I really loved Zack Snyder’s Watchmen when it finally hit theaters back in March. I was completely ga-ga over the thing, and I saw it a whopping four times. (Of course, it didn’t hold a candle to my seven visits to Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight last year.) But now, I’ll never be able to bring myself to watch that film again. I just can’t do it. I have a new love in my life that wholly cancels out that film. I’m speaking of course of the recently released Watchmen Director’s Cut.
As far as I’m concerned, the Director’s Cut is the only way to watch this movie and it will be this version that gets re-released and rewatched in the coming years. Not many alternate cuts have that distinct privilege. Blade Runner most certainly has—has anybody really sat down to watch the theatrical cut in the last 20 years or so? James Cameron always seems to pull that one off, too, with The Abyss and Aliens both more popular in their Special Edition versions (personally, though, I much prefer the theatrical cut of Terminator 2 to its Special Edition).
Watchmen can now be added to this list. It just makes the theatrical…frankly a little difficult to watch. It makes it feel like the televised version where a good half-hour of integral information has been excised to leave room for commercials. It’s a much more complete, flowing, and involving movie than its theatrical counterpart.
The Director’s Cut, while actually even more faithful to the graphic novel than the theatrical cut (which was widely criticized for being too faithful), manages to feel like its own entity much more because it gives itself so much more room to breathe and properly tell its story. (Be forewarned, over the course of this review, you may find yourself coming across a SPOILER or two, especially if you didn’t see the theatrical version already.)
Obviously there’s more story and more character—the staple of most Director’s Cuts—but what makes the Watchmen Director’s Cut so good is that it provides necessary enhancements to the story that, once given, feel like they had no business being taken away in the first place.
For example, the DC includes scenes after Dr. Manhattan has left Earth, that show Laurie returning to her military-base home that she shared with him to be interrogated by scientists and government officials as to where he might have gone. The scientists eventually locate him on Mars. This scene helps two things that were left oddly open-ended in the theatrical cut: a) that Manhattan was specifically on Mars wasn’t really stated in the TC until the scene where he brings Laurie to Mars—for anyone not in the know, they were probably wondering “Where the hell is he?” when he is seen raising the palace from the ground, and b) it explains how Laurie managed to sever herself from the military compound where she was inevitably kept under close examination.
Also, Laurie’s flashback of the Comedian trying to talk to her after the first Watchmen meeting is extended a bit and placed earlier in the film, presented in a light that makes it appear that he was hitting on her. When this scene is shown again later on Mars, in a different context where she realizes he was actually her father, it’s a moment that has now been appropriately set up and paid off. It makes more sense and it makes for a much more powerful moment.
But it doesn’t end there—minor issues are worked out, as well. There were several strange edits in the TC that had bugged me a bit, and here they’re nicely padded out and completely taken care of. In Rorschach’s flashback to the child murderer, it’s amazing how a single added shot of the murderer walking up to his house and noticing the door kicked in really diminishes the awkwardness of the cut straight to him slamming the door open with a gun at the ready.
Or Laurie’s line to Dan after their dinner together, “I’m sorry…I invite you out for a few laughs, but there don’t seem to be that many laughs left these days” was initially inserted not long after they were both laughing their heads off about Captain Carnage. The DC adds some extra padding right before it that makes this line (and the cut right before it) make much more sense.
And I suppose I can’t talk about the Director’s Cut without talking about its crowning jewel, the murder of Hollis Mason by a gang of Top Knots. The death scene is really spectacularly filmed and works surprisingly well in the context of the film (which thankfully also includes a couple more brief scenes with Hollis, so that this wouldn’t feel totally out of left field). Dan (as Nite Owl) later beats the crap out of a Top Knot when he hears the news while he and Rorschach are at the bar seeking out information. After this confrontation, nothing much more is done to round it all out, but I guess it was kind of the same way in the book. I think there are a couple of very simple shots that Snyder could have included at a certain point that would have rectified this oversight, but I won’t bore you with all that.
My favorite new addition, aside from the ones I mentioned earlier that help the story flow better, has got to be the extra dialogue between Dr. Manhattan and Laurie on Mars. Not only does it expand on a conversation that was already pretty philosophically fascinating, but it also adds many bits and alternate takes that show the more human and vulnerable side of Manhattan. It’s subtle, but subtlety is usually the best way of handling these sorts of things anyway and, in this case, it works beautifully.
I initially skimmed through the disc to take a look at what I’d read were the new additions to the film before I actually sat down to watch the whole thing. I don’t recommend doing that. Most of the new stuff, on its own—while not by any means bad—isn’t overly impressive. Its purpose is more to benefit the film as a whole and when you watch it, you’ll see what I mean. This is a true Director’s Cut—a film that is clearly being presented in the way that it was supposed to be seen.
Before I had watched the director’s cut I was slightly let down that the theatrical version wasn’t also available on the DVD (except for the digital copy, which is the 162-minute theatrical cut). Now, I really couldn’t care less. I don’t think I have any need to ever watch the theatrical cut of this film again—it just won’t feel like I’m watching the actual movie.
At 186 minutes, it’s certainly not a short movie, but its monstrously epic length is one of the things that I like most about it. Name me one more three-hour-long R-rated arthouse-ish superhero movie. It can’t be done. Watchmen and its exceptional Director’s Cut are a one-of-kind movie experience—a fascinating adaptation of equally fascinating and challenging source material. You’d be doing yourself quite well to pick up a copy.
Buy Watchmen Director’s Cut on DVD HERE.