Tag Archive: watchmen

Originally Published: April 21, 2009, on 1050ESPN.com (now ESPNNewYork.com) and Lundberg.me

Watchmen is easily one of the most influential comics to ever be published. This is a fact that cannot be disputed even by the staunchest of critics of the comics. One of the things that made it great were the addendums at the end of each chapter to flesh out the characters of this fictional Earth and their society’s problems. It was also one of the reasons why many speculated it would be impossible to make it into a movie.

Well, here we are two months after the motion picture’s release without any of the addendums included and many, myself included, thought it was spectacular.

However, many diehards of the franchise were furious that Zack Snyder couldn’t find a way to fit in several of the addendums and many newcomers to the series couldn’t understand every facet of the Watchmen reality without them.

In response to their fans and in a stroke of money-making genius, DC has released an animated feature of Tales of the Black Freighter with the DVD including a live-action feature representing the Under the Hood addendum.

This DVD addendum to the movie (that started as addendums to the novel) is a near-perfect representation of these stories within the story.

The first story, Tales of the Black Freighter, is the response to the comic’s quandary: “If there are superheroes in real-life for these people, what would their comics be like?” Not a common thought when developing a plot, but that’s part of the beauty of Watchmen. The answer to this question was pirates and the supernatural (ghouls, demons, etc.) would populate the pages of these fictional rags.

Tales of the Black Freighter
is a mirror for the story of Watchmen as it shows in a microcosm that sometimes the best of intentions don’t always have the best of results and that sometimes one’s focus on the worst aspects of life can blind them from everything good in the world.

The Black Freighter is a ship of ghoulish pirates who have committed so many heinous acts over their lifetimes that their souls are cursed to sail the seven seas on hell’s personal sea vessel in search of more damned souls to hoist her rotten masts. A testament to just how hard it is to find good help these days.

The particular tale in Watchmen that we see is how the Black Freighter attacks and ransacks another pirate ship, and how all the crew is slaughtered except the captain. The captain washes up on a desolate shore with the carcasses of his crew and the sole intention of seeing his family again. He also fears that the Black Freighter will sail towards his home and the very threat of his family being in danger is enough to keep his resolve strong.

In desperation, he strings up the carcasses of his crew into a makeshift raft and sets off in the hopes of reaching his family before the Black Freighter. Alone, hungry, and left to drink seawater, he begins to go mad, talking to his slaughtered friends’ dead bodies. Disgusting sights begin to drive him further into madness as gases trapped in his crews bodies begins to make them explode and leave a trail of blood in their wake that attracts the seas’ most feared predator: the Great White Shark.

With pieces of sharpened parts of his makeshift raft, he stabs one of the sharks in the eye and jams the staff deep into the cranium of the shark, killing it, adding it to his raft of death and scaring off the remaining sharks.

After nearly losing all hope and preparing to succumb to the sea, the raft finds shore. Convinced that the Black Freighter has reached here before him, the captain believes with every fiber of his being that all the shapes draped by shadows by the night sky are actually pirates laughing at his futile efforts.

He skulks through the town, approaching his home, the longing to see his family all that is keeping him going. The night continues to play tricks on him as he beats to death what he believes to be a sentry positioned at his home, only to come to his senses after his daughters’ shrill screams piece the night air and to realize he just beat his own wife to death. In his panic, he runs back to the sea where he sees the Black Freighter waiting for him, ready to finally claim its next soul.

The captain was so blind to his hate of the Freighter and that it would hurt his family, that in the end, the captain was the only one to do the harm as he condemns himself to an eternity of sailing the seven seas as a member of the Black Freighter’s crew with one misguided act.

The animated version of this on the DVD perfectly depicted the gruesome fates of the captain and his crew from the original story and Gerard Butler (300) played the voice of the narrator/captain very well, but I couldn’t help but want to hear him yell “THIS IS SPARTA!” or more appropriately “THIS IS THE BLACK FREIGHTER!” the entire time.

The other story is much simpler. Under the Hood is an autobiographical story revolving around the original Nite Owl and his driving motivations showing why he put on a mask and fought with the Minutemen. Not as deep a part of the universe’s main plot, yet still critical nonetheless because it retells almost the entire back-story to the Watchmen‘s world and sets the stage for the events taking place in the novel itself.

DC knew that an autobiography with no pictures clearly wouldn’t work on a DVD though. In order to counteract this problem, Under the Hood was turned into a magazine news program episode. Similar to 60 Minutes, The Culpeper Minute gets all the minor and past characters of Watchmen to come out and tell their story as if a Mike-Wallace-type was interviewing them.

All the actors who took the extra time to make this half hour mini-feature were great and showed how in-depth they got into their characters while explaining a lot of the key details that the main feature movie had to bypass to keep it less than three hours.

This supplemental DVD for the movie Watchmen is really high in quality and succeeds in filling in several of the gaps from the main feature’s plot, but considering both mini-features combined barely mark an hour, it is tough to say this is worth $20 (even with the sneak peak at this summer’s animated Green Lantern feature included).

