Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter & Under the Hood (2009)

Actors: Gerard Butler
Animated, NTSC
Number of discs: 1
Warner Home Video
DVD Release Date: March 24, 2009
Run Time:
64 minutes



Fans of the Watchmen graphic novel on which the recent big screen superhero movie has been based will know that Tales of the Black Freighter and Under the Hood are two fictional “publications” excerpted in the highly-acclaimed 1986 superhero comic book.

Tales of the Black Freighter is a comic book being read by one of the (many) bit characters in Watchmen. The conceit is that pirate comic books will be more popular than superhero titles in a world in which superheroes are for real. Under the Hood is a “tell-it-all” expose about some 1940s superheroes written by one of the minor characters named Hollis Mason.

Under the Hood lends some extra background info on the alternate history world of Watchmen and Black Freighter is an “unrelated” storyline that serves as analogy to events in the graphic novel. To be honest both can be safely skipped without the reader losing the general gist of things. Considering how fanatically true Zack Snyder’s movie is to the original source material it should come as no surprise that both nonexistent “books” have been turned into two short movies that are now available on this made-for-DVD release. Either that or Warner Bros. were really desperate for extra Watchmen tie-ins to cash in on!

We go for the “fanatically true to the source material” theory. Only readers of the original graphic novel will have any clue about what these two shorts are about and buy them. The plan is also that director Snyder wants to incorporate the Tales of the Black Freighter animated short into a planned “director’s cut” of Watchmen that will appear on DVD and BLU-RAY one day.

The “excerpt” from the nonexistent book Under the Hood is presented here as a mock television documentary from the 1980s with actors from the movie reprising their big screen roles here. (You just gotta love the television advertisement for Seiko digital watches – all the fad at the time – that plays during an “ad break”. Is the ad for real? It is never revealed.) It is a clever way to visually represent these text-heavy chapters under the circumstances, but is frankly dull and not as clever as it thinks it is.

Tales of the Black Freighter is understandably the main attraction here. This comic-within-a-comic is about a sea captain who uses the bloated corpses of his dead shipmates to make a raft so that he can warn his hometown about an impending attack by a pirate ship, the titular Black Freighter. The animation is fantastically well done with some strong graphics (it thankfully eschews John Higgins’ color scheme for the original comics in favor of a more apt look). It works as a standalone piece instead of being the commentary on the action it is in Watchmen, and is almost worth the price of admission alone. Note the “almost” though. Incidentally, parents should heed the “violent grisly images” warning label on the DVD. Tales of the Black Freighter is intended for adult animation buffs.

THE DISC: The Story Within a Story: The Books of Watchmen featurette included on this disc supplies some intriguing glimpses of scenes found in the graphic novel that were filmed, but never used for the theatrical cut and will no doubt make it to the planned “director’s cut” one day. However this might not be such a good idea when one considers that the theatrical cut already runs for a whopping two-and-half hours and that adding Tales of the Black Freighter to it – not to mention the other deleted scenes – will probably make it run in excess of three hours! One is reminded of Francis Ford Coppola’s extended version of Apocalypse Now. Adding the extra sequences was interesting, but they simply stopped the movie dead in its tracks. Sometimes less is more as they say, and Watchmen is a feature film that is already groaning under the weight of its own excessive exposition. Excerpts from Tales of the Black Freighter will also probably serve as a serious disconnect for audiences.

Both Under the Hood and Tales of the Black Freighter feel like the sort of extras that you wouldn’t mind seeing as part of a two-disc collectors’ edition, but forking out a whole $20 or so for them? I dunno. To pad things out there is the Story Within a Story featurette (worth checking out) and the first episode from Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic. Also listed under the special features is an “exclusive” first look at the upcoming Green Lantern DC animated movie, which also appears on the recent Wonder Woman BLU-RAY edition.

WORTH IT? Buying this disc is a bit like buying a disc consisting of special features only! It all feels very slight. Tales of the Black Freighter runs a mere 26 minutes, and Under the Hood clocks in at only 38 minutes. One has to wonder one why you should bother buying this standalone disc if the Black Freighter short will appear in its entirety in a director’s cut one day . . .

RECOMMENDATION: Like the recent Watchmen The Complete Motion Comic, this Tales of the Black Freighter disc is for Watchmen die-hard completists only. (Don’t bother with any of these two discs if you haven’t read the book and have only seen the movie.) Sad thing is that such fans will probably fork out some more money when the director’s cut of Watchmen hits shelves later this year.



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