Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tales of the Black Freighter DVD review

When Zack Snyder's Watchmen released earlier this month, there was a notable exclusion from the film adaptation: Tales of the Black Freighter, a comic book within the Watchmen universe that parallels particular events of the comic's story.

However, due to budget reasons, and at the risk of having too long of a theatrical film, this aspect of the book was removed from the film, instead opting for this stand-alone DVD (and Blu-ray) release. Also with Tales of the Black Freighter is another aspect of the graphic novel excluded in Watchmen's theatrical release: Under the Hood, which is Hollis Mason's book that tells of his times as Nite Owl.

Tales of the Black Freighter
Despite being the "main feature" of this disc, Tales of the Black Freighter is actually the short of the two segments, having a run time of only 26 minutes. Now, while that may sound short, viewers should take note that what you're watching is based of a part of the graphic novel that only appears every so often, and for only a few panels. So, if roughly three quarters of a 400+ page graphic novel translates into a 2.7 hour movie ... you see where I'm going with this? There's only so much that could be adapted before the animated film becomes much more than what the original book intended.

As for the film itself though? It more or less adapts the frames from Watchmen directly, however, a lot of the dialogue is reworded, and the colorful palette from the book is disregarded, opting for an overly dark, red palette instead. Stylistically though, I can see how the designers aimed for a very "comic-like" style, but to me it looked very Æon Flux-ish, a style I never really got into. But it's not all bad, Gerard Butler's voice is quite fitting for the unnamed Sea Captain, and by itself, Tales of the Black Freighter is a nice animated film if you're in the mood for brutal violence and gore, with a nice touch of hallucination. Though, from a personal stand-point, I don't think the animated film really stands up on its own without the support of the actual Watchmen universe, and really should have been kept in the actual movie.

Under the Hood
While it's not the focus of the DVD, Under the Hood outlasts Tales of the Black Freighter, running at 38 minutes. While the original version in the Watchmen book was entirely text based, this version of Under the Hood is a mockumentary, taking place in an episode of a fictional 1985 TV show, "The Culpeper Minute," which looks back at 1975 interviews with Hollis Mason/Nite Owl (Stephan McHattie), Sally Jupiter/Silk Spectre (Carla Gugino), and other "old" characters from the Watchmen film reprising their roles.

The film is set in a 4:3 aspect ratio, as opposed to Black Freighter's 16:9, in order to authenticate it's 1985/75 look; film grain and scratches are also added to "earlier" footage to further the effect. Personally, I found Under the Hood to be more enjoyable then the Black Freighter, mainly because it actually can stand on its own. The interviews gave a much deeper look into the characters that the Watchmen movie didn't give much focus on, and offers more history than what was given; as was the purpose of the text in the original graphic novel. I also liked how they utilized real DC Comics as inspiration for Hollis Mason, showing issues of Superman, All-Star Comics, and the Blue Beetle (the actual inspiration for the Nite Owl character). Another nice touch, and more or less a comic releif, were the comercial breaks during the "show", to really push that "old" feel. While, much like the film, many viewers may find themselves bored by this; but if you left the theatre wanting more, this may be your best bet till the Watchmen DVD releases

The main extra on the DVD is "Story Within a Story: The Books of Watchmen," which is a 25 minute featurette with the cast and crew of Watchmen, as well as DC Comics staff, discussing the importance of both Tales of the Black Freighter and Under the Hood, in not just the contect of the book, but with the film as well. It's quite the informative piece, and in a sense, may actually have been better to watch before seeing the film and/or the films on the DVD, if only for those who haven't actually read the book to have a good idea as to what they're getting into ... without actually reading. What I loved especially though, was that during the featurette, there were some clips from the film set showing the two Bernards as well as Hollis Mason's murder, two aspects of the book that were excluded from the theatrical release (and mentioned so in my review) that I at least have the comfort of now knowing were actually filmed.

Also included is the first chapter of the Watchmen Motion Comic, which I actually got for free a while back; and is now available on DVD/Blu-ray. And also included is the first look at Green Lantern: First Flight, which was already included on the Wonder Woman DVD, and is readily available online. So in terms of special features, this disc is pretty lacking in new content, which is a shame. The Blu-ray edition includes the same features, as well as two BD-Live exclusive features, which in my opinion have no reason to be BD-Live as they're not interactive content, and just seemingly a way for Warner Bros. to cheapen production costs by not printing it on the discs. And another gripe, the Digital Copy is Windows only, which makes no sense when the Digital Copy for Wonder Woman was PC/Mac accessible.

Final Thoughts
If you're a fan of Watchmen, both the book and the film, then chances are you'll have already picked this up. But for those who have only seen the film, but wished to get more out of the experience, this DVD will be your best chance at getting a deeper experience, without actually reading. But, buyers be warned, Zack Snyder has said it more than once that Tales of the Black Freighter would be incorporated into a Watchmen Director's Cut, and that fact alone may turn some people off from buying this now. But, nothing yet has been said about Under the Hood's fate, so if anything, you should check Tales of the Black Freighter out just for that.

Overall Score: 8/10

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