Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic (2009)

Actors: Tom Stechschulte
Jake Strider Hughes, Brian Stilwell
Wesley Coller, Jake Strider Hughes, Paul Baldwin, Brian Stilwell
Animated, Color, NTSC
Language: English
Region: 1 (U.S. and Canada only)
Number of discs: 2
Warner Home Video
DVD Release Date: March 3, 2009
Run Time: 360 minutes



The serious problems with Watchmen - The Complete Motion Comic stem more from the format itself than from its particular execution. In simplest terms, I can't imagine why watching this DVD would equal the satisfaction of simply reading the book . . . or, alternately, viewing the Zack Snyder live-action movie.

It occupies a no man's land between those two options: neither kinetic enough to match a proper movie nor personal enough to match the intimacy of the graphic novel. Again, however, that's a conceptual critique, akin in many ways to dismissing Disney movies because you just don't like cartoons. The Watchmen motion comic attains its stated purpose well enough, and while it can be frustrating in the extreme, it still holds interest for those of a particular mindset.

The disc itself covers all twelve chapters of the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons comic. Every frame of every page is accurately rendered onscreen, with the dialogue performed by vocal actor Tom Stechschulte. It doesn't include the heavy post-script text at the end of each issue, but the titles all appear at the proper points, and each chapter closes with the same quote that Moore and Gibbons presented. The frames are roughly animated, but retain the strict composition of Gibbons' art: a fist will slide awkwardly up to a jaw, for instance, or the amorphous mask of the vigilante Rorschach will shift and change amid an otherwise static close-up.

The vocal work adopts a similar no-nonsense technique. Audiobook listeners will be familiar with the process: a single actor provides the voice of each character, distinguishing them solely by tone and inflection. The graphic novel used dialogue almost exclusively, so there's no narrative to contend with . . . just Stechschulte and his version of the various Watchmen figures. The actor is deft, but some voices work better than others (using a man to enunciate the Silk Spectre and her mother proves distracting in the extreme).

The overall effect is much like having someone read the graphic novel to you: in this case, with pictures to complete the package. It again beggars the question of how such an experience improves upon absorbing the book at your own pace and in a way which doesn't limit your imagination. Its reverence is unquestionable - woven into the very fabric of the endeavor - and as a comparison to Snyder's film, it retains an undeniable fascination.

The Snyder version is remarkably loyal in its own way, and looking at the motion comic side-by-side with it demonstrates both its proximity to the source and the necessary ways in which it diverges. But that still doesn't overcome the built-in flaws of the motion comic or make it enjoyable as anything more than a novelty. Despite its five-and-a-half hour running time (more than twice as long as the theatrical film), it loses much of the visceral excitement and human essence produced by the Snyder version. As an academic exercise, it has its charms, but as a stand-alone project, it simply can't compete.

THE DISC: Two discs contain the entire motion comic. The DVD chapters adhere strictly to the twelve-issue format of the book - which makes "picking it up" and "setting it down" extremely easy - and the transfer retains the palate from the novel extremely closely. Unfortunately, the garish colors (emulating John Higgins' original efforts) work far better on the page than they do on the screen, a fact which the film's sharpness illustrates only too well. The discs are completely starved for additional material. Beside a few previews, they feature nothing but a sneak peek at the new Wonder Woman DVD: the same one that ran with Gotham Knight over six months ago.

WORTH IT? Likely not. There are numerous alternative options available - either on the big screen or at the bookstore - and if you need a Watchmen DVD fix, you'll probably be better served with Tales of the Black Freighter later this month.

RECOMENDATION: Strictly for Watchmen completists and those looking for a more effective way of measuring Snyder's film against the book. Everyone else should save their money for a copy of the original comic or another look at the theatrical movie.

- Rob Vaux



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