Thursday, March 26, 2009

DVD Reviews: Watchmen Tales of the Black Freighter & Under the Hood

Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter ***
Directed By:
Mike Smith & Daniel DelPurgatorio.
Written By: Alex Tse & Zack Snyder based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Gibbons.
With the Voices of: Gerald Butler (The Mariner), Jared Harris (Ridley).

Watchmen: Under the Hood ** ½
Directed By:
Eric Matthies.
Written By: Hans Robinoff based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Gibbons.
Starring: Stephen McHattie (Hollis Mason/Nite Owl), Carla Gugino (Sally Jupiter/Silk Spectre), Ted Friend (Larry Culpeper), Jay Brazeau (Bernard/News Vendor), Rob LaBelle (Wally Weaver), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Edward Blake/The Comedian).

Alan Moore’s Watchmen is one of the densest graphic novels in history, and one that filmmakers ranging from Martin Scorsese to Terry Gilliam struggled to make into a movie before giving up. Director Zack Snyder finally figured out how to make the film, and earlier this month we got the result. While the reviews have been mixed, and the box office far from spectacular, I love the movie. But as when adapting any long, dense book for the screen, things had to be cut –two of those things were the books within the book Watchmen – the comic book Tales of the Black Freighter that he constantly see a young man reading on the streets, and the original Nite Owl, Hollis Mason’s, autobiography, Under the Hood. So in love with the these books was Snyder, that he convinced Warner Brothers to fund two separate short films, in two radically different styles, based on these books for release on DVD a few weeks after the movie came out. Having loved the graphic novel, and the movie, I rented the DVD to see what they did with the two stories.

Tales of the Black Freighter, appropriately enough, was made as a grisly cartoon. It tells the story of a captain of a ship who gets attacked by the cursed Black Freighter, who slaughters his entire crew and leaves him for dead in the ocean, before heading to his hometown of Davidstown. The Mariner (voiced by Gerald Butler), is determined to beat them back to Davidstown, but because he has no raft, he is forced to tied together the rotting, bloated, stinking corpses of his crew, to make his journey home. He is attacked by seagulls and then sharks, hallucinates that the head of his friend Ridley is talking to him, but does indeed make it back to Davidstown. Convinced that the Black Freighter is already there, The Mariner goes on an ill advised killing spree. Once he realizes what he has done, he has no choice but to join the crew of the Black Freighter, who was never intending on attacking the town anyway.

The parallel of the story of The Mariner and that of Ozymanidas in Watchmen is clear. The Mariner tries to do good, and ends up committing great evil, and essentially becomes everything he tried to stop on the first place. I think Tales of the Black Freighter goes too far in trying to draw those parallels – underlines it all a little much, taking away any subtlety there was there. And divorced from the main thrust of the plot of Watchmen, we see just how shallow the story by itself really is. Still, I must say that the film is amazingly well animated, and actually quite entertaining. It is incredibly, almost stomach churningly violent and disgusting, but animation is the right choice here – in live action it wouldn’t be as effective. And does anyone else think that they modeled the animation of the Mariner on Alan Moore, who of course has famously trashed the adaptation of his book from day one?

The other movie, Under the Hood, takes the form of a television news magazine report from 1975, when Hollis Mason’s autobiography, Under the Hood, was released. In the segment, we see Mason (Stephen McHattie), being interviewed, and giving us an in depth look at the history of super heroing – the generation before the “watchmen” we see in the movie. He also gets an interview with Sally Jupiter (Carla Gugino), who contradicts Mason at some points, but basically agrees with him. The movie is fascinating for fans of the graphic novel, and it’s always a pleasure to see McHattie (who was great in the recent Pontypool which I reviewed last week) and Gugino (why she never became a bigger star, I’ll never know). But it’s also somewhat shallow. The director, Eric Matthies, seems to be going for more style than substance – he has way too much fun recreating 1980s like TV commercials, and like Tales of the Black Freighter, the movie underlines too heavily – takes away the subtlety that was there in the storyline before. This isn’t even to mention the fact that the brilliant opening titles sequence of Watchmen tells essentially the same story as Under the Hood does, much more effectively, and in about 30 minutes left. Under the Hood is essentially, a must for diehard fans, but of little interest to anyone else.

In short, while I enjoyed Tales of the Black Freighter quite a bit, and Under the Hood a little bit less, I must admit that I am glad that they were released separately, and not part of the original film. The make for fascinating, well done DVD bonus features, but I’m not sure they are necessary as part of the film itself. Apparently for the DVD addition of Watchmen, Snyder will edit back in Tales of the Black Freighter into the narrative of the film. I’ll be interested in seeing if that adds to the movie, or distracts from it. By themselves, both films are worth watching if you want to kind of fill in the world created by the movie. As individual films onto themselves, they are merely okay.

No comments:

Post a Comment