The following review was originally written for the theatrical release of "Watchmen." I share my thoughts on this new director's cut as well as address fans of the comic later in my review.
I'll spare the standard background info, because chances are, at this point, you are either a "Watchmen" fan or have an idea of the origin of "Watchmen." That being said, I'll answer the question that springs to mind first: Is "Watchmen" a perfect adaptation of the original graphic novel? Hell no. However, if you were to ask, "Is 'Watchmen' the best adaptation will ever get from a feature length film," I would have to say, "pretty much." Love him or hate him, Zack Snyder has done his best to make the "Watchman" a watchable, sub-three hour film, and after having seen it twice, I really appreciate what he has done.
The film manages to try and compress twelve, dense issues of the original comic series into less than three hours of screen time and obviously, changes had to be made. This is where, sadly, "Watchmen" will fail to entertain the masses. As I sat in the theater for the first time, I would think, "so, he cut that part," but the story still made perfect sense; however, to the average viewer who hasn't read the graphic novel like myself, these minor cuts create plot holes and short change the characters, which are the heart of the film. These characters are brought to life with varying levels of success, the best being Jackie Earle Haley's performance as Rorschach and Jeffrey Dean Morgan's brief, but incredibly crucial role as Edward Blake, The Comedian.
As much as Rorschach was the last beacon of justice in the world of "Watchmen," Jackie Earle Haley's performance is the heart and soul of this film. He becomes Rorschach, much like Heath Ledger became The Joker in last year's "Dark Knight." He transforms himself from the seemingly quiet, mellow spoken, man he comes across in interviews and other films, into an incorruptible, menacing, symbol of vigilante justice, with a voice of a demon. Rorschach's voice is a large part of his character, as the character is a masked hero, and the vocal work Haley does, despite being largely without emotional inflection is fantastic. It's difficult to discuss Haley's role too much without going into spoiler territory, but midway through the film and towards the end, his performance shines the brightest. He brings the necessary emotional depth to the character and his acting ability is incredibly underrated. I dare say, in terms of comic book character performances, he is as good, if not better than Heath Ledger's "Joker" and is entirely deserving of a Best Supporting Actor nomination.
Unfortunately, the axe seems to have fallen on a few scenes providing more insight into the character of Rorschach, and the average viewer might not find him as fully a fleshed out character as I did. I sincerely hope these scenes were filmed and Snyder reinserts them into his now confirmed 3-3.5hr directors cut on DVD
The other performance that stands out, as mentioned above, belongs to Jeffrey Dean Morgan. He nails the almost impossible feat of making The Comedian a sympathetic character, despite his amoral behavior. Morgan brings physical credibility to the character as well, which completes the transformation. Despite his short screen-time, Morgan is the second most memorable part of the film for more than one reason. However, the majority of the film doesn't revolve so much around these two characters, as it does The Nite Owl, Dan Dreiberg, and Silk Spectre II, Laurie Juspeczyk.
Played by Patrick Wilson and Malin Akerman, respectively, these performances are more of a mixed bag. Wilson is for the most part, fine as Dreiberg, but some critical character changes leave portions of the film feeling awkward and unnatural. Akerman is not nearly as bad as I feared. Her performance is far from great (a few lines fall as flat and unemotional as Rorschach), but she strikes me as naturally charming. The biggest complaints I have about her performance could once again be partially caused by character changes.
The final two characters are that of the mysterious Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) and Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup). Goode, is, pardon the pun, quite good in the role. Again, his character underwent artistic and story changes from the source material, but the end result is very satisfying. He is suave, sophisticated, and credible as the world's smartest and strongest man. Crudup's performance as Dr. Manhattan was a bit of a shock. First and foremost, is the mellow tone of the vocal performance. I had always envisioned Dr. Manhattan having an otherworldly, godlike voice, but Crudup brings the humanity needed to the character. He walks the fine line of struggling to keep a connection to the human race, while at the same time understanding every aspect of the known universe. It's a bizarre concept on paper, but the film's adaptation of Manhattan's origin, along with his concept of time is one of the highlights of the film.
