Watchmen: Director’s Cut (2009)

2009 #79
Zack Snyder | 186 mins | Blu-ray | 18 / R

This review contains spoilers.

Hitting US Blu-ray so long ago that it’s shameful I haven’t watched it ’til now, and finally arriving in the UK next Monday, the Director’s Cut is Zack Snyder’s final vision of Watchmen: The Movie. The Ultimate Cut (currently available in the US but with no confirmed UK release), which integrates the animated Tales of the Black Freighter into the main feature, is, in Snyder’s words, “an experiment”. Maybe one day he’ll change his mind and say that’s actually his definitive version; I suppose these days — when it seems every major film has a proliferation of different cuts across theatrical release, home entertainment release, and home entertainment re-release — such a thing as a “definitive version” doesn’t necessarily exist. But that’s a debate for another day: for now, this — not The Ultimate Cut, and certainly not the theatrical cut — is Snyder’s Watchmen.

That said, I wouldn’t be inclined to say it’s vastly different to the previously seen version. There are some obvious new scenes and extensions, especially if you’re familiar with the original novel, but ultimately I didn’t find the additional 24 minutes created a vastly different experience. Most of the flaws still remain, from the unfixable — Malin Akerman is somewhat miscast; sometimes episodic storytelling (a largely unavoidable side effect of faithfully adapting a novel that is very much a story in 12 parts, as opposed to a story divided into 12 chunks) — to those that Snyder could potentially have rectified — the alley fight/Manhattan interview crosscutting still doesn’t quite work; Bubastis is inadequately explained; too little time is devoted to the large cast of secondary characters in New York to give Adrian’s plan the same emotional kick it has in the novel; and so on.

By the same token, none of the great bits are ruined, while some are enhanced. Although mostly faithful to the novel, the changes Snyder and co have made are almost all for the better: Rorschach’s “what do you see?” beats the fan-favourite landlady scene (goodness knows why it’s a fan favourite), and Matthew Goode’s slightly built, faintly Germanic Veidt seems a more natural fit for the character now than Gibbons’ more butch version (possibly only in my opinion, that one). Best of all is the modified climax, which retains all the significance of the original but, by changing the way in which it’s brought about, streamlines and tidies up the storytelling. The giant squid is a great comic book image, but this is superior plotting, especially in the abridged form a film adaptation must take.

As for the new bits themselves, some are slightly misguided — Rorschach’s escape from Blake’s apartment, for example, is wholly unnecessary; it shows him injuring a policeman, an incident now referred to over the next few scenes, but we don’t need to see it to follow the references, and showing it gets in the way of the previously perfect match-cut from the Minutemen photo in Blake’s apartment to the same one in Hollis Mason’s. By and large, however, the extensions add depth via little lines and moments. The most noticeable are a better building of Laurie’s backstory, and Hollis Mason’s death. The latter is a little ancillary to the main plot, its excision from the theatrical version easily justified to keep the running time down, but in itself is a well-played and tragic scene that adds further resonance to the end of Dan’s story.

Whatever you thought of Watchmen after the theatrical cut, this extended version is likely to change your opinion no more than any other re-viewing would. That said, with a little extra room to breathe and a few worthwhile extensions, and in spite of the odd tweak that doesn’t work, this is the superior cut of the film.

5 out of 5

Most of the comments in my lengthy review of the theatrical cut still stand, so I invite you to read it here.

Watchmen: Director’s Cut placed 3rd on my list of The Ten Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2009, which can be read in full here.

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