Blu-ray Review: Tales of the Black Freighter

A Watchmen decoder of sorts, Tales of the Black Freighter and the DVD's companion features aim to unravel some of the thematic threads of the Watchmen narrative to give audiences a broader appreciation and understanding of the recent film adaptation.

Among these threads twine two comics-within-a-comic, Black Freighter and Under the Hood, both based on parallel, allegorical tales embedded in the original Watchmen series. These puzzle pieces of the worldview and culture of the superheroes and their creators have been translated to film to give the full-length movie comic-book detail and depth.

Black Freighter

This story is based on the comic Bernie is seen reading near the newsstand where Rorschach buys his daily paper. Painted in garish hues of reddish black and corpse gray, this gruesome and ominous nightmare serves both as an example of the crude pirate comics referenced in Watchmen, and as subtext for the superheroes' lives -- especially for Veidt. It's a Gothic tale of a ship captain's descent into madness and damnation as he sails home on a raft of corpses to save his family from murderous pirates. Simple plans and good intentions go awry as a terrible plot twist throws the savior's journey off course.

Under the Hood

Filmed as a mockumentary news special, Under the Hood looks at the TV show The Culpeper Minute's 1975 retrospective feature on the tell-all memoir of the first Night Owl, Hollis Mason. It's been re-aired in response to the 1977 Keene Act's prohibition against masked vigilantes. Like Mason's memoir, the show peers under the superhero hood to see what makes them tick. It tackles the question from a number of perspectives including that of Hollis -- who talks about his transition from beat cop to costumed crime fighter -- his fellow Minutemen and former enemies, with the hints of scandal and impromptu revelations you'd expect in an exposé. It also polls a few choice citizens to ask whether they perceive masked heroes as public protectors or as public menaces. And yes, there are commercials.

"Story Within A Story: The Books of Watchmen"

There are like the CliffsNotes for Black Freighter and Under the Hood. Contributing actors, filmmakers and writers ponder the purpose and significance of both stories as elements of the Watchmen whole.

"Watchmen Motion Comic, Chapter One"

Yet another dimension to the Watchman experience, it's exactly what it says it is -- comic book graphics in motion, complete with dialogue bubbles and voice actors. Like walking into a grainy, clown-colored DC universe.

"A First Look At Green Lantern"

DC editors and writers, along with filmmakers and actors involved in the project, preview the DCU's next installment -- the comic book-to-animated-film adaptation of The Green Lantern. An intergalactic cop thriller whose all-star voice cast includes Christopher Meloni (Green Lantern), and Battlestar sex kitten Tricia Helfer (Boodikka).

To buy or not to buy? A glimpse at Minutemen past, counterpoints that illuminate the onion-skin truths of a superhero universe, another piece of the Watchmen puzzle ... This DVD offers enough of all of the above to inspire those that loved the film to watch and re-watch both the Freighter collection, and the Watchmen movie. Those that neither loved nor liked the screen adaptation, but appreciated the book, may or may not want to pay for a peek at a pirate comic.