Latest Blog Posts

by Omar Kholeif

30 Jul 2009


Often heralded as a successor to Ingmar Bergman due to his dark wit and humor, Swedish director, Roy Andersson has developed a niche for himself by creating poignant fables that are underscored by outlandish, laugh-out-loud comedy. In true auteur fashion, his pictures are marked by a distinctive tableau of meticulously arranged set design and cinematography, which help echo his bold (and absurd) quirkiness.

Here, in You, The Living, Andersson takes his notions of the ridiculous beyond the traditional bounds of reality – presenting us with hallucinations from vacant souls, who struggle to find ‘meaning’ in the despairing silence of the everyday. To map out a précis here however would be futile. For the filmmaker does not construct a traditional three-act narrative form, but rather weaves us into his story through emotional impulses. As such, all of the characters are ‘connected’, but unlike hegemonic movies, the players here are drawn together by their pessimistic outlook on life. The problem is of course remedied by the tragicomic ending, which sees a fleet of bomber airplanes seemingly ready to end these characters’ irreversible misery.

For those of you who feel that I may have just given away a vital plot point, rest assured. The experience of viewing Andersson’s film has less to do with this structural point, and more to do with its distinctive lighting, and its theatrical artifice – which reminds us of the sumptuousness of a Douglas Sirk masterpiece like Written On The Wind (1956) or All That Heaven Allows (1955). Unlike Sirk however, this filmmaker doesn’t mask his morbid outlook in subtext. Instead, he envelops his characters, his set (often shrouded in an eerie green light), and his camera, which on more than one occasion resides in utter stillness, almost as if waiting for the grim reaper to come and swoop these characters off to their graves.

These aesthetic choices imbue the piece with a dreamlike quality—one that is as much a nightmare, as it is a lurid fantasy. These painterly images seep into the viewer’s unconscious, hitting such a deep-set chord that by the end of the movie, I felt that I had been ‘uplifted’ from my own facade, and that I was slowly returning to it after a restless, and consuming sleep.

Besides its gloomy exterior, You, The Living is laced with some very funny instances. Old-fashioned physical gags are interspersed with inventive comic interludes. The most inspired of these examples involves a van driver, who while attempting a traditional cloth pulling technique finds himself unraveling a posh dinner party, ruining a series of antique china pieces. The driver is subsequently put on trial; where a bunch of beer-guzzling judges decide that he deserves to be electrocuted to death for his catastrophic sins. In an ingenious turn of events, Andersson executes these moments in a series of slow motion deadpan scenes, which left me hurling with uncontrollable laughter.

Another hilarious slice of comedy finds a disgruntled hairdresser reshaping an influential businessman’s head into a pseudo-Mohawk before an important meeting. When confronted by the fuming victim, the barber responds quietly: “take it easy”, explaining that a domestic tiff with his wife left him agitated, and unable to cut his hair in the manner requested. 

But despite his penchant for comedy, Andersson’s film boils with a potent political undertone, which raises existential queries. As we begin to question whether his characters are indeed ‘living’ or not, we grow to inquire about our own place in this seemingly wretched world, where we all ‘live’, merely to ‘earn’ our living, leaving behind our fantastic hopes for Technicolor in our disappearing dreams. As such, You, The Living harkens to the same hyperrealism of TV programs like Ally Mcbeal, except in a more radical and unapologetic manner. A truly visionary experience, You, The Living suggests that Roy Andersson may very well be on the brink of genius.

by Bill Gibron

28 Jul 2009


Along with their French, Japanese, and American brethren, the Italians were instrumental in bringing Golden era motion pictures - and all their phony, studio-bound ideals - up to date. With their naturalistic, neo-realism and aesthetic earthiness, they did as much as the New Wave and exploitation to help cinema “grow up”. Of course, once international audiences got a taste of their wares, commerciality took over. Soon, Mediterranean moviemakers were catering to the box office just as much as their Hollywood hucksters. By the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, Rome was the center of a mainstream movie machine that could indulge major players like Fellini, Pasolini, and Leone as well as numerous genre underlings. It was the classic battle between art and artifice, with the latter often taking profit point.

