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Review: Watchmen Director’s Cut

Back in March when I sat in an LA press screening of the theatrical cut of Watchmen, I was nervous. I had been following the development of the film since before the first day of production, was invited to the set, met and interviewed Zack Snyder, and members of the cast and crew — in short, I was biased.

Would I just like the film because I had invested so much time and emotion into following it being made? Even worse, what if I hated it and then had to write a scathing review of it on this site — a site that Watchmen co-creator and all around nice guy Dave Gibbons told me he visits every day?

As I sat in that LA theater I watched the film like a deer in headlights, partly awed, partly giddy and totally caught up in the moment that I was actually seeing a film I've been anticipating for years. There was thunderous applause from most of the journalists when the movie ended, and I was one of them, but I walked away not really knowing how much I really liked it.

Watchmen Director's Cut

When I saw it a second time at a preview screening in New York I couldn't stop smiling the entire 2 hours and 43 minutes. As the film approached its climax I began to realize I didn't just like this Watchmen film — I loved it.

I brought my wife to that NY screening — who was not a comics fan and who never read the original graphic novel. When I asked he what she thought of it, I was worried that she was going to pan it. As it turned out, she loved the movie as well. The two other friends I brought to that screening had read Watchmen before, and were fellow geeks, and they said they really liked it too.

Yesterday, I ventured into New York City again to catch the Director's Cut on screen at the Landmark Sunshine 5 — one of only four theaters nationwide showing the film this week. I brought the two friends that came with me to the preview screening five months ago along with two more — both who have not read the graphic novel, and one who hadn't even seen the theatrical cut.

Again, everyone really liked the film. The four of us who had seen the original theatrical cut all agreed — the added and extended scenes really improved the film a great deal. Some of my friends were surprised at how much they improved the film.

So what makes this cut better? Well, I won't go into every single addition made to this version (For that, take a look at this article by CHUD's Devin Faraci), but I will tell you what elements really made a difference.

First — the film's pacing and rhythm have been greatly improved. In the theatrical cut, there were many times the film seemed to jump quickly from a line of dialog at the end of one scene, to the next line in the following scene. With these trimmed scenes crammed together, you end up not getting enough time to absorb the content of the previous scene before being expected to start thinking about the next one.

Dan sees the Doc lose it on TV

For example — in the theatrical cut, Dr. Manhattan shouts, “Leave me alone!” to the talk show audience and then immediately teleports to Mars where he instantly begins his stoic monologue. The shift in tone is so abrupt it was almost physically jarring. In the Director's Cut, like in the graphic novel, the Doc shouts, teleports the audience away and stands for a moment in shocked silence in the empty theater. Then, we cut back to Dan and Laurie at the end of their back alley brawl where Laurie tells Dan she won't be coming with him to Mason's. Then we cut to Dan's arrival at Hollis' apartment where he immediately tells Dan about the Doc losing it on T.V. Finally, we get to Dr. Manhattan appearing on Mars.

The second thing that was greatly improved was the entire character arc of Laurie. There are several scenes showing how she is followed and monitored by government agents making sure she doesn't do anything to upset Dr. Manhattan. One of these scenes has the agents interrogating Laurie about what she did to make him leave and asking if she knows where he went. Some scientists burst in explaining that they traced the Doc's energy signature to Mars.

This is critical exposition that was lacking in the theatrical cut in where, without explanation, somehow the government just “knows” he's on Mars. It also helps hammer home that the government knows what the Doc's energy signature looks like, and can track and identify it — which ties in neatly the the catastrophic climax of the film.

Captain Axis gets clobbered

The number three addition that improved the film — especially for die-hard fans — was the murder of Hollis Mason. The scene plays out just like it does in the graphic novel — Mason calls his old crime fighter friend Sally Jupiter to tell her that Dan and Laurie are back in costume and back in action. Their endearing call ends with a knock on the door from Knot-tops out to kill Nite Owl. As the melee ensues, flashes of the original Nite Owl pummeling his old arch enemies cut between the old hero landing some blows on his Knot-top attackers. Snyder even scored the scene with music from Raging Bull.

The payoff to this scene happens later when Nite Owl II sees a news broadcast at Happy Harry's Bar announcing his friend and mentor's murder followed by the masked hero beating the pulp out of a nearby patron who happens to be a Knot-top.

The last major addition is more Rorschach. First, fans will be happy that the journal entries that included the vigilante's infamous “possibly homosexual, must investigate further,” has been put back in as well as “Even in the face of armageddon I shall not compromise in this.” We evenget some added dialogue during his prison therapy sessions, his investigation of Veidt assailant Roy Chess' apartment, a few more seconds of face cleaving action in the child molester's shack, and a great scene on the roof of the prison after his breakout where he pretty much calls Laurie a whore and she retorts by calling him an asshole.

Other than that, there's nothing else major that's been added worth devoting an entire paragraph in this article to, but you will get a little more of Dr. Manhattan and Laurie on Mars, more Comedian in Vietnam and the Keene Riots, and even a bit more Nixon.

Rorschach evades some cops

There's only one added scene I didn't like which involved two cops discovering Rorschach while he's investigating Blake's apartment. In the scene, he knocks one cop out and then “evades” a second who fires four shots from his service revolver a the motionless Rorschach at point blank range and for some strange reason misses him. With this added scene we also lose a nice transition from the Minutemen photo in Rorschach's hand to the same photo on Hollis Mason's wall.

Here's what you won't get that as a fan of the comic series you might have been hoping for. You will not get the confrontation between Rorschach and his landlady nor will you be getting much more of the two Bernies at the newsstand. You will get Walter Kovacs accosting big Bernie for the latest issue of the New Frontiersman and some nice close-up of little Bernie's Black Freighter comic. Of course, none of the animated Black Freighter comic will be spliced into this version either — that is coming in December and will be dubbed the Ultimate Edition.

So to sum up, the highlights of the Director's Cut are more Rorschach, more Hollis Mason, more Laurie and overall better pacing and improved exposition. See it in theaters if you can, and definitely pick it up on Blu-ray or DVD — it deserves a place on your shelf between your worn Watchmen TPB and carefully handled Absolute Edition. I know I'll never watch the theatrical cut again.

7.22.09 Source: WatchmenComicMovie.com

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