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DVD Review

DVD cover

Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter


Starring (voice): Gerard Butler and Jared Harris
Paramount Home Entertainment
RRP: £9.99
Certificate: 15
Available 06 April 2009

Offering audiences two essential Watchmen background stories, experience the exclusive and dramatic origin - essential to the Watchmen experience - as the comic-within-the-comic and Night Owl’s autobiography are brought to life...

For fans of the Watchmen graphic novel who went to see the film, one of the most notable omissions was the ‘Tales of the Black Freighter’ which formed an integral part of the story, and tells the tale of the horrors which a shipwrecked mariner has to endure to survive. Well fear not as Paramount has produced the missing story as an animation - I can hear Alan Moore having a fit as I write - so that fans can catch up with this portion of the novel.

It’s tempting to feel that Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter is a bit of a cash-in on the film, after all originally the tale was supposed to be juxtaposed with the main Watchmen narrative so that it illuminated aspects of that story. So how does this tale, of a sailor using the black and bloated bodies of his dead crew mates to make a raft to return before the Black Freighter can make it to his home port, measure up being ripped from its original place and media?

The film is quite short running a little over twenty minutes, with four minutes of credits. The animation is good, if not spectacular, and features the voices of Gerard Butler and Jared Harris. The story works quite well, on its own merits, as a cautionary tale of how the road to hell is defiantly paved with the best of intentions.

The second feature on the disc is Under the Hood. Once again extracts from this fictional autobiography, penned by the Night Owl (a founder of The Minutemen, the precursor group to the Watchmen) formed part of the original story. Here it is presented as a fictional current affairs program which is doing a retrospective on superheroes. The film has been deliberately aged, even including a couple of ads, which I’m pretty sure were around in the seventies and one ad created for the Veidt Corporation. The show is recreated with the film actors remaining in their respective roles as they are interviewed for the program. Once again this is a nice idea, done well. The show runs to nearly thirty-six minutes.

The disc has a couple of extras. First up is Story within a Story: The Books of Watchmen (23 min, 59 sec) with contribution from the cast and crew as well as the original illustrator Dave Gibbons. The show looks at, and discusses, how the narrative within a narrative structure was important to the Watchmen story, in order to create a believable world where superheroes could exist - a world which had a rounded back story.

To finish up the disc you have the first chapter of the Watchmen Motion Comic (24 min, 26 sec), the completed comic has already been released. The disc has options for subtitles.

Okay, the one thing I didn’t get from the PR company was the price. So now look at the top of the page. If it’s above a tenner for the DVD I would wait for the inevitable Watchmen ultimate disc, which will no doubt be in the pipeline in the coming months. I can’t help but feel that what we have here is what would normally just be considered extras on another film.

It’s not that any of the sections are bad, but they are brief, so the decision comes down to how many bangs for your buck are you getting here and are you willing to wait for them to be inevitably included in some future release of the film? That said, I don’t think that fans of either the film or the graphic novel will be disappointed with the finished product as the makers have approached these shorts with due reverence and attention to detail.


Charles Packer

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