DVDs for 7/21/09 – more Watchmen, 300 plus, a pair of Godards

Rorschach - a Batman over the edge
Rorschach - a Batman over the edge
I had my issues with Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Watchmen (see my review here), but those issues aside, this is a superhero film like nothing you’ve ever seen on the screen before. The idea of costumed superheroes into the real world of global politics wasn’t necessarily new when it was written in the early and is certainly not now, but the execution of the graphic novel pushes every element of the conception to mythic and apocalyptic dimensions while acknowledging the psychosis driving so many of the characters. Watching the film again, this time less wedded to the original graphic novel and more open to the temporal storytelling of the film, I found it a more satisfying experience. And part of that satisfaction comes from the expanded canvas of Zach Snyder’s “Director’s Cut,” which runs 24 minutes longer with added footage that serves character and story rather than spectacle.

The most obvious additions are the death scene of Hollis, the original Nite Owl (it’s a beautifully executed scene that perfectly translates the scene from the novel), and scenes of Nixon and his cabinet contemplating a first strike as the cold war moves closer to going nuclear. (No, the pirate comic is not added back in – and if you saw the abomination that came out as an animated version of “Tales of the Black Freighter” then you’ll be glad its not here – but you do see a few glimpses of the pages of the comic book and the characters around the news stand). But just as enriching are the little character bits laced through the film (especially Rorschach, perfectly embodied by Jackie Earl Haley right down to his throaty, phlegmy “hrrrmmm”), and the added length provides more time to reflect on the characters, their motivation and their fractured psyches: not just the schizoid conviction and moralistic hysteria of Old Testament avenger Rorschach and the sadistic psychosis of The Comedian, a brutal Fascist beating and murdering whoever he can under the facade of patriotism, but the growing disconnection of Dr. Manhattan and quantum logic that makes him both everywhere at once and tied to the moment of human experience, and the God complex and false piety of Ozymandias, who manages to profit from his plan to save mankind while putting on a show of complete altruism and pious regret for the people whose “sacrifices” made his plan possible (aka justification for killing anyone and everyone his plan calls for). It’s more compelling than exciting, a thoughtful film swirling with metaphysics and meta-storytelling, and I find that those dimensions come through even better on home video, which is well suited to slower narratives filled with novelistic detail. The longer cut delivers just that.

The theatrical version is available in a single-disc edition with no supplements and the longer Director’s Cut is on the DVD Special Edition and Blu-ray edition. The featurettes are not as interesting or detailed as the film’s fans might hope for (and of course author Alan Moore is completely absent from any and all supplements). The 28-minute “The Phenomenon: The Comic That Changed Comics” is a decent survey of the origins and impact of the original graphic novel and the 17-minute “Mechanics: Technologies of a Fantastic World,” with physicist James Kakalios (an unofficial scientific adviser on the film), looks at the science behind the fiction, but neither are all that revelatory. Exclusive to the Blu-ray edition is the “Immersive WB Maximum Movie Mode,” which adds a twist to the familiar interactive audio-video track of little featurettes, interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, storyboards and comic book panels popping in the screen. This mode is most effective when Zach Snyder literally steps into the frame to discuss a scene in depth, at times stopping and rewinding to pick out details and illustrate his points. But if you are waiting for the ultimate edition, you might just want to rent this version and wait for the super-duper, multi-disc edition announced for November – just in time for Christmas.

And speaking of Zach Snyder and ultimate editions, 300: The Complete Experience arrives on Blu-ray this week (what a coincidence – the same time as Watchmen!). This is an exhaustive a Blu-ray special edition as I’ve ever seen. The centerpiece is “The Complete 300: A Comprehensive Immersion,” an interactive picture-in-picture experience with three separate audio/video tracks featuring production footage, interviews, artwork and interviews (much of it from the featurettes, much more of it new to this presentation) focused on separate aspects of the production and a menu designed as a timeline that allows the viewer to explore the pieces individually. It plays like a trio of epic documentaries with the film as illustration. Also new is a Bluescreen picture-in-picture track contrasting the live photography to the finished film with running commentary by Snyder, which plays a companion to the previously-released commentary by director Zach Snyder with co-writer Kurt Johnstad and cinematographer Larry Fong. Also includes the featurettes from the previous DVD edition (remastered in high definition for this release), deleted scenes and webisodes. If you can’t get enough of this film, then this is the edition for you. Read my review of the film itself on MSN here.

Criterion releases a pair of Jean-Luc Godard features which, appropriately enough, were produced concurrently. 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her is a landmark in a career full of landmarks, a 1966 rumination of life in the material world where he deconstructs and reconstructs the narrative form as a personal essay. According to the opening credits, the “her” of the title is Paris in the midst of urban renewal, but “she” is also a loving mother and suburban housewife (Marina Vlady) forced into part-time prostitution to make ends meet. Godard (narrating in a stage whisper) rails against American aggression in Vietnam with satirical monologues, muses over materialism and ponders the limitations of language and representation while still finding time to stop and admire the sublime in the ordinary: birth, death, and infinity in the swirl of a coffee cup. Made in U.S.A. is a lark of a crime thriller in a fantasy Atlantic City on the French coast. Loosely based on the novel “The Jugger” by Donald Westlake (under the pseudonym Richard Stark), it’s ostensibly about a femme fatale (Anna Karina) searching for her the man who murdered her lover but really about a riot of movie references, political lampooning and color as it only exists in the cinema. 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her features commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin and both include interviews, featurettes and booklets.

For the rest of the highlights (including the new releases Coraline and The Unknown Woman and the final season of Pushing Daisies), visit my weekly column, which goes live every Tuesday on MSN Entertainment, or go directly to the various pages dedicated to New Releases, Special Releases, TV and Blu-ray.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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