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DVD Review: ‘Watchmen Complete Motion Comic’

It’s not horror, but it’s from Dawn of the Dead‘s Zack Snyder, and the more money Watchmen makes, the more likely we are to see Army Of The Dead, as his name will be worth even more in the eyes of Hollywood’s bean counters. And if you’re completely in the dark as to what all the fuss is about, Warner Bros is releasing Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic on DVD and Blu-Ray this Tuesday (March 3rd), which allows you to experience all twelve issues in a somewhat animated form. Read on for the full review!
The 12 issues of Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons are considered among the finest in comic book history, so much that my calling it a “comic book” will probably raise the ire of elitists who refuse to admit that the original form of this heralded “graphic novel” once lined the shelves alongside 80s nonsense like Power Pack. But such an attitude can also somewhat diminish its impact; it ushered in the idea that a comic didn’t necessarily have to be action packed adventures about guys in tights fighting super villains. For example, in the first four issues, there isn’t a single big battle, just a few isolated (and brief) acts of violence. Dr. Manhattan is the only one with traditional “powers”. And there’s no big super villain either; the enemy is society itself – at least, according to Rorschach.

(It DOES have the guys in tights though.)

And pretty much since it was released in 1986, there have been attempts to turn the series into a feature film, with Zack Snyder and Warner Bros. being the ones to finally pull it off. With the film comes loads of new merchandise (toys, art books, etc), but the coolest has to be the Complete Motion Comic, available on both standard and Blu-Ray DVD. Each issue is presented as an episode, and each panel of the comic is given a light animated touch, plus voiceover, music, sound effects. It’s almost an exact middle-ground between a film and a comic book, and whether you have read the book a dozen times or never at all, it’s a great way to experience the story.

Part of the enjoyment of the series is the myriad twists and turns that occur along the way, which constantly keep a reader (or viewer) on their toes, so I won’t get into too many story specifics. Basically, in an alternate 1985 (where Nixon is still president), a masked avenger named Rorschach is convinced that someone is out to purposely kill “costumes”. We meet his former teammates as he travels around New York trying to warn them, and along with a healthy dose of flashbacks and an ever growing cast of characters, the story begins to fill in, and we discover much more is at stake than the lives of a few superheroes.

The motion comic doesn’t leave a single thing out. Every panel of every issue is recreated (which, unlike the film, makes it even more puzzling that Alan Moore – who wrote every single syllable we read/hear over the 5.5 hours of narrative – is not credited anywhere on the disc), but given a basic once over with animation. So let’s say in the comic, there are three side by side panels that show the trademark smiley face falling to the ground (a panel of it in someone’s hand, a panel of it in the air, and finally a panel of it hitting the ground). Here, we actually watch a fully animated smiley face being dropped, falling, and hitting in one continuous shot. In addition, things like rainfall, TV static, clocks on the wall… they all come to subtle but effective life, under the direction of Jake S. Hughes (with Gibbons supervising).

The coolest effect, however, has to be Rorschach’s ever changing “face”. It’s a concept that didn’t come off as clearly in the comic, so even a panel where he is sitting silently and narrating has some life to it now, while also rounding out his character a bit (it’s great when the ink blots make vague expressions like anger). Key moments are also that much more powerful – it’s a lot more exciting to see Dr. Manhattan’s Mars structure rise up from the ground in real time then over the course of 6 panels (that entire issue, #4, benefits most from the animated format, as the multiple and overlapping flashbacks are far easier to follow).

The only real flaw in the presentation is the lack of multiple voices. Tom Stechschulte does a fine job with the narrating, not to mention in scenes where he is voicing two or three different characters without it ever being confusing (and he does a pretty damn good Richard Nixon). But he is a male, and two key characters are female. There’s a scene in issue #2 in which the Comedian does something pretty awful to the Silk Spectre, and the moment, which should be serious and upsetting, is almost rendered a bit silly by the fact that the woman’s painful cries and pleas are being voiced by a man using a high pitched voice. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it sounds like a mockery of the event, but it’s highly distracting nonetheless. I can’t imagine that it would have been too expensive to hire any female in the world to come in and do the lines for the female characters.

Warner was kind enough to send a Blu-Ray for review. You might think that something that’s essentially a bunch of still images doesn’t really benefit from a 1080p presentation, but you’d be wrong. The colors are more vibrant, and details along the edges of the characters (vs. the backgrounds) are far more defined. And the improved sound is of great benefit as well; Lennie Moore’s score is phenomenal, and should be enjoyed in the best possible manner. I wish it was available on its own audio track. Also, the Blu-Ray allows you to watch all 12 episodes back to back in one sitting; while I can’t be certain, I would think standard DVDs couldn’t possibly fit all of it on one side.

The standard def DVD contains no extras, but the Blu-Ray has a couple of minor interest. One is a 3 minute piece about Dave Gibbons’ role on the feature film (those who have been following the “Watchmen Production Diaries” on various websites will recognize it as the 4th of the series), the other is a look at the upcoming Wonder Woman (traditional) animated film. Neither are particularly essential, but as a vocal supporter of Blu-Ray discs, I am glad to see Warner making the BD package a bit more enticing than its standard def counterpart, especially considering the higher cost. The only other extras are available only via “BD Live”, which is an online component available to any Blu-Ray player hooked up to the internet (including the PS3). However, as of this writing, the content (such as a scene from the feature film) has not been made available via Warner’s BD site. The only thing of note that you’ll find are a collection of standard def trailers for upcoming Warner theatrical releases and some of their DVDs.

The Blu-Ray also contains a 2nd disc where you can download .wmv files for your PC and/or portable device. The only problem is you can only do it with a laptop or computer that has an active internet connection. Not that it’ll be a problem for anyone I’m sure, but I am of the impression that if you buy something, you own it outright, and shouldn’t need to enter codes and undergo DRM authentication and such just to watch it. And the code is only good once (if you try it on another PC, it will still rip the episodes to your hard drive, but they will not play), which is a bummer for those with multiple machines. I can see why the download option would be a one-time use deal, but I think I should be able to play them right off the disc wherever I damn well please. Each episode is presented twice: a PC-ready format, and a smaller one fit for portable devices such as the Zune.

The real bonuses are the episodes themselves. I’ve seen a few other “motion comics” before (most recently, Dead Space) and never have I seen such an extensive presentation. Most settle for simply zooming in or out of the panel, or moving the characters over the background, but Hughes and his crew went way above the norm for this, which is all the more impressive when you consider how long it is. And its equal appeal to die hard fans and newbies alike make it an easy purchase to suggest.

Film score 8/10
Audio/Video Presentation 9/10
Extras 5/10



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