Performances aside, visually the film is stunning. Snyder has a great eye for style and has captured the visual essence of the graphic novel and tweaked it for more believability, most notably in the costumes of Nite Owl, Silk Spectre II, and Ozymandias. I had heard back when the first trailer came out that Ozymandias' costume was a jab at the Schumacher Batman costumes, while Nite Owl's was more representative of a more practical Batman. I definitely see the comparison, and it fits the personality of the characters as well.
I've already made mention of character and story changes and as I first pointed out, this is where, as a mass appeal film, "Watchmen" doesn't cut it. The first two acts of the film feel well paced and despite cuts, for the most part, very coherent. The third act, is incredibly rushed and it's here where story omissions and character changes take their toll. Snyder takes the time to introduce a pivotal character from the graphic novel in the first act, but neglects to follow up on the character in the third act, which dramatically alters actions of characters. These little changes are what bothered me most, big changes, such as the ending (which has been dramatically altered in execution from the graphic novel, but the theme has not been lost) actually sat well with me. I have a hard time wondering why Snyder chose to excise the pieces he did, but then leaves utterly incomprehensible stuff in like Bubastis (Ozymandias' odd pet), who has no bearing on the story and is nothing more than fan service; the first time I saw the film, I audibly heard more than a few confused murmurs from people in the audience who had no clue as to what they were seeing.
The most inappropriate additions are some scenes of truly sadistic violence involving Dr. Manhattan's ability to vaporize bodies and an ultra-violent extended fight scene involving Nite Owl and Silk Spectre against a gang. This scene was in the graphic novel, but was fairly brief. Snyder extends it out to a few minutes to show us bones being pushed through arms in slow motion, taking precious time away from the little character moments that made the graphic novel so great. The most ridiculous addition/change by Snyder is a slow-motion sex scene set to Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." It's a pure exercise in excess and the choice of music makes it unintentionally funny.
As much as the changes bugged me, I still think the film is a successful adaptation, but one aimed only at fans of the source material. There isn't another director alive, who could have, in the same runtime, delivered a more dramatically complete adaptation. For the average filmgoer, "Watchmen" may be a mixed bag; some will enjoy it purely for the visual treat it is, others will appreciate the story and be able to look past the plot holes, but others will just feel they have wasted more than two and a half hours of their lives. If you know what you're getting into though, I don't think you'll be terribly disappointed. My one hope is Snyder's extended cut restores some critical character and story moments. I can think of three specific additions to the film as it stands now, that would have made it a much more, accessible film to the average viewer.
The Director's Cut:
First and foremost, the director's cut of "Watchmen" doesn't begin to change the film like the extended editions of the "Lord of the Rings" did. Zack Snyder has added back in 24 minutes of additional footage and despite the running time now exceeding the three-hour mark, nothing seems unnecessary. A lot of the changes involve the reinsertion of missing dialogue from the comics. It helps flesh out the story just a little bit more and will definitely please fans of the comics. The most substantial additions involve the character of Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl. The theatrical edition sadly reduced him to more or less a cameo appearance and his importance was lost on non-fans.
The question still remains though, is the Directors Cut a better movie? Yes, but not substantially so that it would elevate its overall rating. I would say between the theatrical cut and this new cut, I can't see myself ever wanting to see the theatrical cut again.
***SPOILER WARNING*** THE FOLLOWING SECTION IS AIMED AT FANS OF THE COMICS AND CONTAINS DETAILED SPOILERS.
As a long time fan of the original series, "Watchmen" comes across as both a labor of love and testament to the fact that some things are impossible to adapt for the screen perfectly. I had seen the theatrical cut of the film three times in theaters and felt very frustrated that certain small details had been left out. In between the time the move had left theaters and arrived now on DVD, I sat down and re-read the graphic novel. In doing so, I gained a greater appreciation for what Snyder had done and realized compared to many comic book movies, he had remained as faithful as he could without sacrificing a chance at making a profit Needless to say, revisiting the movie for a fourth time in this newly expanded edition was a much more enjoyable experience than my third viewing in the theater.
