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

Tales of the Black Freighter (Watchmen) [Blu-ray]

(aka "Tales of the Black Freighter & Under the Hood")

 

(Daniel Delpurgatorio & Mike Smith, 2008)

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Warner Premier & Paramount Pictures

Blu-ray: Warner Home Video

 

Disc:

Region: All

Runtime: 26 minutes

Chapters: 1

Size: 50 GB

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: March 24, 2009

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 2.40:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: VC-1

 

Audio:

English Dolby TrueHD 5.1; English Dolby Digital 5.1.

 

Subtitles:

English

 

Extras:

• Story Within a Story: The Books of Watchmen – HD (25:01)

• Watchmen Motion Comics: Episode 1 – in HD (25:31)

• First Look at DC Universe's Animated Green Lantern DVD (10:12)

• Disc 2: Digital Copy

• BD-Live (including:)

• The Why of Watchmen – with Executive Producer & Director Zack Snyder

• The Two Bernies – Additional Footage from the Watchmen movie, not seen in theatres.

 

 

The Film: 9
Warner Home Video has followed up its
"Complete Motion Comic" of Watchmen with what would have served well as a bonus disc to that release: There are two short direct-to-video films of about a half hour each – one animated in widescreen, the other live action in academy ratio of 1.33:1. The first, Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter, is taken from the comic book within the comic book, the one read by the boy huddled by the newsstand and referred to often throughout Chapter 5 of the full length series. It is also the one left out of Zack Snyder's live action movie altogether, and this release intends to redress that omission. Some its producers are familiar (Snyder, Gordon, Levin & Collier), but the direction and art work, though inspired by the comic, is new and different – as I think it should be. Tales of the Black Freighter is an Edgar Allen Poe-like story written by Alex Tse & Zack Snyder, directed by Daniel Delpurgatorio & Mike Smith, with production design by Chris Watts.

The story is narrated by its protagonist, the captain and only survivor of a ship attacked at sea by the killer "Black Freighter." The captain races against time and the elements to reach his home port before the Black Freighter lays waste to it and all its inhabitants, including his wife and daughters. Ironies that reflect similar dynamics in the larger Watchmen story abound. The voiceover is supplied – for all but a few lines – by Gerard Butler. Butler may be only one voice, but he infuses his character with so much soul and substance that Tom Stechschulte's impossible assignment for the complete motion comic seems all the more futile by comparison (a comparison you can make yourself by checking out Chapter 5 "Fearful Symmetry" on the Motion Comic video.)

 


 

Image: 9/10
Given the constraints of a limited gradation of colors, this movie sports some of the best demo material out there for high definition video. Color is always vivid, strong and saturated, with blacks that seem to go down to the bottom of the sea. In the art work as intended one could hardly complain about the predominance of black – in a live action feature, we would call this effect "crushed" but here it is entirely appropriate. The image is, of course, blemish-free and without noticeable artifacts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 8/8
The Dolby TrueHD mix does a great job of bringing effects, music and narration right into your bones. Waves crash, sharks snap and when flesh tears we cringe. The ghostly crew of the Black Freighter swarms all around us. I like that the music becomes more enveloping as the story moves forward.

 

Operations: 6
Something I've noticed more often of late is the automatic return to the Extra Features page when I expected to be returned to the Main Menu. This wouldn't be a problem except that one can't get to the "other" movie from that page. First you have to play the movie you left, then go the main menu, then to the other feature. Grrrr.

 

Extras: 3
My Press Release says: "Story Within a Story: The Books of Watchmen: How Tales of the Black Freighter and Under the Hood Connect to and Expand the World of Watchmen, with a unique analogy to the character arc of Adrian Veidt/Ozmandias." I'm not entirely sure what is meant by the "unique analogy" reference, but the bonus feature is particularly useful in its explanation of how "Tales of the Black Freighter" fits into and reflects in its way the Watchmen comic series.

 

 


The "First Look at DC Universe's Animated Green Lantern DVD" is a serious misdirection since there is no footage whatever of the animation nor any reference I can remember of the DVD – and since a Blu-ray is planned as well . . . you see my problem. What this segment (the very same as appeared on the Wonder Woman Blu-ray a couple weeks ago) does is to look at some of the production considerations in the context of the history of pop culture representations of the legendary amazon.

 

 

Under the Hood [Blu-ray]

(Eric Matthies, 2008)

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Warner Premier & Paramount Pictures

Blu-ray: Warner Home Video

 

Disc:

Region: All

Runtime: 38 minutes

Chapters: 6

Size: 50 GB

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: March 24, 2009

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.33:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: VC-1

 

Audio:

English Dolby TrueHD 5.1; English Dolby Digital 5.1.

 

Subtitles:

English

 

Extras:

• (same as for Tales of the Black Freighter)

 

 

The Film: 7

The second movie is a different sort of animal altogether: Think of it as a faux-documentary about the origins of the costumed avengers – and a bloody clever one at that. The entire film is a fictional TV magazine segment with Larry Culpeper (Ted Friend) interviewing Hollis Mason (Stephen McHattie) about his then new best-seller "Under the Hood" – a tell-all, or nearly, about the early days when he first decided to become "Nite Owl." Included in the show are archive interviews, most extensively with Sally Jupiter, aka Silk Spectre (Carla Gugino – looking so much like Barbara Britton, the heart aches) and a considerable amount of footage of the other "Minutemen" later called "Watchmen." Both Gugino and McHattie play the same characters in Zack Snyder's movie. The parody is kept close to the chest, not quite reaching the heights – or depths – of This is Spinal Tap.

 


 

Image: 3/4
For all the good it does, Under the Hood is presented in 1080p high definition. The image is unapologetically weak to start with and gets worse in the faux-archival footage and B&W and color stills sprinkled throughout. Much of the contrast is very dull. Color, except for the face-to-face interview bits, are seriously washed out, as intended, I'm quite sure. There is evidence on the Story Within a Story bonus feature of footage apparently from the identical setup as used for Under the Hood where color, brightness and contrast all seem reasonable. It puzzles me that a movie that is as smart as this feels the need to diminish the image quality in what appears to be an attempt to give it archive TV credentials. In fact, TV broadcast in the 1970s never looked this bad, nor did archive material once kinescope gave way to videotape a couple decades earlier.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 5/7
Nothing remarkable here, as befits the story and faux-broadcast content. Dialogue is clear and the music occasionally swells disproportionately.

 

 

 

 

Extras: 3
Same as above.

 

 

 

Bottom line: 8
Despite the strangely compromised image for Under the Hood and the skimpy extra features, I recommend this disc for several reasons: Both movies flesh out the Watchmen saga, each in its own and very different way. Tales of the Black Freighter is a dynamite looking picture, a superb and grisly short story in its own right, and superbly narrated by Gerard Butler. Under the Hood makes more sense if you're already acquainted with the comic or the movie. For devotees of Watchmen this Blu-ray is a must-have.

 

Leonard Norwitz
March 12th, 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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