A definite interest to fans of Watchmen, I’m not sure how Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter will go over with casual viewers. Those expecting to see something similar to the recently released live-action will get that – kind of. While it may follow some of the same themes as Watchmen, this animated short may throw more than a few viewers off because, well, it’s also something completely different. Watchmen fans already know what to expect here, but to those new to the characters and the world they inhabit? Well…prepare to be taken on a particularly disturbing journey. Also included is a second Watchmen-themed short, which I’ll also go into detail about after the synopsis.
They’re in the book. And on this disc. From the director of Watchmen and 300 come two tales from the celebrated graphic novel that do not appear in the extraordinary Watchmen Theatrical Feature. Tales of the Black Freighter, featuring the voice of 300‘s Gerard Butler, brings to strikingly animated life the novels richly layered story-within-a-story, a daring pirate saga whose turbulent events may mirror those in the Watchmen‘s world. Also, stars from the Watchmen movie team in the amazing live-action/CGI Under the Hood, based on Nite Owl’s powerful first-hand account of how the hooded adventurers came into existence. Two fan-essential stories. One place to watch the excitement. Watching the Watchmen begins here.
Following the same pathos as Watchmen, viewers should be able to get the connection between the two stories almost immediately. Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter tells the story of a shipwrecked mariner’s desperate journey to warn his home town of the Black Freighter, a demonic ship piloted by the damned. Promising nothing but death and destruction to all who encounter it, the mariner knows he has to rush if he has any hope of saving his town. Frantic and desperate, the young mariner finds himself going to unspeakable lengths to hasten his journey, none of them sane. He finds himself using the bodies of his dead crewman to fashion a raft, fighting off deadly sharks and batting away birds looking to feed off the corpses that make up the mariner’s ill-fated raft, and more. As he makes his way closer and closer to his home, we see his drift further and further into insanity, succumbing to the madness brought about by his frantic rush and the Black Freighter. As one can expect, things don’t exactly go as planned.
It’s a gripping and rather brilliant story that parallels the main story of the Watchmen, and those watching it should be able to figure out quickly what’s happening. There’s some great visual flourishes, including moments where we see what the mariner thinks he sees and is then revealed to be something truly different. The narration quickly becomes more and more frenzied and paranoid as the short animated feature, clocking in at roughly 26 minutes with credits, heads toward the chilling final frame. Having read the story from the original Watchmen comic series, they did a good job adapting it. It’s faithful, chilling, and definitely follows the same narrative. The casting of Gerard Butler as the young mariner is perfect. He does an excellent job with his vocal performance as his character becomes more and more unhinged.
However, the major fault, I find, is with the animation. It’s definitely an ambitious project, but I find the animation does fall short in what it’s trying to do. The animation just isn’t strong enough for what this short is trying to pull off. The animation can be very detailed at times but that tends to work against it at times, making the character models appear very inconsistent at times, or making the screen look too busy. The CGI animation used, for the most part, is successful, though is occasionally clashes with the traditional animation used for the rest. And, to be honest, that’s my only complaint. The animation just isn’t as strong as it should be. Some moments do look absolutely gorgeous, especially the quiet or still moments looking worthy of being framed, but the more busier moments look just that – busy. Still don’t let some rather mediocre animation at times bog down what’s an enjoyable experience for Watchmen fans.
I should also make note that while this is a great little short, I feel it does lose its touch slightly without the main Watchmen story to anchor it. I can only assume this short will get an extra kick when integrated back into main feature storyline in an upcoming Watchmen home video release.
On a quick note, the Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter release also includes a second live-action feature called Under The Hood, which provides ample background the the characters from Watchmen. Presented as an installment of a 1980’s news magazine program, we get a very detailed and time-accurate look at some of the characters from Watchmen, including a detailed history of their early years and a look at events that lead up to the movie. It’s an excellent little piece that’s an excellent companion to the movie and a nice addition to this release. While Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter is the main draw for this release, the Under The Hood companion short, running around 38 minutes, is well done and feels authentic to the era it is trying to portray.
Overall, Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter will definitely please Watchmen fans, but casual fans to the characters may be a little lost when watching this for the first time. While the description of the movie, found on the back of the packaging, does help, some will be puzzled about the connection this story has to Watchmen. Hopefully viewers will be quick to catch onto the thematic similarities in the stories. Like I said, it’s a ghastly story that mirrors the Watchmen arc, and while it could use some more booty (pardon the pun), I’m sure viewers will be torn on what they see. While some will likely dismiss it as just a cheap cash-in, I have no doubt fans will enjoy the importance of this story to the overall Watchmen story and, for fans, I Recommend checking out this feature, though the casual viewer may want to trying renting the release before deciding whether or not to add it to their collection. Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter is a chilling story that fans will no doubt enjoy, but the casual viewer may be lost on how this ties to the recent Watchmen live-action movie.
Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter arrives in a standard Blu-ray Elite case with a cardboard o-ring slipcover. Inside the set is the Blu-ray disc, with a second disc housing the digital copy. Inserts include the Digital Copy code information and an advertisement for the Watchmen graphic novel. As with all current Warner Home Video releases, there is only one menu screen for the release and the main feature automatically starts once the disc is loaded.
The audio and video is top-notch with Warner Home Video providing an excellent Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track and a pristine high-definition transfer. This releases looks as beautiful as it sounds. Personally, one of the best audio effects has to be for the Black Freighter itself as, when we see it pass onscreen, you can hear the demonic chanting coming from all around you. It’s really envelopes you and perfectly adds to the atmosphere of the short. The secondary Watchmen: Under the Hood bonus feature also looks and sounds good with the video and audio mix successfully mimicking the audio of a 1980s television program.
While Watchmen: Under the Hood could technically be considered bonus material, I suppose the first actual bonus content is the “Story Within a Story” featurette. Running 25 minutes in length, the featurette explores the multi-layered storytelling devices to the comic, how they accented the main Watchmen storyline, and provides interviews with the cast and crew of the main feature and gives a look at the production of Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter. It’s a very well put-together piece that fans should get a kick out of. Also included is a featurette on the upcoming Green Lantern: First Flight animated movie and the first chapter of the Watchmen Motion Comic, also available on DVD and Blu-ray.
All considered, it’s a pretty standard tie-in release. The Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter main feature doesn’t really jump out at me and, while I found it to be enjoyable, I thought it was trying to do more than what it could. The Watchmen: Under the Hood bonus feature should really please fans of the movie looking for more background material. The bonus material is good for this release, providing a solid featurette and some interesting bonus material. Again, fans of the movie, and the book, will likely really enjoy the “Story Within a Story” featurette. Overall, I’d definitely stamp Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter as Recommended for the die-hard fans though casual viewers may want to give it a rental before deciding whether or not to purchase. Regardless, it does provide an interesting glimpse into the world of Watchmen.
Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on March 24th, 2009.
For more Watchmen-related content, Warner Home Video has also released Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic on two-disc DVD and two-disc Blu-ray. Presenting the entire comic with limited movement and special effects, this release comes Recommended for it’s unique but imperfect take on the classic comic story. Package art for the release is below. Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic is now available to own.