of an intervention on our behalf, the movie would proceed as if on "Play All." However you can resort to the menu at any time. There's not much to that menu – it is simplicity itself.

 

Extras: 1
A major betrayal here: Nothing at all about the comic or its translation to video. The so-called "video journal" is so brief as to hardly deserve the name and can be summed up in just a few words: "Wow, was I impressed by what Zack did with my comic!" Ditto for the EPK promo of the Wonder Woman movie, where concepts and various artistic manifestations the legendary Amazon are briefly examined. Cast members talk about their characters.

 

 

Bottom line: 6
The visuals and the score are the high points here. The story may or may not grab your attention, but you probably already know where you stand on such material. There are no relevant extra features whatever. So the question comes down to how you feel about Stechschulte.

Leonard Norwitz
March 7th, 2009

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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