Sergio Martino and Elio Petri represent such minor, if still important, mid-period engineers. The former found fame creating cruel, nasty “giallos” - crime thrillers based on the popular yellow-covered Italian pulp novels. Such efforts as Case of the Scorpion’s Tale and Your Vice Is a Closed Room and Only I Have the Key rivaled Dario Argento for the title of king of the category. The latter was an Oscar nominated (for 1970’s Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion) radical, using his Communist party ties and strident beliefs to front-load films like The Lady Killer of Rome and We Still Kill the Old Way with alienation and surreal social commentary.

A perfect example of both men’s filmic modus operandi comes with Blue Underground’s release of Martino’s Torso and Petri’s The 10th Victim. While wildly divergent in both story and style, they’re also indicative of the men who made them and the culture who gave birth to their individual ideals. The first film is a typical “killer on the loose” exercise, Martino’s obsession with naked, nubile college girls overpowering what is, often, an intense and suspenseful nail-biter. The last 30 minutes are particularly effective. Petri’s future shock schlock, on the other hand, is all SCTV spoof fodder. From the outrageous fashions to the less than hidden anti-media agenda, this revamped version of The Most Dangerous Game is like a retro Running Man meshed with a Cinzano ad.

Yet both films are also time capsules as well. For Petri, the mid ‘60s were certainly swinging. Arthouses, long responsible for embracing the foreign film and its many marvelous auteurs, was giving way to an everyday hipster dynamic. One could walk past the numerous downtown marquees of Anytown, American and see offerings from all over the world. This meant that star power as well as story was important, and The 10th Victim gave known international icons Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress safe haven to look and act fabulous. She, decked out in the latest Milan couture, he, sporting a bad blond dye job and ever-present shades, play a prickly game of cat and mouse set against the most modern - at least for 1965 - of ultra-chic urban backdrops.

Andress’ Caroline Meredith is the latest “winner” of The Big Hunt, a worldwide television phenomenon which sees participants act as “assassin” and “victim” alternately, each pursuit played out for points, profit, and a chance at retiring a decathlete (one who successfully completes 10 missions). She is only one victory away from earning said title - and the $1 million prize that goes with it. Mastroianni’s Marcello Polletti, on the other hand, is a shady womanizer who, while equally triumphant in the game, can’t seem to hold onto his money. He’s always broke, and desperate for ways to earn additional endorsements. When the mega-computers in Geneva set them up against each other, it’s not long before passion, and the possibility of a huge advertising payday from a Chinese tea company, comes their way.

All dystopian visions should look as groovy as The 10th Victim. While Petri makes sure to pontificate now and then (the whole subtext about the Hunt solving world war and man’s natural tendencies toward violence get lots of jaw time), this is really just pretty people playing against a quirky, crazy quilt backdrop. We can never quite figure out Marcello’s marital status and his oddball obsessive girlfriend seems too unstable to be part of this meticulous killer’s interpersonal life. When he takes to the streets and cityscapes of modern Rome, Petri provides enough intrigue to keep us interested. But this is a movie that suffers from being severely dated, the high tech elements employed (handset-only dial phones, big ass blinking light computers) creating an aura of absurdity.

Still, there’s a real chemistry between Andress and Mastroianni, a tension that literally beams off the screen. The whole “are they or aren’t they in love” question appears easily answer, and yet Petri plays around with plot twists, mostly to the detriment of his designs. Visually, The 10th Victim looks slick and yet slightly stunted, as if creativity and imagination eventually gave way to budgetary concerns and limited production capabilities. We never really get the sense of the future. Everything looks like Rome circa 1965, with just a couple of technological tweaks here and there. While we sense where the story is going from the beginning, the movie tries to have it both ways, undermining our expectations while fiddling with the finale to violate the cinematic tenets of the “fourth wall.” While interesting, Petri attempt at satire merely comes off as stiff.

