Blu Ray Reviews

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David Swindle

Watchmen Director's Cut
Film Grade: A+
Blu Ray Grade: A

Film Grade: A-
Blu Ray Grade: A

If we're going to pay more they better give us more.

The home entertainment industry is learning quickly that consumers aren't going to pay $10 more for a Blu Ray disc when all they're getting is a higher quality picture. We better get more value for our dollar.

"Coraline" and "Watchmen Director's Cut" are two recent releases that get this. Both might cost more than the average DVD but by the time you've surveyed everything you've bought it's hard to feel ripped off.

Seeing "Coraline" for the second time, I'm starting to think my initial grade of a B was a tad harsh. In my original review I was critical of the film for only marginally developing its character. This is still something of a problem, but far less of one than I initially suspected. Seeing it again I was further enchanted by not just the visuals but also the music. It's really a film worth buying. It'll be great to have "Coraline" to throw on and have running in the background while I work. This isn't going to be a DVD that gets watched once and stuck on the shelf.

The "Coraline" Blu Ray is ridiculously loaded. First you get the film in three formats: Blu Ray, DVD, and as a digital copy for your laptop or Ipod. (Hopefully this trinity of formats will become the industry standard.) Second, the Blu Ray offers you the choice of watching the film in either standard mode or 3-D. (Four pairs of 3-D glasses are included!)

Bonus features on DVDs (and now Blu Ray) generally fall into three categories: meaningless fluff that does nothing, entirely pleasant but ultimately disposable featurettes, and finally movie-changing experiences.

The bonus features on "Coraline" include: a "making of" documentary, a featurette on the voice actors, "Creepy Coraline" discussing the film's creatures, and a director commentary. The first two are required viewing. They tremendously deepen the experience of the film. The "making of" featurette in particular is almost as dazzling as the film itself as it educates you about the stunning level of artistry that went into developing the film's look, creating the puppets, making their costumes, doing the frame-by-frame animation, and generating the naturalistic special effects. The voice feature also allows a chance to see the film's characters as fetuses - in seeing film of the voice actors act the part we see the gestures and expressions that inspired the animated characters.

The only thing missing is a solid feature focusing exclusively on Gaiman. That would have been nice.

I've anticipated the "Watchmen Director's Cut" DVD almost as intensely as I did the film itself. (See my review here.) Unlike "Coraline" the Blu Ray only provides two formats: Blu Ray and digital copy. It would have been nice if they'd thrown in the theatrical cut on DVD instead of just including it as a digital copy.

Zack Snyder's director's cut adds an additional 25 minutes to an already 2½ hour film. Interestingly the differences between the theatrical and director's cuts are usually difficult to detect. There's only one key sequence - the murder of a supporting character - that jumps out as an obvious insertion. This scene should not have been cut from the theatrical version. It's emotionally-charged and expertly shot. The additional run time is so well-integrated into the film that it was difficult to pick out.

There are three well-made featurettes of varying quality on the second disc. The first is the general making-of, titled "The Phenomenon: The Comic That Changed Comics." It's worth watching with some engaging insights and a deep exploration of the graphic novel's innovations. "Real Super Heroes, Real Vigilantes" is an odd but intriguing featurette. It features interviews with historians, legal theorists, community security force the Guardian Angels, and real-life costumed vigilantes. (These real people that dress up in costumes are somewhat pathetic and almost embarrassing.) "Mechanics: Technologies of a Fantastic World" focuses on the film's physics adviser who explains the science behind the film's science fiction. It's brainy and interesting. Highly recommended.

Finally the Blu Ray features Snyder's "Maximum Movie Mode," kind of a visual director's commentary. I was skeptical going in but once Snyder's Blu Ray update of the audio commentary started I was immediately sucked in. He breaks apart sequences, pointing out symbols and explaining how effects were done. He even throws in storyboards, panels from the comics and behinds the scenes footage. Here's hoping other directors - Martin Scorsese please?! - adopt Snyder's innovation and give their films similar "Maximum Movie" treatment.

This wasn't the "director's cut" that I was expecting. Snyder had initially announced that his director's cut would be an all but exact filmed version of the graphic novel that would incorporate the pirate narrative "Tales of the Black Freighter," initially released as a stand-alone DVD. This isn't that cut of the film. But it's coming. Included in the Blu Ray is a $10 coupon for the "Watchmen Ultimate Collector's Edition." Despite this more complete forthcoming edition I'd encourage Watchmen fans to go ahead and buy this director's cut now. It's certainly worth the money and might be a good alternative when you're not in the mood for the gargantuan completists' cut.