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Blu-ray Review: Watchmen – Tales of the Black Freighter and Under the Hood

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The Movie
It’s a double feature today. Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter & Under the Hood features two short films, which are supposed to be used in companion with the feature-length film and will at some point be released with the film in an all exclusive edition.

Tales of the Black Freighter
is an animated short film based on a comic strip that appears within the Watchmen comic book. Because the world of the Watchmen already featured superheroes Moore found it pertinent that this world would have comics, but they would star a different kind of hero, in this case a pirate captain.

Starring the voice of Gerard Butler of 300 fame, Tales of the Black Freighter tells the story of a pirate ship that has been attacked by another ship, called The Black Freighter, which is supposedly crewed by demon pirates. The Black Freighter destroys the ship of the pirate captain voiced by Butler causing him to be stranded on a deserted island.

With each Butler voiceover we can tell that the captain is becoming angrier with the people that have done this to him and his crew. He is the only one left alive and is forced to fashion a makeshift raft out of the bloated corpses of his dead crew.

Tales of the Black Freighter
is used to mirror the events happening within Watchmen. Starting out as a valiant captain, he soon finds himself descending into madness becoming a villain himself. Watchmen seems to follow the theme expressed by Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight “You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

I’m not a Watchmen aficionado, so I’m not sure how closely Tales of the Black Freighter resembles the source material, but I found it to be a deeply thought out analogy of the Watchmen universe. The captain’s descent into madness is gradual, but horrifying none-the-less. The surprise is that he is equally as horrified as we are when he is finally driven to his last act of unspeakable violence. Causing the very thing he was trying so hard to stop.

Under the Hood is an inside look into the first group of superheroes, who were called the Minutemen. In the theatrical cut of Watchmen the Minutemen and "Under the Hood" (the book written by the first Nite Owl, Hollis Mason) were only briefly mentioned. Here the back story is fleshed out a bit.

In what is intentionally made to look like an early ‘80s newscast, a newscaster does an in-depth piece on the Minutemen. Specifically focusing on Hollis Mason and his tell-all book.

Filmed documentary style, the newscaster goes around to Hollis Mason/Nite Owl (Stephen McHattie), Sally Jupiter/Silk Spectre (Carla Gugino), and Edgar Jacobi/Moloch the Mystic (Matt Frewer) asking them about what it was like when they were superheroes/super villains, and what it was like to give up that life to become a civilian again.

I enjoyed more back story about where the superheroes in the Watchmen universe came from. But, Under the Hood soon becomes a bit tiresome because the pace is extremely slow. It even goes so far as to recreate old commercials for shampoo and other products. I thought it was going overboard and was a waste of time, but die-hard fans of Watchmen will most likely love this attention to detail.

The Quality
The quality for each of these films couldn’t be more different, but at least it’s on purpose. Tales of the Black Freighter is presented in an enhanced 1.78:1 ratio. The animation uses a lot of dark deep colors, and resembles the type of animation used in the animated scene from Kill Bill. The dark colors are presented with the utmost clarity. Black is the most prominent color it seems, and it is easy to distinguish true black from other dark grays.

Under the Hood is purposefully meant to look like an old ‘80s newscast so it’s presented 1.33:1 aspect ratio with noticeable blips and lines making it look like old film. Under the Hood definitely doesn’t use the BD to its fullest capacity, but given its purpose it’s not required to.

The sound in Tales of the Black Freighter truly benefits from the Dolby TrueHD 5.1. It puts all the channels through a workout. Butler’s voiceovers are delivered crisp and clear through the front channels, while the surrounding channels have their moments to shine during the pirate and shark attack scenes.

The sound on Under the Hood is purposefully understated and has been given more a mono-type sound to make it appear authentic. The voices are delivered cleanly, even though the actors seem like they’re talking through a tin can at times. It’s supposed to be a vintage TV show, so like the video quality, don’t be expecting much with the sound either.

The Extras

"Story Within a Story," gives the context of these two stories within the Watchmen universe. For me, a Watchmen newbie, it helped m understand how and why these stories fit in to the overall Watchmen mythology.

The first chapter of The Complete Motion Comic is available for people to watch. It’s mainly a promotion tool to get you to go out and buy that BD also.

"A First Look at The Green Lantern," is a tiny snippet of the upcoming movie about The Green Lantern. No actual information about the movie is given, it is mainly used to whet the appetites of people who know nothing about the character as a very brief overview of him is given.

BD-Live is also available.

Ending Thoughts

I’m split on this BD. I found the information of Under the Hood to be useful, and the moral of Tales of the Black Freighter to be insightful, but I don’t see the justification for spending money on this set. It is bound to come out bundled with the movie in a super deluxe edition, so if you really want this extra material you’d be wise to wait.

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