It’s similarly strange filmmaking fixations that also deflate Martino’s Torso - and in this case, it’s female breasts that get the best of this otherwise effective foreign slice and dice. Suzy Kendall is an American exchange student in Rome, matriculating amongst the majesty of - and the murders surrounding - an old college campus. The police are baffled by the killer’s ID, the only clue being a red and black scarf found at one crime scene. As coeds are being picked off one by one, Kendall and her crew head off to the country to escape the panic. Naturally, the maniac follows them to this remote cliff-side villa, where he systematically murders and dismembers everyone - everyone that is except our heroine. Taken lame with a sprained ankle, she is left to fend for herself, miles away from the nearest possibility of help.

So overloaded with red herrings that even Scandinavians would find it excessive, Torso is not the most complicated of whodunits. About an hour into the narrative, the identity of our villain is nothing more than a process of elimination. In essence, take whoever’s left alive, subdivide out the possible motives, and make with the Holmesian deductions. The answer, sadly, will seem pretty obvious. That doesn’t mean Martino can’t have a little frisky fun getting to the conclusion. If you like Me Decade ladies unclothed and submission, this movie is your ticket to titillation. Female mammaries are featured so often that they almost become a plot point. Similarly, Martino does his slasher genre best to handle every death from the killer’s bloody perspective. As the knife blade threatens another topless honey, it’s all so gratuitous and sleazy.

But then the director stops selling skin and offers a final act worthy of his macabre maestro status. While Kendall is recuperating in the isolated estate, she inadvertently comes across the killer using a hacksaw on her dead college friends. We watch in horror as (implied) vivisection occurs, realizing how deadly the stakes truly are. For nearly 25 minutes, Martino maintains the air of dread, Kendall looking for a way out as our psycho comes closer and closer to discovering there is one more potential victim. It’s a brave and quite brilliant twist on the standard fright film mechanics. Usually, it’s all last girl chases and proto-feminist fisticuffs. Torso, however, simply puts our heroine in harms way and then slowly turns up the suspense.

Of course, to modern audiences raised on gore, splashy F/X, and a heightened sense of cinematic spectacle, movies like Torso and The 10th Victim will seem quaint and slightly archaic. While dealing with the typical genre notions of sex and violence, each gets filtered through a particularly idiosyncratic cinematic vision. Of the two, Martino’s is more potent, if only because of the conventions he is embracing/flaunting. For Victim, Perti’s intentions are often damaged in the execution. Everything looks good, but it often plays like a trial run for the actual sci-fi statement to come. In the grand scheme of foreign cinema, and Italian filmmaking specifically, neither movie is definitive. Instead, they represent the coming commercialization of the once mighty Mediterranean artform, the end of an era that was as influential as it was inspired. Sadly, neither adjective fully applies here.   

by Bill Gibron

26 Jul 2009


In Hollywood, career desperation can take on many forms. There’s the comedian who tries for drama, the failed thesp who hopes to find solace in a shift behind the lens. There’s the aging star who tries to go younger (or older), as well as the former frontliner who delves into the realm of solid supporting “character” work. Perhaps the most notorious example of fading celebrity anxiety, however, is the return to franchise form. Just ask Harrison Ford. While a mainstay of ‘80s/‘90s blockbusters, his draining fame and fortune saw him reprise his most iconic role - Indiana Jones - for a less than successful fourth installment. Oddly enough, the same thing has happened to La-La land novices Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. 

Remember when this duo was supposed to set the Tinseltown action empire on fire? How Diesel was pitched as the thinking man’s Neanderthal and when Walker embodied leading man qualities in a stuntman’s form? Amazing what a series of less than successful starring roles will garner. Eight years after the first Fast and Furious film made both men car geek gods, the duo have returned - along with most of the original cast - to flesh out their failing finances. Avoiding the auto erotica tenets of the previous titles, part three participants Justin Lin (director) and Chris Morgan (screenplay) have decided to forgo all vehicular fetish to go moody and revenge-oriented - and it almost works. Almost.

