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Josh Reviews the new Director’s Cut of Watchmen

Even before Watchmen was released in theatres, director Zach Snyder made clear, in interviews, that we’d be seeing his longer Director’s Cut released on DVD/Blu-Ray before too terribly long.  

Well, Watchmen: The Director’s Cut is indeed now available for all to see, and I am happy to report that it’s quite excellent.

This Director’s Cut isn’t a total reinvention of the film.  The film unfolds as it did in its theatrical form.  There are no revelatory story-lines or spectacular action sequences added back in.  This Director’s Cut isn’t going to change anyone’s mind about Mr. Snyder’s adaptation of the comic book masterpiece by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.  If the film didn’t grab you in the theatres (and if you’re reading this while thinking to yourself, “twenty-four extra minutes added on to a film that was already two and a half hours??  No thanks!!”) then nothing I’m going to write here will cause you to think any differently.  But if you were as taken with the theatrical version as I was (check out my original review here), then this new extended version is a delight.

As I wrote above, the film hasn’t been dramatically re-edited (the way, for example, the first half-hour of The Fellowship of the Ring was entirely re-worked in Peter Jackson’s magnificent extended edition), and there’s no “Wow!  What a cool sequence that they’ve restored to the film!” moment (such as the astounding revised ending of James Cameron’s Director’s Cut of The Abyss).  No, what has been added back into the film are a lot of little moments, little bits of texture to the story from the original comic book.  Scenes now start a few moments earlier, or end a few moments later.  Many of the characters now get a few extra moments.  Bits of background detail are added.  These accumulate to result in a film that is a bit more leisurely paced than the theatrical version, but where the world of the story has been a little more fleshed out.  

One of the very first changes is also the most perplexing one, and really the only change I objected to.  There’s a little button added on to the scene where Rorschach investigates the Comedian’s apartment, after his murder.  Now, as Rorschach is leaving, a cop finds him in the apartment, and tries to shoot him.  For some reason, the bullets don’t seem to connect with Rorschach, and when the cop looks back at him, he is gone.  Whereas most of the rest of the additions in this new cut result in the re-incorporation of small moments or details from the original graphic novel, this addition is a complete invention of the filmmakers, and it doesn’t make any sense to me.  Did the cop miss Rorschach?  Are we to understand that Rorschach is wearing some sort of body-armor?  It’s totally unclear.  This scene sort of makes it seem that Rorschach has super-powers (which would make him bulletproof), which would be very confusing to a viewer who doesn’t already know the story.

Luckily, after that troubling moment, the changes are almost all for the better.  I’m not going to try to list all of the changes– since, as I mentioned above, most of the additions are in the form of small moments, this would be an impossibly long list.  Also, it would ruin all the fun for you of seeing this new version!  So let me just mention some of the additions that I really enjoyed:

We get some scenes added in with the two Bernies (the news-stand vendor and the kid reading the Tales of the Black Freighter comic book).  We get a number of additional glimpses of the out-of-costume Rorschach added into the first half of the film, thus giving greater impact to his unmasking later in the movie.  (There’s also a number of extra bits of Rorschach IN-costume, including some extended “Rorschach’s Journal” voice-overs… and we also get to see where Rorschach keeps his “face” when not in costume).  There’s some extra stuff, throughout the film, between Laurie and the Feds in charge of watching over her.  There’s some more of Rorschach’s psych evaluation, and the death of Hollis Mason has been added back in.

There are some great extensions to the flashback of the Crimebusters team meeting during the 70’s, including the moment when Dr. Manhattan and Laurie see one another for the first time.  We also get to see the awkward moment between Laurie and The Comedian here in this sequence (as opposed to seeing that moment for the first time when Laurie realizes the “joke” of her life towards the end of the film).  To me, this gives that moment at the end of the film greater resonance, as we’ve seen the scene beforehand but in an entirely different context.  

The sequence of Dan and Laurie getting mugged is fleshed out a bit more.  In the theatrical version we pretty much just saw the big fight, giving the whole thing sort of a “what the–?” feeling.  Now the moment has more context, as we understand that Dan and Laurie are walking to visit Hollis.  We also see more of their excited reactions afterwards, which is sort of the whole point of the scene.  Two complaints: One, the staging of the moment when Dan and Laurie walk into the alley is still weird — it doesn’t look like they’re on their way anywhere, it looks like they’ve decided to walk down a dark alley for no reason.  Two, even in this version the line “try not to get into any tight corners” is said by a character talking to Dr. Manhattan while we see those two on-screen.  But in the comic, that line is heard (or read, I guess!) while seeing a shot of Dan and Laurie in the alley, which is a fun little bit of narrative playfulness that I wish the film had preserved.

But my favorite change?  Very attentive viewers will now be clear on where Laurie got the gun in her purse (that she uses during the film’s climax)!  Nicely done.  

I purchased Watchmen: The Director’s Cut on Blu-Ray, and the film looks staggeringly amazing.  Just amazing.  It still astounds me that this film ever got made, and how close it is, visually, to the original comic.  I do have two complaints about the Blu-Ray, though:  One, it’s my pet peeve when Director’s Cut editions on disc (DVD/Blu-Ray/whatever) don’t also contain the original theatrical version, and this one does not.  Who wants to have to buy the film twice??  Second, the special features stink.  There’s a great visual commentary to the film with Mr. Snyder, but the second disc of extras is incredibly sparse, with basically just a 30 minute featurette on the adaptation.  (What few other extras there are deal with matters totally peripheral to the film, like  a documentary on real-world vigilantes.)  I guess they saved the substantial making-of docs for the sure-to-be-coming super-duper extra-special edition of the film, and that’s somewhat disappointing.

But despite those issues with the total package, as a film, Watchmen: The Director’s Cut succeeds admirably.  This was now the third time that I’ve seen the film (I saw it twice in theatres), and it has clearly established for me that this film, despite its flaws, is a terrific achievement, and one I look forward to revisiting for years to come.

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