2016.19: Watchmen-Ultimate Cut (Blu-ray)
I bought the Theatrical Cut on blu-ray. I bought the Directors Cut on blu-ray. I’ve now bought the Ultimate Cut on blu-ray. I don’t feel ripped-off at all by all this double/triple-dipping.
I think I must like this movie.
Well, to be fair, although I’ve always wanted to see the Ultimate Cut I’ve never been compelled enough to pay the crazy amounts charged on ebay over the years, only buying it now due to it being in a sale on Amazon. However, it is clear that I like, even love, this movie; it remains one of my most enjoyable and surprising experiences at the cinema, certainly in the past few decades. This was a film with a huge weight on it, based on a book that was widely accepted as being unfilmable, and directed by Zack Snyder (Man of Steel surely later indicating how bad Watchmen might have been). It should have been a disaster, but instead I came out of the cinema buzzing like I hadn’t in years; my mate Andy who had also read the graphic novel years before loved it too. Yet we’d just seen arguably the weakest version of the film- the Directors Cut that came out on blu-ray several months later was far superior and answered many of the problems of the theatrical cut.
How much the world needed the Ultimate Cut depends on how much you loved the film, as that Directors Cut is pretty much definitive. The problem that the Ultimate Cut has is two-fold: the sheer length of the thing (three and a half hours of it) and how much the animated Tales of the Black Freighter distracts from the live-action and upsets the pacing. I can’t argue against it- the film is long and yes, some of the cuts to/from animated sequences can be jarring. On the other hand, having the Black Freighter stuff in it makes it feel more complete, and also adds some much-needed coverage of the ‘normal’ characters, the ‘real-world’ two Bernies, that adds some depth and another layer of ‘realty’ to the whole. As for how long it is- well, better that than to have it cut to ribbons, and time-wary viewers are catered for with the theatrical cut anyway. The Ultimate Cut was clearly made for the films fans and as one of them, I appreciate it; just that it exists is amazing. Its unfortunate that we fans in the UK have to import the damn thing though and, in my case, have had to wait so many years to see it.
In the years since Watchmen (and isn’t it a little terrifying how long ago 2009 feels already?), Marvel’s series of Superhero films have dominated the box office with much better critical success than Watchmen ever had, and it could be argued that Watchmen has surely been forgotten in the wake of Marvel getting so much so right.
Studios have found that if your superhero film has impressive production values, likeable actors, plenty of action and humour and maybe some romance, then mainstream audiences will lap it up as much as the geeks, and if you can keep it rated PG-13, all the better. You don’t gross over a billion dollars without it appealing to everyone, and that includes foreign audiences with non-western cultures, so keep the plot fairly simple and the spectacle high. Even fairly obscure comic-book characters can have great success (who but the geeks had ever heard of Guardians of the Galaxy?).
So Watchmen was a clear example of how not to do it. It was long, it was dense, it was dark, it was more about character and its complex, conflicted world than good guys versus bad guys with big effects sequences. It was all about its subversive source and being faithful to that. Its box office compared to the Marvel films success speaks volumes. For a R rated movie it did okay; the geeks enjoyed it ( well, most of em) but the mainstream stayed away or were confused by it. Compare this to the similarly R-rated Deadpool, violent, simple and very funny- geeks loved it but more importantly the mainstream lapped it up too. Deadpool, despite also being R-rated and its audience (in theory) limited, has earned over $680 million worldwide so far. Personally I much prefer Watchmen, but I can understand why it didn’t have the success of Deadpool or the other PG-13 Marvel offerings. In anycase, to consider Watchmen as a failure is a mistake anyway- it may not have been a Deadpool, but neither was it a Fantastic Four.
I doubt it will ever get a Blade Runner-like reappraisal, but I think it deserves to. I think Watchmen remains a phenomenal piece of work. Indeed, watching it now I am often amazed at all the details, how so much has been squeezed in (particularly in this Ultimate Cut), how faithful to the original graphic novel it is, how beautifully it is shot and acted. Detractors of the film often fail to appreciate the craft and artistry at work in this film; the sets, the lighting, the costume design. They nailed it. It’s brilliant. It isn’t perfect, but it comes so close.
Some people will argue I’m wrong and that Snyder’s film proves that Watchmen is indeed unfilmable. I think Watchmen is, like Blade Runner, an arthouse movie posing as a mainstream blockbuster. Unfortunately it’s not intimate enough for an arthouse movie or mainstream enough to be a blockbuster. It falls somewhere in between and will always fail to be embraced by critics or public, but I think those who like the film absolutely love it. I will admit it doesn’t get everything right, it’s full of little things that bug me, but I’ll forgive every one of them because of how much the damn thing gets so beautifully, gloriously, brass-balls-I-don’t-believe-they-did-that right. I’m the kind of guy who grew up with comics in the 1970s and enjoyed the critical resurgence in the 1980s and cannot believe they are taken so seriously now and transferred with so much care and attention into these amazing films. I mean, seriously, bad-mouth Watchmen and then see-
Oddly enough, Watchmen isn’t completely forgotten, even though with the release of the Ultimate Cut a few years ago you’d think it was all done. The one good thing about its perceived ‘failure’ is that we didn’t get any talk of sequels or prequels. Even fans of the film would argue against any continuation of the story, and the prequel books that came out awhile ago don’t seem to have satisfied many (although I quite like some of them). Rumours persist though of HBO working on some kind of Watchmen series, something I would ordinarily be excited about did the film not exist, but it does, so, what’s the point? I can’t believe, in so few years after the film came out, that anybody is interested in rebooting it already; but that’s Hollywood, nothing is sacred I guess. I’m sure the Comedian would appreciate the joke maybe, but it worries me. Surely there are other properties to turn to? Warren Ellis’ Planetary maybe? Or maybe Marshall Law? Can’t they leave Watchmen alone? Well, maybe Dr Manhattan knows…