When the heat gets too hot on his highway bandit enterprise, Dom Toretto breaks up his gang and heads undercover. Tragedy brings him back to LA. There, he learns that a drug dealer named Braga is responsible for his current pain. Without provocation, he decides to join the criminal’s gang of drivers and get some payback. Standing in his way, however, is old pal/nemesis Brian O’Connor. Now working for the FBI, he wants Braga as well. Reluctantly, they form a partnership which one again takes them into the street racing scene. As Dom’s sister Mia frets over the fate of both men, the bureau wants answers and they want them fast. Discovering who Braga really is, however, may be more difficult than maneuvering the back roads between the US and Mexico.

As long as you know what you’re getting into, Fast & Furious will end up fun and effective. This isn’t Shakespeare. No one will be looking at the expanded Oscar list come awards season for this film’s name to turn up. But when all you really want is a few high-powered action sequences, a simplified narrative that doesn’t play too dumb, and some solid work from an already comfortable cast, this most recent deposit in the fuel-injected franchise’s bank does deliver. Sure, Lin and Morgan want to make this all seem like the greatest tragedy known to man, to show Dom and Brian mulling over their fate in slo-mo statements of import. But this is one movie that doesn’t forget the flash - or put another way, the CGI aided automotive mayhem. Indeed, those looking for old school chrome on concrete chaos may come away disappointed.

This is nu-era F/X, green-screened heroics where our well-washed cast can sit idly back in the safety of the soundstage’s driver seat and look like they are facing almost certain death. An opening bit of mountain road piracy has a wonderful sense of authenticity - that is, until the computer-enhanced cliffs indicate a set of logistical impossibilities. In Los Angeles, Dom and Brian race two others through real traffic strewn streets. Yet every near miss or eventual collision comes straight out of a video game version of life. Nowhere is this more true, however, than in the two main “trips” across the border. Using a tunnel forged under a mountain, our highly modified cars careen back and forth between precarious rock walls. While it strives to be breathtaking, however, we suddenly start flashing back to the “realism” of the mining cart chase from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Granted, there is nothing wrong with these motherboard managed sequences. Modern audiences need much more bang for their buck less their already addled attention spans sputter and spin out. And the new DVD from Universal offers an entire second disc loaded with Behind the Scenes how-to. But when Quentin Tarantino put Zoe Bell on the top of a car and ran her around the California countryside in Death Proof, we could sense inherently how scary the cinematic stakes really were. Indeed, Fast & Furious could be called Grand Theft Autopilot. Lin knows that his demographic doesn’t care about truth. They want to see stuff smash up - and in as outlandish and outrageous a way possible.

And as for those actors returning to pick up a much needed bit of commercial clout? Fast & Furious proves why they were so highly touted in the first place - sort of. Walker gets the less flamboyant of the two roles. He gets to play rebel cop badass without having to damage either side of the badge. He also knows that co-star Diesel has more to lose than he, and skillfully lets most of their moments fall on those Riddick-riddled shoulders. As for the former bald beefcake, Dom remains a defining role. It allows Diesel to seem substantial without doing much more than holding a steering wheel and the sequences where he sits and broods bring a small amount of gravitas to the otherwise superficial proceedings. With Jordana Brewster back as Mia, and a few more familiar faces thrown in for continuity, this is a literal crowd pleaser - it knows who it’s playing to and exactly how to entertain them.

You too might find some minor amusement buried in all the gearhead rhetoric and mechanized machismo. The film looks good, offering a broader scope than most post-post modern action films, and Lin’s love of all things hip-hop transforms more than one scene into the latest “hos and bros” rap video. But it’s impossible to shake the air of business model dread here. Had Fast & Furious failed at the box office, it would have meant the end for Walker and Diesel. The former would have to find work in the background of otherwise high profile showcases, while the latter would be forced back to flesh out the possibilities within the Pacifier series. Thanks to some impressive ticket returns and a fanbase that clearly wants more of these motor sports, however, Dom and Brian will be back. So you see, sometimes, career desperation pays off. Like Fast & Furious itself, it’s almost never easy, but it can be satisfying in its own way.