For non-fans, Snyder's additions won't mean much, but Jon's line of "You're going to tell me you have been having an affair with Dan," is a tremendously important small detail that is gladly welcomed back. However, as I mentioned above, the biggest addition, more Hollis Mason, is one that helped ease the sting of other cuts that from a practical sense would have taken too much time to portray on screen (i.e. the origin of Rorschach's mask and Bubastis (I still believe he should have been omitted entirely)). Hollis Mason gets a few more lines in during his conversations with Dan, but the reinsertion of his death is perhaps the film's most powerful scene. It is beautiful and saddening at the same time and Snyder's choice of score brilliantly evokes the idea of a once great superstar, trying to still prove he has the goods.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is far better than I expected after some very disappointing big-budget releases from Warner Brothers recently. The 186-minute directors cut is presented on one-disc, but is thankfully free from compression artifacts. Light edge-enhancement can be found under close scrutiny, but aside from a slightly soft look, this is a fine transfer with good color reproduction (very evident during the Crimebusters flashback, the colorful costumes standout from the dark, wood interior of the building the heroes are in).
"Watchmen" features an English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track as well as a French 5.1 track. The audio is a solid, engrossing experience, with great use of surrounds. The effect of Dr. Manhattan's teleportation aurally radiates outwards from front to back, and Rorschach's gravely, hard-boiled voice is reproduced pitch perfect. English subtitles for the hearing impaired are also included.
The extras on this release are slim, but substantial. The second disc contains a nearly 30 minute featurette on the series titled "The Phenomenon." It's a talking-heads piece, but not the self-congratulatory style that you might expect. Cast and crew talk about their involvement with the film and thoughts towards the original graphic novel. The most interesting aspect involves interviews with the publisher who brought originally helped make the Watchmen a reality on the printed page over two decades ago, as well as co-creator and artist Dave Gibbons. It's a great primer for those unfamiliar with the original series.
"Watchmen Video Journals" is a collection of 11 short (three to five minutes each) making-of segments that were originally released online to build up hype for the film. They are all quite informative, but their brief nature leaves you wanting a more substantial making-of documentary (which may be coming in December on the "Ultimate Edition" release; I'll address that in my Final Thoughts section).
The remainder of the extras include a music video for My Chemical Romance's cover of Bob Dylan's "Desolation Row." I don't like the band, so this had little interest to me. A digital copy of the theatrical cut is also included.
The case also includes a $10 off coupon for the upcoming 5-Disc "Ultimate Edition" and softens the blow for anyone feeling cheated by not knowing it was on the way. Personally, I think fans of the film will want to own both, as this is likely a much more watchable version that what Snyder has planned.
Lastly, I don't often mention lenticular covers, since I find them tacky, but the slipcover for this release makes great use of the gimmick. The four glass shards pop out at you and give a sense of depth with Rorschach behind them, and Dr. Manhattan in the background.
First, let me address the upcoming 5-Disc "Ultimate Edition" advertised inside the case. It says the Ultimate Edition will feature the director's cut of the movie with the "Tales of the Black Freighter" story woven in. Fans of the comic will know what this is. Does it mean a lot to non-fans? No, and that's why I would say, this is the best version of the movie for those unfamiliar with the original source material. In addition, there will be a commentary by Dave Gibbons (co-creator and artist of the comic) and Zack Snyder. Two hours of bonus content are included which includes the previously released mockumentary "Under the Hood." Lastly, the complete motion comic presentation, also previously released, will be featured as well.
So finally, just what is the verdict on this director's cut of "Watchmen?" Simply put, it's the most faithful adaptation that could have been made for a mainstream audience. Snyder doesn't pander at all to non-fans and unfortunately, the movie is not for everyone. It's a dark film that doesn't hold your hand as you journey through its story. As a lifelong fan of the series, I appreciate the new addition in this cut and definitely prefer it to the theatrical experience. Warner has given provided a solid technical presentation and for fans, this is a must buy. For the uninitiated, my first suggestion would be to read the series first, then check this out, but as a rental first. Recommended.