Watchmen: Director's Cut Blu-ray Review

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by Mark Botwright Jul 30, 2009 at 12:00 AM

  • Movies review


    Watchmen: Director's Cut Blu-ray Review
    SRP: £22.31


    Watchmen comes to Blu-ray with a 1080p transfer encoded using the VC-1 codec and framed within a theatrically correct 2.4:1 aspect ratio.

    From the outset it is abundantly clear that much of the intention of the cinematography has been to replicate Dave Gibbons' artwork. As such this is a dark piece that relies heavily on gradation of colours and its ability to draw out the shadow detail. Luckily it does both admirably. The blacks are inky as if from Gibbon's pen, and the image contains far more depth than a stylistically muted and murky picture should by rights have.

    The detail in general is of a similarly high quality. Skin has a palpably touchable look to it and the tones of said flesh are just about perfect in every way, never fluctuating and always maintaining a healthy change depending upon lighting conditions that also holds off any hint of artificiality. For such a stylistic piece, the end results are remarkably naturalistic. The fabrics of the costumes also show off the great amount of detail this transfer has to offer, with the weave in Rorschach's mask becoming visible in close ups and this helps to distinguish the central characters, as the bright latex of Silk Spectre's figure hugging outfit is about as different as night and day from the dulled tones of Nite Owl's or the grime of Rorschach's.

    The only minor criticism would be that of the effects. On the whole they are fantastic but there is a slight smoothness that tends to creep into some shots surrounding Dr Manhattan. The diffused lighting aura that surrounds him also showed one or two minor instances of banding but these are very much the exception rather than the rule with this transfer. The subtle muted colours are perfectly placed against strong, vibrant primaries. The contrast remains good and shadow detail is admirable. Everything is well delineated without any clear signs of over-sharpening being on the agenda and this all adds up to a visual presentation that is only a fraction away from gaining full marks.
    Watchmen: Director


    In what I believe is a first for Warner, the main English track for this Blu-ray is a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, which for the purpose of this review I concentrated on.

    If the image quality was high then the audio must be considered of a reference standard. The level of immersion that is achieved is simply stunning, with every aspect of the mix being engineered to a point of flawless integration. The two primary aims of the track would be to make sure viewers aren't confused by the reams of dialogue and to shake them when the fists start flying - thankfully this track does both. The speech is clear, clean and crisp, but this doesn't come at the expense of hushed surrounds or meagre bass. When the action set-pieces start, the directional effects are handled with precision and discrete sounds are easily identifiable, with great steerage. The bass is tight and packs a real punch that almost approaches the visceral impact of the LFE on the Dark Knight disc. From splintering doors being kicked in to gunshots and explosions, the low frequencies really swell into the room with aplomb.

    The score is suitably exemplary, though I'd argue the original material pales in comparison to the tunes by established artists that are used throughout. Be it Leonard Cohen's “Hallelujah”, Simon and Garfunkel's “Sound of Silence”, Dylan's “Times They Are a Changin” or Hendrix's version of “All Along The Watchtower”, I'm not sure I've heard music on a Blu-ray that is handled quite so well. It doesn't matter if the material is acoustic and melodious or the rising crescendo of Ride of the Valkyries, the beautiful tones and dynamic range is just about as good as I can imagine it will ever be and despite the necessity for repeated viewings for the purposes of this review, never failed to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. This is the kind of track that will have you skipping back and forth to your favourite parts just to give it another listen. This deserves to be played loud, so if you enjoy viewing at reference levels then this is the disc for you.
    Watchmen: Director


    Maximum movie mode

    This appears on the first disc, along with the main movie. It is essentially a bonus-view track which includes director walk on, picture in picture, comic screen comparisons, a timeline of events detailing the differences between the real world and the alternate Watchmen reality, still galleries, Snyder's storyboards and finally 11 focus point videos. The latter also being an option from the menu which can be watched separately without having to delve into the main film. I usually balk at the idea of having my viewing experience constantly interrupted but this is one of the best examples of this type of extra I've seen. Snyder can be a touch annoying to have on screen as opposed to merely a commentary but the wealth of information is great to see from a fan's perspective.

    The phenomenon: The comic that changed comics - 1080p - 28:46

    As the blurb puts it - “Learn how the subversive, thematically complex, award-winning comic that changed literature inspired analytical debate and won countless fans was created”. Various figures including cast, crew, a journalist and members of the DC hierarchy appear to enthuse about the impact the original comic had on the scene as a whole and how it started a movement which helped to change the way the medium was viewed by others. Obviously Moore was never going to turn up to be a talking head but it's nice to see co-creator and illustrator Dave Gibbons as well as colourist John Higgins given a healthy amount of screen time.

    Real superheroes: Real vigilantes - 1080p - 26:17

    “Explore the psychology behind real-world vigilantes and when that behaviour crosses over into actually donning the hood and behaving as superheroes”. We hear from a professor of American History, a book critic for Time Magazine, members of the Guardian Angels organization and a man dubbed a “federal and superior court qualified deadly force/tactics expert”. They each offer some insights into why vigilantism exists and what its effects are on individuals as well as society.

    Mechanics: Technologies of a fantastic world - 1080p - 16:49

    “Through interviews with consultants, engineers and designers, see how the creators of Watchmen turned engineering into cinematic reality”. Perhaps a little short to go into the depths of the physics and theories involved in the story, this nonetheless is an interesting featurette. A physics professor, as well as various art department figures, take us through their explanations of “miracle exemption” and also give some information about such pivotal plot devices as the intrinsic field.

    Desolation Row music video by My Chemical Romance - 1080p - 3:15

    A high definition presentation of the aforementioned band's modern interpretation of the Bob Dylan classic.

    Digital copy

    Self explanatory, this is found on the third disc and is a version of the film to be downloaded via your PC to a suitable portable device.

    There may not be a great quantity of extras, but what this disc lacks in numbers it certainly makes up for in terms of quality. The delving back into the past of the comic, coupled with the thoughts of Dave Gibbons make the first of the featurettes a must watch. The rest are of a similar standard, though perhaps lack the direct connection to the original work, they add weight to any further viewings of the film as they expand upon the central themes well.
    Watchmen: Director


    Watchmen comes to Blu-ray as a success in so many ways. The visuals are extremely good, coming complete with strong detail and a stylistic image that is generally in keeping with its comic book roots. The audio side of things is equally well handled and even pushes further into the realms of demo quality. It has dimensionality, a great dynamic range and enough power and ferocity when it's called for to shake viewers. The combination of these two gives us a Blu-ray that shows exactly what the format has to offer. The extras, which take a firm view of quality over quantity, refuse to split up their contents into bite sized chunks simply to deceive consumers into assuming they are getting more than what is on offer. They are well laid out, categorised correctly and it remains easy to find any snippets if you choose to delve back into them at a later date. In my opinion they are a model of how extra features should be presented on a home format - compacted, unconfusing and filled with content.

    The film itself is the only area that really lays itself open to debate. Many will feel a sense of anti-climax if they are expecting superhero thrills, whilst others still may be a little deterred by the deviations from the source material. For his part, Snyder seems to have made about as faithful an adaptation as he could cope with, only leaving the path the novel laid down in order to satisfy his own love of action sequences and over-use of slow motion photography. The material shines through this fog though and the experience is still thrilling enough to satisfy fans of the comic simply by seeing such a work finally make the transition to the big screen. Were it not for a couple of missteps in terms of direction, casting and homage scenes, this could have been a must buy for all. Recommended, but it won't be to everyone's tastes.
    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £22.31

    The Rundown



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