by Bill Gibron

22 Jul 2009


With time comes perspective. With time comes greater understanding and wisdom. When you’re young, you don’t fully appreciate subtext and thematic resonance. When you’re building your own personal aesthetic, elements like context and creative boundaries are in their infancy, incapable of being readily comprehended and accepted. Back in the late ‘80s, a certain champion of independent cinema announced the arrival of a raw and gritty “war” film entitled Combat Shock. Best known for its hilarious horror comedy splatterfests like The Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke ‘Em High, adolescent fans anticipated another raucous ripper, a genre gem made up of 60% rude attitude and 40% crude arterial spray. What they got instead was a dark and deadly serious look at a Vietnam veteran at the end of his rope. The only “shocking” for these seemingly disappointed Troma geeks was the level of unfiltered truth being hurled at the camera.

For you see, Buddy Giovinazzo’s urban grit masterwork remains a wholly unsettling experience. After the sudden massacre of an entire village, GI Frankie Dunlan (Buddy’s brother Rick) kills a Vietnamese girl. He is captured and sent to a POW camp. There, he is tortured for information. Later, he takes up residence in a VA hospital, but is still terrified of the nightmares he has surrounding the war. Now he’s an unemployed drifter, a married man with a pregnant wife and a mutant baby (the result of Frankie’s exposure to Agent Orange). With street hood Paco owning his very soul, there is very little hope for the failing family. Even a phone call to his once influential dad earns Frankie nothing but bad news. With his flashbacks getting more heated and the possibility of eviction on the horizon, our hero is not sure what to do - that is, until he happens to come into possession of a handgun.

Made before Oliver Stone’s apologetic Platoon and containing an entire squadron of squalor, Combat Shock - or as it was originally conceived, American Nightmare - is a brilliant, brazen denouncement of how our nation treated its returning war “heroes”, and a prophetic statement of how little things would change over the next three decades. Delivering a ‘day in the life’ portrait of poverty and pain so devastating that it just might lead you to the same suicidal conclusions haunting its main character, this is starkness as a soiled symphony. Sure, there seems to be obvious nods to David Lynch’s Eraserhead and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, but Buddy Giovinazzo is not paying homage. Instead, he’s exploring the same urban and interpersonal horrors that stain both of those ‘70s classics, and doing so in a far ballsier manner than his far more famous celluloid brethren.

Combat Shock is clearly meant to be a political statement, albeit one wrapped up in the neo-realistic filth of a NYC crumbling into decay. There has never been a movie this fetid, this streaked with the stains of a million displaced and dour people. From the desolate apartment which Frankie calls home to the bombed out buildings that resemble the ruins of a defeated nation, Giovinazzo turns the Big Apple into one incredibly sour fruit. Even worse, he turns Frankie into the kind of hopeless case that no amount of government aid can help. With the constantly howling freak child in the crib and an angry, emasculating wife in his bed, our lead is less a man and more like a combination of quasi-human pieces. Held together with spit and sickness, Combat Shock ideas were always meant to be a slap in the face. Frankly, Troma fans didn’t expect it to sting so badly.

And that’s part of the film’s mythology - and misinterpretation. Back when Uncle Lloyd and the gang were seeking ways to market their films to the widest audience possible, Giovinazzo’s original 16mm American Nightmare was cut in order to conform to both ratings requirements and perceived commercial appeal. To this day, few have seen the longer version of the film and that’s a shame. Presented as part of the Tromasterpiece Collection of Combat Shock, Nightmare itself is quite amazing. It’s as disturbing and dark as the released take, but thanks to the added time (about ten more minutes overall), Giovinazzo has a chance to elaborate on all the possibilities he’s introduced. There’s more war both at home and in the battlefield, and a greater feeling of metropolitan alienation. We get more drugs, more death, more despair.

But that’s not all the new two disc DVD has to offer. Giovinazzo (now an expatriate living in Germany) is joined by controversial auteur Jörg Buttgereit for a commentary track that’s part trip back in time, part anecdotal evidence of Combat Shock‘s endearing genius. Our director has an answer and a story for everything, from the obvious allusions to one Henry Spencer to the unquestioned influence of the No Wave band Suicide (and the song “Frankie Teardrop”) on the movie. Buttgereit acts more like a fanboy, reflecting on elements of the film that he simply adores. This is carried over to the second part of the package, where many famous filmmakers (including John Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer McNaughton, William Maniac Lustig, and Roy Document of the Dead Fumkes, among many others) extrapolate on how influential - and unfairly marginalized - Giovinazzo and his movie truly are.

