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Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic
The classic graphic novel gets mildly animated
Loves: Watchmen, Animation
Likes: Graphic novels
Dislikes: Motion Comics
Hates: Alan Moore's vendetta against Warner Brothers (though I totally understand it)
Attempting to review Watchmen, at least the story component of it, feels like a exercise in futility. How many times can you praise a work of true genius before the praise all sounds the same? And who am I, your humble reviewer, to even think about critiquing Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's masterpiece, one of the greatest pieces of modern literature? Any nit-picky complaint I could muster would surely ring hollow, following the many awards and well-deserved plaudits its received. It's just about perfect, though I really should say perfect, since I can't find any fault with it.
A re-examination of superheroes, done with a bleaker, more realistic point of view, Watchmen was revolutionary when it was released in 1985, and it remains as relevant as ever in 2009, despite some dated elements (which are mitigated by the fact that the story is told in an alternate world in a specific time frame.) The Crimebusters were a group of costumed crime fighters in the 1960s, but as the world became more complicated, they became less relevant, and they disbanded, and superheroes were outlawed by the government, leaving only a few government-sponsored adventurers, including the ultra-violent patriot The Comedian and the super-powered Dr. Manhattan, who gained command over reality when he was torn down to molecules by an atomic accident.
The main story is a mystery, as the psychotic Rorschach, whose mask is an ever-changing ink blot, attempts to discover who killed the Comedian, who was found dead in his civilian identity. Thinking someone is out to kill the former superheroes, he uses his own brand of ruthless violence, driven by an insane, right-wing mindset, to figure out just what's going on, drawing in his former teammates, as the truth becomes more twisted and complicated as the story plays out. In the end, the plot is intensely deep, focusing on the choices and mistakes made in life, the meaning of existence, the value of an innocent life and the lengths one will go to in order to achieve their goals, while the story is told using intricate storytelling techniques, interwoven supplemental material and smart literary devices that make it more intelligent and engaging than most novels. That it's told about guys wearing tights just adds a layer of accessibility and absurdity.
This version of Watchmen, which was released episodically on iTunes and elsewhere, is somewhat like an audiobook version, but enhanced with animation that's built off the actually art from the graphic novel. Now, this was done way back when with some Marvel cartoons, and it was terrible, and has become a bit better recently, but these Watchmen episodes are the best yet (even though the upcoming Marvel Motion Comics look like they might be even better.) Taking Dave Gibbons' original art, panel by panel, and doing slight animation effects (and some impressive lighting and special effects work,) Warner Premier allows you to watch the graphic novel, complete with dialogue, music and sound effects.
The dialogue, provided entirely by Tom Stechschulte, is really quite good, especially when voicing Dr. Manhattan, though there are a few MAJOR exceptions, namely the fact that he also provides the voices for the female characters. Though he thankfully didn't attempt to imitate a woman's voice, which would have yanked you right out of the story, it's highly creepy to hear him seductively purr as Silk Spectre, especially when he's doing it up against his own voice. This may work in an audiobook, but when you're looking at an animated female character and hear a tranny, it's rather unusual.
Though director Zach Snyder has claimed he's attempting to be faithful to the source material with his upcoming movie, you're never going to see a more faithful "movie" than this presentation, which offers up the 12 chapters of Alan Moore's story, including the ending that fanboys nationwide were hoping to see on the big screen (Note: A reader indicates that there have been changes to the dialogue. I had considered sitting and watching with the graphic novel in my lap, but didn't. Apparently, I should have.) Even if you've read the book many, many times, it's a new experience and an entertaining one at that.
The 12 episodes are split over two DVDs, which are packed in a standard keepcase with a tray and a promotional insert. The discs sport static, anamorphic widescreen menus, with options to watch all the episodes, select chapters, adjust languages and check out the extras. There are no audio options, but subtitles are in English (there is no closed captioning.) There's really not much need for the subtitles or captioning though, as all the spoken dialogue is presented in comic-book word balloons. If the wordballoons could be turned on and off, it would have been a nice touch.
I didn't have great expectations coming in, considering the way most motion comics have looked in the past, but this series looks terrific, with excellent color, a high-level of detail in the line art, and a quality job of hiding the seams in the animation. The four-color printing effect on the Black Freighter scenes is particularly nice, and there are some impressive color effects that enhance the animation. There are no obvious issues with pixilation, and no noticeable digital artifacts.
The audio is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 track that is nice and clear in presenting the dialogue, sound effects and music. There's nothing dynamic about the mix, but the sound does get some nice enhancement in the sides and rear, especially the score, which has a sweeping, somewhat melodramatic feel.
The only extras offered are limited-time offers, as you get a sneak peek at the Wonder Woman animated DVD (which arrives soon, and $7.50 in MovieCash to see Watchmen in theaters. Once again, the Blu-Ray version gets the real extras that shall be denied to the scum who refuse to upgrade their entertainment options to hi-def.
The Bottom Line
There's not much to say about the story of Watchmen that hasn't been said in the two decades since it changed the comic-book landscape, but these motion comics offer up a unique presentation of the material that is just about as faithful as anything short of a reprint could be, while still offering something new. The DVDs' quality is unassailable, though the lack of bonus material is as frustrating as ever. It's recommended that you read the graphic novel first, so you can have your own experience of "hearing" the characters, before enjoying this interpretation, but either way, the story is the same and utterly fantastic.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.