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    Wed, 25 Mar 2009 16:05:56

    Movie Reviews:

    This direct-to-DVD Watchmen companion adapts two elements of the comic book series by writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons that did not make it into the movie. Tales of the Black Freighter is a horrific pirate story rendered in line-art animation, with actor Gerard Butler voicing a sanity-challenged sea captain. Under the Hood, originally printed as text pages from a costumed character's autobiography, appears as a documentary-style TV interview. The DVD also includes the interesting behind-the-scenes feature "Story Within a Story: The Books of Watchmen."

    In the published version of Watchmen, Tales of the Black Freighter is a comic book that exists in the story's alternate version of our world. A boy loiters beside a newsstand reading the comic, which has allegorical similarities to events set in motion by the villain of the overarching Watchmen storyline.

    Unlike the previously released Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic DVD, the Black Freighter DVD does not animate Gibbons' actual artwork. That's unfortunate, because the corresponding footage in the misnamed Complete Motion Comic was truncated to the point of incomprehensibility.

    Although this new DVD uses Gibbons' layouts, everything is newly drawn by South Korea's Big Star Animation. Some odd liberties were taken in the transition, such as having the sea captain carry around a dead crew member's head. But aside from editorial "tightening," the rest is nearly word-for-word faithful to Moore's story.

    Watchmen director Zack Snyder wants to edit this footage into a director's cut of Watchmen at some point, but it's going to be an awkward fit. While Butler does a good job narrating the purposely purple prose (a corpse's head bursts "as if pressurized by the guilt within"), the unimpressive animation is adequate at best. Splicing it into Snyder's gorgeously art-directed live-action film will make for an inconsistent mashup between "Saturday morning" and "state of the art."

    The Under the Hood documentary is a neat conceit, featuring in-character interviews with actors from the Watchmen movie. Not all of the info from the comic book text sections is included, and the washed-out image quality that's supposed to convey pre-digital-TV verisimilitude is slightly annoying. But there's some clever stuff here, making this a worthwhile supplement.

    The notoriously Hollywood-averse Alan Moore had nothing to do with this project, or with the Watchmen movie itself, and is not mentioned anywhere in the credits. (His full name is spoken only one time, by an interviewee in the bonus feature.) This means that the main person Watchmen fans would want to watch talk about his work is nowhere to be seen—but it's nice that illustrator Gibbons puts in an on-camera appearance.

    —James Dawson

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