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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Zack Snyder's film version of Watchmen has received mixed reviews from critics and audiences alike. There are those who feel it's only mediocre. Others (myself included) think it's actually quite brilliant. Of course, one of the problems is that no feature film can do complete justice to a book as dense and complex as Watchmen. A lot of stuff simply has to be left out.

A new DVD takes the step of giving us some of what the movie itself could not. Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter consists of two beloved parts of the story that just didn't fit into Snyder's big screen adaptation. And interestingly, two different styles have been effectively used to bring these segments off the page.

First up on the disc is "Tales of the Black Freighter." Throughout the novel (by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons), a young boy sits next to a Manhattan newsstand, reading a comic book by this title. The story is interwoven with the main plot of Watchmen, usually commenting on the primary action. The technique was part of what made the novel so unique, but there was no way to incorporate it into an already lengthy movie.

Instead, under Snyder's supervision, the story-with-a-story has been turned into a fully animated 26-minute feature. Actor Gerard Butler provides the voice of a sailor whose ship was attacked by a mysterious black freighter. All his men have been killed. Fearing the ship will advance to - and overtake - his hometown, he finds a particularly gruesome method of outrunning it, only to make a horrifying discovery once he finally lands on shore.

The animation in "Tales of the Black Freighter" is absolutely gorgeous, albeit in a way that is fittingly gruesome given the events that transpire. Like a great piece of anime, it is moody and atmospheric. Butler does an outstanding job on the voice work. For many fans of Watchmen, this mini-story is a crucial part of what they love about the larger work. Doing it animated to coincide with the feature adaptation was a great idea. It's also worth mentioning that "Freighter" sounds as good as it looks; the digital sound effects are spectacular.

The second half of the disc is the live-action "Under the Hood." In the book, this comes in the form of several pages from the autobiography of Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl. For the screen, it takes the form of a "60 Minutes"-type show where a veteran reporter interviews Mason (played, as in the film, by actor Stephen McHattie) upon publication of the memoirs. Many of the key lines and concepts from the novel are included here, giving some depth to a significant character who only gets minimal screen time in the Watchmen movie. Also participating in the intervews are Sally Jupiter (Carla Gugino), the villainous Moloch (Matt Frewer), and the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), as well as some side characters from the graphic novel, including the psychiatrist and the news vendor. Fans of the book will enjoy seeing them pop up for cameos.

There's even a touch of humor in "Under the Hood" in the form of "commercials" between segments of the interview show. There is a fake ad for Nostalgia, a perfume that figures prominently in the book, plus a few real vintage ads from the 1970's. Those things - plus a spot-on recreation of 70's and 80's-era video quality - gives the 38-minute short a terrific feeling of authenticity.

Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter comes with a few bonus features. The first segment of the excellent Watchmen Animated Comic is included (for my review of that complete DVD, click here.) Also in the supplementary material, you will find "Story Within a Story," a 30-minute look at the importance of both "Tales of the Black Freighter" and "Under the Hood" in Watchmen. Commenting are the actors, the crew of the DVD, and execs from DC comics. The feature really provides some insight into why the graphic novel is made richer by the inclusion of these side stories.

Again, I really loved the Watchmen film, and this DVD (as well as the Complete Motion Comic DVD) make for a really wonderful way to experience this extraordinary world.

Purchase it online here

Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter - Own it on DVD March 24

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