DVD Tuesday: ‘Watchmen’ & ‘Coraline’

by W. Andrew Powell



Your television will get a work out this week, with two eye-popping cinematic extravaganzas: the director’s cut of Zack Snyder‘s Watchmen, and Henry Selick‘s adaptation of Neil Gaiman‘s Coraline. Also out this week, a horde of zombies take over a small town in Bruce Macdonald‘s Pontypool.

Watchmen (Director’s Cut) [DVD & Blu-ray]
A film like Zack Snyder’s Watchmen is a great example of what makes the Blu-ray format powerful. With great visuals, a strong story, fantastic sound, and maybe as importantly, great features, the film has everything to make the whole package a real experience on your home theatre.

However, not everyone was happy with the final product. Writer Alan Moore was firmly against the film, but the good news is that Watchmen does not disappoint, it merely tries too hard to be too many things for too many people.

Set in an alternate-reality 1985 when superheroes wait around every corner and America is at the height of cold-war tension with the Soviet Union, Watchmen is a different kind of hero story from the likes of Spider-Man or The Dark Knight. It is far more intellectual, with philosophical concepts that will seem familiar if you watched one of Moore’s other adapted stories, maybe most notably, V for Vendetta.

The story begins when one of their own is murdered, and the vigilante Rorschach sets out to discover the roots of a conspiracy to kill the members of the now disbanded group of heroes known as the Watchmen. Going back to the group he once worked with, Rorschach uncovers a plot that could result in nuclear war, while the question buzzes in the background, is there more going on than meets the eye?

Snyder, who left his mark with the epic 300, makes great use of the source material, and considering the huge expectations of the widespread fan base, the results are more than impressive.

The only major flaw is that Snyder is too faithful to the original graphic novel, which makes the story feel cluttered with far too many asides. I don’t know what you would cut, since those asides make for a very complete and satisfying picture, showing us the hearts of these troubled heroes, but this clutter reduces the film’s tension, and the Director’s Cut adds even more to the complicated mix.

In terms of the cast, I’m only somewhat familiar with the graphic novel, but the assembled stars are fantastic. My favorites had to be Malin Akerman as Silk Spectre II, who imbues her character with gentle innocence, despite being able to break people’s arms off, and the gruff Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach. Haley has a way of spitting out his lines like syllabic insults, and although he has a mask over his face for most of the film, he makes the character’s pain entirely visible.

I can’t help but add that, were the film released ten years ago, this would have been a monumental story to tell on screen. It would have been more challenging to make, and it would have been a risk, but today it feels like a film that arrived late for the superhero party. Next to The Dark Knight, I’m also sorry to say that it feels just a tad silly, and meandering, which seems like a disservice to Moore’s work.

Fans may not be overwhelmed by the features, but there is enough here to make the DVD or Blu-ray package worth buying. In particular, the innovative director’s commentary on the Blu-ray edition, dubbed “Maximum Movie Mode”, puts Snyder on screen throughout moments in the film to show us how some of the movie magic was made. Watchmen also puts a solid tombstone on the idea of what I can only call the now old-fashioned idea of audio commentaries.

This feature is not a new concept, but it is very impressive. The other features, including a look at the comic book, real-life vigilantes, and a discussion about the theoretical science of the Watchmen, are not exactly Earth-shattering, but they are interesting as background to the film, and the seminal graphic novel it’s based on.

Coraline [DVD & Blu-ray]
In all the world there are few writers who I admire more than Neil Gaiman (aside from Terry Pratchett). Gaiman’s stories are consistently intense, moving, and all-together spellbinding in a world of what I can only call mostly mundane writers.

In this stop-motion animated feature, which is based on Gaiman’s Hugo and Nebula award-winning novella, Dakota Fanning voices the part of Coraline, a young girl looking for adventure in what she considers her otherwise dull life. When she discovers a special door, which opens into a parallel world where life is exciting, Coraline may have bitten off more than she can chew, as that other life threatens to spill into the real world.

Directed by Henry Selick, who also brought The Nightmare Before Christmas to the big screen, this is a fantastic adventure film, but it is definitely geared towards a teen audience, primarily because it can be quite dark.

The DVD and Blu-ray package have very good features, and include a 3-D version of the film, complete with the necessary glasses, but I’m not sure this is a selling point. Much like the 3-D of yesteryear, the trick is accomplished with simple coloured glasses, and frankly it’s more trouble than it’s worth, ruining the film’s best moments with non-stop eyestrain.

Lastly, set in the small, rural town of Pontypool, Ontario, Bruce Macdonald’s latest film has a horde of zombies bent on killing anyone in their path. The catch? The zombie plague is spread through the English language, and the only way to keep yourself safe is to speak French.

As The GATE’s own Christine Estima put it in her review, “Oh, the Quebecois are going to love this movie.”

Starring Stephen McHattie as a shock radio DJ who has been set loose on the wilds of a small-town radio station, the film revolves around the group of workers within the building as they wait out the infection. As more people fall to the virus though, they begin to suspect that the station itself is broadcasting the disease to their listeners.

“This psychological thriller plays out very much like The Blair Witch Project,” Estima wrote, “where the villain is often talked about, but never seen on screen for the majority of the film, thus leaving the horror to our imaginations.”

“There is very little gore and guts in this flick, and it’s all the better for that. This isn’t a slasher horror that gets off on the scream factor. It’s intelligent and leaves you asking questions long after leaving the cinema.”

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