Saturday, 28 November 2009

Blu-Ray Highlights and Pick of the Week for 30th November 2009

Watchmen (Director's Cut) (2009).

This review was originally published at

Watchmen Blu-Ray Cover and review ratings

Nobody can accuse Warner Brothers of under-exploting their Watchmen franchise in the United States. The film, from 300's director Zack Snyder, under-performed at the US box-office, and needed international sales to recover its costs, despite an extremely vocal fanbase (which turned out to be smaller than expected) for its source material, and the endless internet and film magazine hype which, let's be honest here, was more than even the Summer's biggest tentpole releases have any reasonable right to expect. Even though it's less than a year since its theatrical release, our American cousins have seen FIVE different Blu-Ray releases associated with the title. Utter madness!

Here in the UK things thankfully haven't been quite so manic on the double-dipping front. We have had silly gimmicks like a 'limited edition' (so limited it can still be found at discount in shops across the land) 'blue Dr Manhattan' Blu-Ray holder release to accompany the original theatrical release, but this is small beer compared to the States who have had: the Motion Comic blu-ray, the separate inter-linked Tales of the Black Freighter animated story blu-ray (voiced by 300's Gerard Butler no less), the Director's Cut blu-ray (identical to this UK release although I'm not sure if we get the 3D cover the Americans got) and finally (this week) the Ultimate Collector's Edition blu-ray. This last release adds a few more extra's to the Director's Cut and apparently integrates the 'Black Freight' comic directly back into the the film so you may want to consider importing that instead, especially as it's a 'region free' release.

Most sensible folks (that'll be me then!) ordered the 'region free' Director's Cut on import when it was released State-side the same week as the rather thin UK theatrical cut a few months ago. But for those that didn't, a bona fide UK release is now available.

So for Brits this release is the best in a week that is dominated by operatic music releases and different packaged and re-packaged versions of THAT plot-free film featuring those wretched brain-dead 'Transformer' robots. Remember folks, just because it's noisy doesn't mean it's good and Michael Bay has proved time and time again that he hasn't got a clue when it comes to basic dialogue, story-telling, any kind of subtlety with regard to editing or filming, or even basic consistency so PLEASE don't waste your time and money on the Transformers 2 release also out this week. Read the reviews - they ALL say it's shit!

Not that Watchmen will be to everyone's taste of course. This is not your usual super-hero fare, set around 1985 (the Nixon years) in an alternate universe, it is a much darker, bloodier and allegorical take on life than your average Superman or Fantastic Four flick, and certainly NOT one for the kiddies! It also takes time to tell its story, which caused many who just didn't really get it to complain vociferously about how 'boring' it was. And now it's about 20 minutes longer! Oh dear!

But the added 20 minutes do improve the film, allowing more of the characters' backgrounds to shine through, giving depth and slightly better explanations for what happens in the film.

Visually the film is stunning, and if there were an oscar for 'Best title sequence ever', this film would surely win it. Against a background of the history of the times (Nixon, the moon landing etc) we're given a plotted history of the group known as the Watchmen, before suddenly being plunged into the story of former members being brutally murdered, one at a time.

There are a lot of characters to show here, and a lot to convey in the 3 hours plus running time, and that isn't helped by Snyder's over-use of 'operatic' slow motion that really can grate after a while. Clearly nobody had the nerve to warn the director that there is such a thing as 'over egging the pudding'. But nobody can deny that the visuals are stunning and every dollar of the 180 million it cost are up there on screen. There are no 'big name' cast members, but the director has clearly chosen his cast based on actors who were right for the role, rather than perceived box-office pulling power.

The critics were less enthusiastic about the film than the general public have been. I think with time that opinion will change, and the film will come to be seen as a genuinely innovative 'one off', albeit one too costly and risky to set a pattern for future productions. Watchmen has more class, polish and depth than the director's previous film (300), which effectively persuaded the studio to go ahead with this project. Despite performing less well it's a better film than 300 and it's a shame more people didn't go to the cinema to see it. With a pixel-perfect transfer, breath-taking sound, ridiculously high production values, and a copious amount of extra's, you have no excuse not to check out the Blu-Ray. If you bought the original theatrical release, then the decision to upgrade is entirely down to your appreciation of the original film and its basic premise. But if you haven't purchased a copy of Watchmen on shiny disc, you no longer have a reason for not doing so.

Other Releases This Week

If you've seen David Attenborough's Planet Earth on Blu-Ray, you know how stunning his wild life series are. The new series Life is just as good, and is really just more of the same, but when 'the same' is as good as this, what's not to like? If you missed out on Planet Earth you also have the opportunity to buy a double-pack bundle that packs the two series together for a reasonable price. Highly recommended!

G-Force is the seemingly obligatory 'CGI cartoon' release of the week. Unfortunately it's not a very good one. IMDB gives it an average rating of just 4.8, and although I haven't seen the Blu-Ray I did see a 3D trailer for the film at my local IMAX. The only thing I remember about the trailer was that it was unimaginative, had no laughs, and featured rather poor rendering. One to avoid unless you're really desperate for something - anything! - to keep the kids quiet.

Reviews for The Proposal have been somewhat mixed, although many have indicated this is the first watchable film Sandra Bullock has made in a long time. It's rom-com fare, which I usually find a total turn-off, so I've given this one a miss. On the other hand, Bullock is always worth watching, as is her co-star Ryan Reynolds and since they both get naked here....    The plot sounds ludicrous, and it's doubtful that this sort of material needs high-definition (unless, of course, your main interest is the afore-mentioned nakedness, in which case I guess your mileage may vary!). So for me this is more of a rental than anything I'd want to purchase.

If, like me, you enjoy a good horror movie, Orphan looks promising, twisting the Damien-like 'evil little boy' story into an 'evil little nine-year old girl' one. Reviews have, again, been somewhat mixed and most of the criticism seems to be around the lack of originality in the story. However 15,000 people liked it enough to give it an average score of 7.2 on imdb so it's probably worth a rental at least, if not an outright purchase.

Next week sees the 'last gasp' before Christmas with more than 10 new releases on the high definition format. The week after that sees just three new Blu-Ray releases, and they're all music, so if you're going to splurge out on discs for the festive season this week or next week is probably the time to do it!

And whilst on the subject of Christmas (I know! I know!) this seems an opportune time to mention a British site specialising in reviews and price comparisons of shiny disc boxed sets. It's nothing to do with us here at Shiny Discs, but it's well worth checking out for the latest news and reviews.