The Watchmen Ephemera

     March 14, 2009

Written by Andre Dellamorte

Watchmen was always too big for just one narrative. The graphic novel was footnoted with excerpts from Hollis Mason’s book, and interviews with Sally Jupiter, notes on Rorschach, articles written by Dan Drieberg, etc. On top of the comic book within the comic book, Tales of the Black Freighter, which is a meta-narrative commentary on the film itself.

But in the wake of Watchmen’s release, some of these addendums have been completed, and help to round out the universe. Some of which may be included with the feature in a later director’s cut. The main attraction here is the animated version of Black Freighter, which is performed by Gerald Butler and with Jared Harris also providing his voice.

This work is a little more of the project than Under the Hood, the TV adaptation of the Hollis Mason section of the book. Running 25 minutes (21 without credits) it was written by Alex Tse and Zack Snyder (in adaptation), and has a score by Tyler Bates. The story is of a Sea Captain (Butler) whose vessel was destroyed by the Black Freighter. He makes a promise to himself to get home to his family, to protect them from the pirates likely to be heading there after his ship was wrecked. He pushes himself really hard to get home, using carcasses as part of his raft. But when he returns home, things are not what they appear to be.

It’s a very short, but well done comic, that likely works better in the context of the other narrative. As a standalone, it’s good that it was done, but it’s not so kick ass that just having had it done is all that exciting. Surprisingly, Under the Hood, besides a poorly done cameo by Jeffery Dean Morgan’s Comedian, is that much better and rather engaging on its own. Played as an old interview done with Hollis Mason (Stephen McHattie), the faux-doc conveys the early world of the Minutemen, and also the story of Sally Jupiter (Carla Gugino), who gives a great revealing interview that expands her character even more than the film does. If there’s a fault with Under the Hood, it’s that the film gets cameos from other people in the film, like Moloch (Matt Frewer), Big Figure (Danny Woodburn), Wally Weaver (RobLaBelle) and others, but these feel more like gimmes on the set, and some people have stories to tell, and others just give bad improv. It’s good to see the Comedian, but when he pushes away the camera, it falls to the ground under too much cushion. It’s bad playacting. Still, the piece is a great backgrounder to the material, and if I wanted to give someone an understanding why Watchmen is still regarded as one of the highpoints of comic literature, or get them interested in the movie, I might start them with this.

The Blu-ray release presents Tales from Black Freighter in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, and in TrueHD in widescreen (2.35:1). It looks amazing, and should fit well into the feature when that cut is revealed. Under the Hood is presented in full frame (1.33:1) and in Dolby Digital 5.1 and TrueHD as well. “Story Within a Story: The Books of Watchmen” (25 min.) talks about how these two pieces came to pass, and their relationship with the main text, giving Lloyd Levin, McHattie, Morgan, and Gugino a chance to talk about it, along with a number of DC people and composer Tyler Bates. It also gives glimpses at the footage that will eventually make up some of that director’s cut. The first chapter of the Motion Comic is also included (26 min.), and the set is wrapped up with a preview of the upcoming Green Lantern cartoon (10 min.)

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