Perhaps The Manson Family‘s Jim Van Bebber says it best when he describes Buddy’s brother Rick as being ‘Travis Bickle without all the pretense’, and it’s a feeling expanded upon by the brand new interviews with the men behind and in front of the camera. Looking nothing like their former selves, the Giovinazzos describe their early career as musicians (we see music videos for their band, as well as several startling short films) and speculate on how well Combat Shock holds up some 25 years later. They also explain some of the reactions they’ve had both then and now. Fleshing out said retrospective is a look at some of the locations. A few stand in sharp contrast to their former filthy selves. Others, sadly, have remained exactly the same (or horrifically, much worse). With trailers and the aforementioned copy of American Nightmare in tow, this is about as definitive as the digital format gets.

And we are dealing with a movie that definitely deserves it. Combat Shock may be a bad memory for anyone coming to the Troma title hoping for the standard bile, boobs, and beasts. It’s definitely more like The Bicycle Thief than Bloodsucking Freaks. In fact, if you are looking for a film that tells the true story about what life was like for returning veterans in the ‘70s, if you want all the pain and political posturing, unresolved emotions and lingering social failings, this is the film to seek out. Somewhere in the great halls of misbegotten movies stands a pedestal waiting for Buddy Giovinazzo’s Combat Shock. It’s a true American original, a portrait painted in the scum, sweat, and the fears of both its subject and its supporters. Time does have a tendency to play tricks on you. It can alter even the most concrete of critical snubs. A quarter of century ago, few found this film exceptional. Today, it stands as one of the ‘80s independent best.

by Bill Gibron

21 Jul 2009


We film critics hear it all the time - the endless creative mantra from the men behind the camera. “The studio made me trim it.” “The MPAA did most of the damage.” “Test groups didn’t like the (insert movie specific reference here) subplot, so it had to go.” “The ending didn’t ‘test’ well.” The need to edit, the contractually mandated rating (or running time), have long scuttled many an aesthetic aim. It’s almost as if - conspiracy theorists, listen up - a mediocre version of the movie is purposefully created for the mainstream so that the lowest common commercial denominator is fed and then forced aside.

Initially, the invention known as home video offered little solace. The VHS version of a film was supposed to be a full screen mimic of the theatrical experience - artistic compromises and all. Laserdisc promised more access to the “original” content, though it rarely had the opportunity to deliver. By the time that DVD was arriving, some studios saw a value in introducing the “extended” or “director’s” cut to their sell-through catalog. But it really took the new digital domain - and its even more complex cousin, Blu-ray - to pay true homage to the hard work of these marginalized moviemakers. In fact, today is seems like every new release is offered in both a theatrical and some manner of “unrated”, “uncensored”, or unabridged version.

Of course, some of these after-thought entries into the comprehensive collection ideal were fully anticipated. The ratings uproar over the first few Saw sequels caused director Darren Lynn Bousman to promise (and eventually provide) the true “blood and guts” vision of his horror titles. Indeed, almost every scary movie made is trimmed of some violent (or carnal) excess, only to see it restored later on. And then there is Watchmen, Zack Snyder’s brilliant adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ “unfilmable” graphic novel masterwork. Almost from the very beginning, the man behind the Dawn of the Dead remake and 300 alerted fans that he would have to eliminate some beloved material to make the movie version more ‘linear’. Some feared he would completely ruin the revered book.

They were dead wrong. As we learned back in March, Watchmen was and remains an epic masterpiece, a visually stunning tour de force that provided as much spectacle as subtext. In telling the story of a group of former masked avengers, it soared to unimaginable inventive heights. While you can read reviews and reactions to the theatrical version here (a good place to start, FYI), it’s clear that, after a disappointed performance at the box office, many wondered in the mandated cuts and missing material would make a difference. Now Warner Brothers is releasing the first of what will be two completely different edits of the film. While the “Ultimate Edition” won’t make it to stores until December, the first offering out of the box, featuring Snyder’s latest compilation, is nothing short of monumental.

