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WATCHMEN: TALES OF THE BLACK FREIGHTER/UNDER THE HOOD (2009) ***1/2 DVD review by COOP

Posted on April 2nd, 2009
Posted on April 2nd, 2009


Did this “complete my ‘Watchmen’ experience” like the commercial said it would?

No, it didn’t.

It’s told out of context, making it extremely difficult to find the relevancy to the feature “Watchmen” (my review here) film, even for the discerning fan. In fact, anyone not familiar with the graphic novel who picks this up simply won’t understand why an animated “pirate story” is being sold as a companion piece to the film.

I was initially excited about this DVD, but man…  what a lousy time to release this material, three whole weeks after the premiere of the film.  “Under the Hood” shouldn’t be an afterthought of the “Watchmen” experience. I KNOW it appears at the end of the graphic novel, but if anything, “Under the Hood” makes for a very cool introductory documentary to “Watchmen.” If they had released this as a special on TV a week or so before the premiere, they would’ve gotten me so worked up I might’ve chloroformed a WB exec. and impersonated him to get into an even earlier advanced screening.

For those of you who don’t know, “UTH” refers to the memoirs of Hollis Mason (Stephen McHattie), the original Nite Owl from superhero group the Minutemen in the 1940’s which preceded the Watchmen. Hollis trained Dan Dreiberg, Nite Owl II (you see them sharing a beer and talking about the “good old days” at the beginning of the movie). “UTH” takes the form of a 1975, “60 Minutes”-style documentary of an interview with Mason, Sally Jupiter/Silk Spectre I (Carla Gugino), Moloch (Matt Frewer) and other minor “Watchmen” characters talking about the heyday of superheroes and their eventual fall from grace. Even Bernie the newsstand guy, a big character in the graphic novel, gets ample screen time in “UTH.”

Since we get to know Mason in “UTH”, releasing it earlier than the film also would’ve increased the emotional weight of Hollis Mason’s fate in the film. But wait… they cut that part out of the theatrical release. Sigh. At least its inclusion (hopefully) into the DVD Extended Directors Cut will tie up that loose end.

“Tales of the Black Freighter” was NEVER meant to be a distant afterthought of “Watchmen” and marketing it as such does it a great disservice. In the graphic novel, the “Tales of the Black Freighter” is a serialized comic book, read by an African American teen named Bernard who hangs around Bernie’s newsstand (yep, that’s 2 Bernies) while the events of the “Watchmen” story takes place all around him. The story involves the sole-surviving captain of a ship destroyed by the Black Freighter, crewed by a band of ghostly pirates. Marooned on a deserted island and motivated by revenge, the Captain goes through horrifying lengths to return to his port town, where he believes the same pirates who killed his crew have most certainly murdered his family.

One of the most cerebral parts of the graphic novel, “Tales” is an allegory that parallels part of the “Watchmen” story. Many believe it’s the story of Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias and the moral message that results from his actions. Some think it’s Rorschach’s journey. Others think it’s the Comedian. Whatever the case, it’s open to interpretation and one of the most challenging aspects of the opus.

I understand why they excised it from the film. It would’ve been my first cut as well. However, “Tales” doesn’t fully work for me as a companion piece to “Watchmen” if it’s not integrated into the story. Anyone who didn’t read the graphic novel simply won’t get it and will probably feel cheated. Completely separated from any “Watchmen” association, it’s a brilliantly crafted, Melvillian short story. Integrated into “Watchmen” it becomes the think-piece of the story. Used as an afterthought that “Completes the ‘Watchmen’ experience”… It doesn’t make any sense at all.

Again, I understand… It cost a lot of money to make and it’s gotta go somewhere. It wouldn’t be worth the extra effort and money to create if they simply included it in an Extended Special Edition DVD version of “Watchmen.” Although it probably wasn’t ready in time, I would’ve preferred to see it before the film, so I could at least study and ponder it beforehand.

On the plus side, the Korean animation rocks. Gerard Butler was the perfect voice for the Captain and the story filler/additions worked. Gore dripped from every scene and it hits on a visceral level, complimentary to “Watchmen.”

It might’ve helped if the short documentary (included in the Special Features section of the “Tales/UTH” DVD) “Story with a Story: The Books of Watchmen” had been arranged as the preceding introduction to the two shorts. At least it would’ve explained the significance of “Tales” to any clueless viewers before they watched it.

For fans like me who don’t like how the “Tales” DVD/Blu-Ray release went down, think of it this way… If “Watchmen” hadn’t been delayed an extra 6 months due to the Fox lawsuit, I doubt many these extras would’ve been possible. The filmmakers had some time (and I guess some promotional dough) to kick around, so they developed a bunch more content to please the fans. Even those web documentaries on “Dr. Manhattan” and “The Keene Act” rocked, as did the Rorschach ink-blot game on the Watchmen Website.

As it stands, I’m going to recommend “Tales/UTH” to fans only who can’t wait for the Extended DVD. I can’t wait to see it integrated into the feature. I’m afraid a theatrical release of the Extended Cut of “Watchmen” probably won’t happen like the studio/filmmakers were hoping; but either way, I’ll be first in line to buy the DVD.

Until then, I’m going to watch “Watchmen: The Motion Comic” DVD for the full Watchmen experience.

3 and ½ out of 5

-Coop

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