Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter

Publisher: Warner Home Video

Creators: Zack Snyder, Daniel Purgatorio, Mike Smith, Eric Mathies, Gerard Butler

Release Date: Available on Blu-Ray, DVD and On Demand on March 24th, 2009.

Price: $27.95 (DVD), $35.99 (Blu-ray)

Run Time: 64 minutes

Format: Anamorphic Widescreen

Age Rating: “R” (Tales of the Black Freighter), “PG” (Under the Hood)

ICv2 Rating: 5 Stars Out of 5


Many Watchmen devotees will undoubtedly pass up purchasing this DVD since it is extremely likely that its content will be part of a future Watchmen DVD release (the accompanying extra feature actually shows the crew shooting the transitional shots that will be used to weave the animated Black Freighter sequence in and out of the live action continuity).  For those who can’t wait however, this disc, which includes both the 21-minute Tales of the Black Freighter animated film and a nearly 40-minute TV newsmagazine rendering of Night Owl’s autobiography Under the Hood, certainly won’t disappoint.


Superbly animated in Korea and closely based on the designs and layouts of Dave Gibbons, Tales of the Black Freighter brilliantly captures the intensity of the EC-influenced meta-comic that mirrors and amplifies to a fever pitch the moral ambiguities of vigilantism, which are at the moral core of the Watchmen graphic novel.   Al Feldstein's over-the-top narration of course is the hallmark of the EC comics, and Gerard Butler’s rendering of Moore’s spot-on cloning of the EC style is close to perfection.  


Tales of the Black Freighter, which with its fluid animation moves like a runaway locomotive to hell, is the perfect antidote for animation buffs who are put off by the extremely limited animation of the Watchmen Motion Comic.  Tyler Bates’ music perfectly complements the horrifying panoramas of death and decay that give Tales of the Black Freighter its well-deserved “R” rating.  The only thing that is missing here is the way that the saga of the Black Freighter weaves in and out and overlaps with the overriding Watchmen continuity, something that will be remedied no doubt in the mega-Watchmen DVD version.


Under the Hood, which is presented in the form of a 1975 news show (The Culpepper Minute), provides even more background elements to the Watchmen saga than the prose excerpts from Hollis (Night Owl) Mason’s autobiography do in the graphic novel.  Shot on the Watchmen sets, the newsmagazine-type feature intercuts interviews with Mason (Stephen McHattie) and Sally Jupiter (Carla Gugino) and also includes authentic-looking faux newsreel footage of the 1940s Minutemen and the later Watchmen supergroups.  In a further conceit, the show is presented as a re-broadcast in 1985 of a pre-Keene Act show about costumed vigilantes, which adds another layer of meaning to the proceedings.  This is a feature that has to be included in future Watchmen DVD releases--it is chock full of the kind of fascinating backstory bits that every Watchmen fan will love.


The one pertinent extra included on the disc is “Story Within a Story: The Books of Watchmen,” which explains, among other things, how the Under the Hood prose excerpts came to be included in the Watchmen comics, and how the Black Freighter sequence was influenced by Brecht and Weill’s Three Penny Opera.  Filled with behind-the-scenes footage from the Watchmen sets, which are intercut with interviews with many of the people involved in the publication of the original Watchmen comics, this solid “extra” feature adds about 25 minutes of viewing pleasure for Watchmen fans, bringing the total on the disc to nearly an hour-and-a half.  Available on Blu-Ray, DVD and On Demand on March 24th.