Indeed, the new Director’s Cut, running 24 minutes longer than the theatrical release, is a revelation for both original fans of the film and those who thought the initial outing was, let’s say, less than impressive. Snyder adds dozens of new scenes, shots of original Nite Owl Hollis Mason getting his unjust final desserts, moments of sheer blood-shedding as Dr. Manhattan overruns Vietnam. The big blue God gets his relationship with Laurie Jupiter (aka Silk Specter II) expanded, while formerly forgotten characters like the News Vendor and the Comic Reader have been reintroduced - if barely - into the narrative. In all, many of the complaints leveled against the film have been addressed. It flows better, has more of a psychological and emotional bite, and really highlights the superhero deconstruction which made Moore’s literary interpretation of the genre a considered classic.

Some may feel cheated when they learn that separate projects previously released on digital - the animated Tales of the Black Freighter and Watchmen: The Motion Comic as well as the mock doc Under the Hood - aren’t present here. They are being reserved for the bigger, more impressive five disc set a few months from now. But for anyone who has a question as to whether or not to purchase this particular version of the film, the answer is a solid “yes”. Not only do you get one of the best films of 2009, a rarity in both content and creativity, but you walk into one of the most immersive, in-depth home video experiences ever…especially on Blu-ray.

There, the 2.40:1 image is stunningly recreated in pristine 1080p. The movie looks almost three dimensional in its crystal clarity. The sound is also amped up thanks to the lossless DTS HD Master 5.1 English audio mix. The overall technical experience is immersive, matching the Cineplex presentation facet-for-facet. But where fans will really rejoice is in the added content department. Warners has asked Snyder to take all the EPK material and making-of documentaries created for the film and incorporate them into a point-by-point feature known as “{Maximum Movie Mode”. With the noted director as our host and guide, we get three hours of video commentary and asides, picture in picture clips and tag-along Q&As with the cast, as well as a trivia timeline comparing the real world to the Watchmen universe.

It’s here where we learn the intricacies of the rough cut run through. Snyder explains why certain scenes were trimmed, offering insights into “creativity by committee” decisions and the implied needs of the audience. He also highlights little details often overlooked by first-time viewers and direct shout-outs to Moore and Gibbons. Elsewhere, the actors discuss their desire to stay true to their characters while bringing these complex beings to life, and the crew addressed concerns regarding the use of CGI, how Dr. Manhattan was created, and the decision to be less “realistic” with the recreation of famous faces within this parallel universe. Along with three excellent supplements on the second disc, we have reason enough to own this particular package.

But it’s Watchmen itself that needs one more additional push. While it failed to wholly deliver on its pre-determined blockbuster status, this is still a fantastic film. It has gravity and weight, the underlying horror of global thermal nuclear war reminding us that, at least back in the early ‘80s, we had more to fear than criminals and the masked men and women who chased after them. The looming threat, the notion of human extinction placed alongside the dying breed of vigilante’s gives the movie an edge and a somber subtext that hard to shake. With pitch perfect performances from everyone in the cast (especially the Oscar-worthy work of Jackie Earle Haley as the psychotic soul of the Watchmen, Rorschach), it’s up to Snyder to guide us through this well-woven web of intrigue, doubt, and deception -and he does so effortlessly.

In a clear case of “improving on perfection”, the new director’s cut of Watchmen takes an already stellar work and makes it even more powerful. Time will grant this astonishing effort the critical consensus it so richly requires. This is a film that submerges us into this world of disgruntled heroes, tired villains, weak-willed politicians, and the one unknown force that is driving them all toward Armageddon. It’s a dense ride, often needing, nay mandating more than one visit to figure out all the nuances. But those with the patience to work their way through the intricacies will be rewarded with something grand indeed. As well as Watchmen worked the first time around, this extended version is even better. It just goes to prove that, sometimes, a required revisit it well worth the wait.

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