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Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut


Warner Bros.; 215 minutes

Director: Zack Snyder


Written by on November 9, 2009 




Watchmen

Here we are, eight months and two versions later. When Watchmen was released on March 6, 2009, the film received polarizing reviews from both critics and audiences, and the box office intake has been debated as to whether it was a success or failure, with some like me arguing it actually performed at an impressive rate for the type of film it is, while others argued that it was a complete disappointment. In July the Director’s Cut was released to a stronger reaction, as being extended by 24 minutes of new footage, many said the film felt more fleshed out and had more room to breathe than its theatrical counterpart. Now we have Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut, and this version is most likely the last version of Watchmen we’ll see for a long time, if not ever, and what a glorious send-off it is.

To give a brief idea of my association with the multiple versions of the movie: I’ve seen the theatrical cut twice in theaters, the Director’s Cut once, and the Ultimate Cut once. Some may be wondering what the difference is between the Director’s and Ultimate Cut. The difference stands at approximately thirty minutes of new footage, the primary addition being the animated Black Freighter cartoon interspersed throughout the picture, as well as new scenes of the kid reading the comic that in the movie version transitions into the cartoon and the owner of the newspaper stand where he reads it, as well as interactions between Nite Owl I and the news vendor, as well as the Knot Top gang and even an extra Walter Kovacs scene, that stands as one of the best additions in this version.

The actual film present holds up perhaps better than ever. One of the more impressive facets of the movie are the smaller details one can easily miss during first viewings. For example, only on my fourth viewing did I catch a small detail. When Dan/Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson) visits Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode) during the opening twenty minutes, Dan sits towards the back of Veidt’s office as he talks to reporters. As Veidt answers a question about “prostituting the image of the Watchmen” and the need to commercialize, a set of toys based on the characters can be seen behind Dan, and he even picks one up during that moment. Is director Zack Snyder making a light jab at the commercialization he knew would be inevitable for a movie as decidedly uncommercial as this one? Or how about when Veidt makes passing references throughout that hint at the movies conclusion? There are also small visual cues that indicate that an entire alternate world is just outside of the frame, and make it feel like a fully fleshed out world established. There are moments like this hidden throughout the movie and ones that caused my brain to make connections such as those while the main story unfolds in front of us.

Also standing the test of time is how well it compresses a dense twelve issue book into a feature movie. By being given this time around three-and-a-half hours to tell the story, the movie is a condensed version of the book, but likely as close to the full story as anyone could have ever come. Sadly the ending, which was changed from the original text to an easier to digest version for audiences doesn’t ring quite as right as it should. But even something like that becomes easier to tolerate on later viewings. Would I have liked to see the original ending? Absolutely. But as it stands, the ending could have been much worse, with the entire point being lost if not handled right.

This is also a movie that couldn’t have survived without a strong cast. The performances still remain strong even after multiple viewings. The only performance I would single out as poor is Carla Gugino as Silk Spectre I. I don’t know if it’s the old-age make up she’s given or just the way she inflects her words, but something never really comes across right with it. Nevertheless, everyone else plays their characters just as they appeared on the page, and it’s hard to imagine many other actors filling in these roles.

It’s because of this I’m confident that Watchmen will be remembered by those who already know of it and discovered by those who don’t on video in the years to come. Some have brought up relations to Blade Runner, although I think it’s premature to make such claims. However, like Blade Runner, I could see this becoming a cult classic in ten to fifteen years time, easily.

The Black Freighter, as mentioned above, and as some may not know, is a comic that is read by a teenage boy at a newsstand in the original graphic novel. In the story, the events that take place there mirror the events of the ongoing story, with it ending at the moment where the two narratives come together. In both the original and Director’s Cut, the two characters, or “two Bernies”, are only seen briefly towards the climax. This was a storytelling flaw originally, because the characters are simply introduced in their brief moment and are derived of their emotional payoff. Here, that payoff is restored to a strong result. It still may not carry the weight of the original book, but in that form there was also room to fit them and other ancillary characters in and to therefore give the end a bigger punch. Nevertheless, it feels as strong as it could have been in here and that is a great benefit.