Unless you are a die-hard fan of the Watchmen, then you can probably pass on this DVD and wait till it is included with the Director’s Cut Special Edition of the Watchmen DVD for a much smaller price. Rumor has it that these features will be worked in at key parts of the movie’s story just like in the book, which would make the Director’s Cut a much smarter buy for the die-hard fan than this DVD if they can wait a couple more months.

Good quality for poor quantity at an even worse price makes the Tales of the Black Freighter DVD only worth 2 out of 5.

-Ray Carsillo

Originally Published: March 8, 2009, on 1050ESPN.com (ESPNNewYork.com)and Lundberg.me

Mine isn’t the most original title, but when talking about DC’s Watchmen, no other title fits. What many experts considered impossible to bring to the big screen, visionary director Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead, 300) grabbed by the horns and wrestled into a masterpiece worthy of the novel. To describe this as anything less than a labor of love would take away from the awe-inspiring brilliance ripped straight from one of TIME Magazines 100 Best Novels of All-Time.

The story is simple. Imagine an alternate universe America circa 1985. Superheroes have been outlawed for almost a decade, after a half century of service to their nation and to the world, due to a public outcry from events perpetrated in Vietnam. One of those now retired former heroes, the very definition of an anti-hero named the Comedian, is brutally murdered in his penthouse apartment and a set of events is set in motion that will bring some of the world’s best and brightest heroes together to unearth one of the most shocking conspiracies ever concocted.

Many felt this movie would be impossible to make because you would not be able to include a lot of the writing devices used in the novel and still keep it under three hours. The first and possibly greatest difficulty in bringing Watchmen to the big screen would be being able to still develop the amazingly complex main characters to their full effect without the ancillary characters and chapter addendum devices used throughout the novel.

The novel gave convoluted psychological profiles from everyone from the man selling newspapers on the corner to Dr. Manhattan’s former lover to the prison psychologist that has to analyze Rorschach when he gets taken into custody to help flesh out major plot points and character flaws in the heroes. The novel also had special addendums at the end of each chapter like excerpts from novels within the novel, shipping manuscripts, and other items that only make sense in the novel’s thrilling conclusion. So would the movie still be able to portray the main characters’ full spectrum of personality without these additional materials that could never be included in the movie?

The short answer is yes. The movie develops the main characters just as deeply as in the novel and compensates by keeping most major points from the original story and adding a handful of subtle moments to make up for the lack of these additional writing devices. This, along with some spectacular acting that made it feel like the characters had jumped right off the page, did pure justice to the characters of Watchmen.

Another problem that arose from the lack of extra writing devices was that without the ancillary characters and chapter addendums, the original story’s ending would not make sense. Even though Zack Snyder did his best to be as true to the original novel as possible, several major plot points had to be tweaked or removed in order to make more sense and appeal to a larger audience, especially the ending. Some would argue that the movie’s ending might have been better than the novel’s because it more directly related to the main characters, but that is clearly up for debate. Still, for the most part, the movie of Watchmen is ripped straight from the novel’s pages and it feels like the comic had come to life.

Another amazing aspect of the movie was the artistic style. From the perfectly emulated streets of the run-down 1985 New York City in the novel, to the colorful costumes and devices used by the characters, to the music choices made through many of the scenes from Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’ to Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of All Along the Watchtower. Every visual and audio choice made by Snyder fit perfectly with the style of the novel and the music added so much more to the scenes than you could’ve hoped for.

There are only a couple of major critiques to this movie. I’m all for sex and violence in movies, but one major hang-up, especially amongst die-hard purists of the novel, is that Zack Snyder likes to step up the sensationalism in most of his movies and some of the gore and sex scenes were so amped up by Snyder’s style that you felt some of the movie could have been at NC-17 levels. I know that Dr. Manhattan was naked most of the time in the novel, but it is a little different when you see a blue-man group reject naked on the big screen for almost three hours. Combine that with 10-minute long sex scenes and people being torn to shreds when they aren’t having relations; it was all just too unnecessary.

Another major critique was that if you did not read the novel, you might not have understood or been able to follow as clearly everything that was going on. The plot is very complicated and even with the movie timing out at 2 hours and 43 minutes there are still some things you wish they could have expanded on to help the general audience. For example, if you did not read the novel, you’ll have no clue as to why Ozymandias has a blue tiger as his pet in his Antarctic fortress. Without being explained in the movie, I could see how something like a blue tiger could bother people. I guess we’ll just have to grab the 3 hour and 10 minute Director’s cut when it comes out on DVD. Oh, those tricky marketing and merchandising departments.

In the end, this is not a movie that you can just check your brain at the door. If you have not read the novel (highly recommended before seeing the movie) and miss a moment here and there, you could very likely not understand some of the major plot points. So, be prepared if you’re going to the theatre. Be sure to go to the bathroom, get your snacks beforehand, and get comfortable because if you miss any of the near three hours, the entire experience will likely be markedly worse. For this reason, along with the clearly unnecessary gore and sex, I have to dock my score some.

Watchmen gets 3.5 out of 5.

-Ray Carsillo