No property has shown off Warner Brothers skill at multiple releases more than this year's slight disappointment, Watchmen. The first DVD's release came while the film was still in theaters, special feature-loaded extras bundled with the incredible motion comic (setting every frame of the comic book to a book on tape reading of the book) and the animated version of the comic book's comic-within-a-comic, Tales of the Black Freighter. Also on the latter disc was a documentary on the book-within-the-comic Under the Hood, a Sixty Minutes-like special on the heroes of the film. Then followed the DVD release of the theatrical cut, followed shortly after by a director's cut. Now comes the big set: Watchmen The Ultimate Cut, the version that Zack Snyder has been talking about since before the release of the film.
If you only own one cut of Watchmen, it MUST be The Ultimate Cut. It comes with everything, and I mean EVERYTHING. This five-disc box set is positively exhaustive. Disc one is the whole reason to buy the set; it has the 3 hour and 35 minute-version of the film with all of the footage from the director's cut edited together with the Tales of the Black Freighter, complete with the much beloved connecting scenes of the young kid and the newsstand owner linking all the footage together. While the first cut into the anime sequence is mildly jarring, every segue way afterwards is perfect and fundamentally changes the flow of the film. It feels more like the comic than ever before; its only remaining problem is the contextual changes Snyder made to the end of the film.
As a film, Watchmen The Ultimate Cut is a broad, elegant, and beautiful re-creation of one of the greatest comic book stories of all time. It is, without a doubt, my favorite version of the film. While I was mildly disappointed with several of the parts of these various works, as a whole they gain greater importance and are sanded down to a perfect, single story. Tales of the Black Freighter is a perfect example of this. As a short film it is a heavy-handed, over-simplified version of the almost baffling story in the book. But when placed in context within Snyder's film, it makes its point rather brilliantly, especially since Snyder excised one of the book's most important lines -- Veidt admitting he had dreamed of the freighter. Now, rather than representing Veidt's guilt over what he's done, it elegantly makes the story's point about the road to hell being paved with good intentions. Snyder's vision can finally be seen as perfectly in sync with the original text.
And that's just disc one. Disc two has Under the Hood, all the online video journals, and a number of making-of featurettes. Discs three and four are previously released, aforementioned motion comic discs, bundled in the exact same packaging as they were initially sold. Then disc five is a digital copy disc ... this time of the theatrical version of the film -- an interesting choice, and one I kind of wish were simply a disc of the theatrical cut instead. But if they're going to include a digital copy of the film, I guess offering one method of having the theatrical without buying it separately works, especially for those that already picked up the theatrical cut on DVD.
All told, the set comes beautifully packaged in a magnetically-closing bookshelf box set with artwork merging the Tales of the Black Freighter with the now readily recognizable smiley face logo. When they call this the Ultimate Cut, they mean it. And they deliver. Probably one of the best box sets of its kind, this is a must-own for any fan of the film and a version to be checked out by those who liked it with reservations.
Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut is available now from Warner Home Video.