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What about the actual animated segments? They’re impressive in both their original style and evocation of its source material. The colors come across in murky yellows and reds, and give the feel of the comic from the original book. The main character is voiced by Gerard Butler, whom was the star of Zack Snyder’s previous film 300, and here he does an impressive job of voicing a distressed mariner who will go to literally any end to save his home town from the impending doom of the ominous Black Freighter, a pirate ship said to murder the citizens of the towns it sails to.

One of the most crucial aspects of putting the animated feature into the movie is how it should be edited in. There are some times when it simply switches over after a scene, although there are impressive moments where it will show the kid reading the comic, the camera moves into the comic panel, and dissolves into the animated movie. Personally, I think this is the best way to transition, and is given a most impressive end. Unfortunately, one of the benefits in the book is the fact that the main narrative and the comic can be interspersed mutually, with a line of dialogue from the comic or the New York City street being reflected upon the other in their respective panels, often sharing a mutual meaning in both settings. This is lost here, as there isn’t a consistent changeover between the two. However, this feels like a minor complaint and shouldn’t be seen as a major detraction.

Going back to the main film, I feel like every time I watch Watchmen I love it just a little bit more. My high water mark for superhero movies is probably Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. There we have a movie that is a great comic book film, crime drama, character study, and action picture. Watchmen never quite reaches the heights of Nolan’s 2008 masterpiece, as I don’t have the same emotional connection with it as I do the former. That being said, like The Dark Knight, I often have the same feelings when watching this film for the fourth time as I do the first. A sense of wonder, of beauty, awe and of a strange feeling of sadness and regret that I think percolates to the surface during viewings. Last year, for me and some friends, the build-up to Watchmen was the thing. I would go through my copy of the book imagining the scenes playing out as scenes in a film, I would listen to the songs I knew would be in the movie and imagine how they would play out in the picture, and I devoured every piece of information that was released on the film. When I saw it the day of release with two friends in a mostly empty theater after school, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. When I walked out I knew what I saw was a flawed movie, but I didn’t care. In some way, all of my expectations were fulfilled. It was something that I think will go down as one of my favorite movie going experiences of the year. I must admit, reflecting on the past year of anticipation as I watched the movie again made me a tad emotional, as it brought back many memories of waiting with baited breath for release and the joy of experiencing it for the first time.

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There are also people who may feel averse to seeing the movie because of mixed opinions they heard or its long running time (this version runs a staggering 215 minutes). To them I say: take a chance. Movies like this don’t come along very often. Is it perfect, even in its full form? No. Is it for everyone? Probably not. Still, ignore things like the gratuitous violence or glowing blue penis, and think of the more important things. Jackie Earle Haley bringing the character of Rorschach from page to screen seamlessly. Dr. Manhattan’s Philip Glass-scored ten-minute ascension from man to God. The hidden details only revealed on multiple viewings. Larry Fong’s multi toned cinematography, spanning the world and generations. I even mentioned this versions long running time, but even with that in mind, the movie flew by for me, as I found myself greatly invested in the story, the characters, the performances, the direction, music and tone. There are great rewards for those who venture into this movie, especially in its full, complete version.

At the end of the day, this feels like the complete Watchmen we’ve been waiting for. I still love the two previous versions, but I think the Ultimate Cut is the movie I’ll be watching and recommending to friends from now on. One day I even plan to sit on my couch with my copy of the book as the movie plays on my TV, noting the amazing closeness the two share. It is just that complete. And for those who dismissed the movie upon release, even lovers of the book? Don’t hesitate to see this. This, readers, is what we have been waiting for. This, lovers and detractors, is as close as we’ll ever get to the book on film. Because this, ladies and gentlemen, is Watchmen.


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