Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic

Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic (2008)
Warner Home Video
Extras: Sneak Peek, Producton Diary, BD Live

I read Dave Gibbons' graphic novel "Watchmen" many years ago, but unlike most of my friends, it didn't really do all that much for me. I found the story dragging, tedious and quite simply boring without any real suspense or characterizations that would hold my interest. It was evident to me nonetheless that "Watchmen" wasn't your average comic book. It was more mature in content and tried to tell a more grown-up story that was not tailored at 10-year old boys, with its plot revolving around aging superheroes trying to conform with regular life and trying to come to terms with their glorious and not-so-glorious past. Essentially, it is a midlife identity crisis galore that would not interest young audiences in the least. The story is spiced up with a murder mystery in which someone is stalking these former superheroes who used to call themselves the "Watchmen" and is killing them off one by one. Not only does the question arise who could actually overpower and kill superheroes, but also why would anyone do this to these retired vigilantes?
Despite the obvious threat to their lives however, Rorschach, one of the Watchmen, discovers that his remaining fellows don't seem to be bothered too much by the incidents. Lethargically, or simply tired and worn out, they decide to let things slide and it is up to Rorschach to dig deep into the underbelly of society and superhero psyche to find out what is truly happening, especially since everyone seems to think the he himself is the culprit.

When I first read the announcement of Warner's "Watchmen" Motion Comic I did not quite know what to make of it. Would they simply reprint the pages of the comic book, press it on a disc and sell it? What was the plan? when the disc finally arrived I had to take a look, regardless of what I thought of the actual graphic novel itself.

What DC Comics and Marvel did here is quite interesting. Imagine taking each panel of the comic book as a separate screen, lining them up to tell the story, like a story book. Now animate some of the key features in each frame to give it some actual action without changing the actual look and feel of the panel. Next adds some camera moves such as pans and zooms to add more dynamic to the frame also while you have a narrator reading the story. The result? A comic book that seems to come to life.

I found this motion comic concept pretty cool and it is actually fun to watch. In the case of "Watchmen" it is not without shortcomings, though. For the most part everything is just too slow. Like the novel, the motion comic drags horrible. Everything moves as if in super slow motion, a lot of time is being spent panning around frames without moving the story forward. As a result a single scene that would have taken a few seconds to take in and read, now take twice as long as they probably should. One could argue that this is necessary to avoid having the story simply blast by the viewer without giving him the chance to absorb what's there, but I would politely disagree, mostly based on the fact that movies typically offer detail and depth that is significantly richer and yet they work perfectly fine developing and unwinding at a regular pace.

The other thing that bothered me personally is the narration. It is generally very good and really adds atmosphere to the whole presentation. It is when the narrator speaks the parts of female characters when it simply falls apart. Having Laurie Jupiter for example speak in a male voice breaks the illusion completely and takes you out of the experience with a major jerk. Things get even more awkward when you see her love scenes… it just doesn't feel right because it does not match the images on the screen and it does not match the image you had created in your head while reading the graphic novel in the first place.

These two points aside, "Watchmen" works admirably well and is pretty enjoyable. In fact, I found it to be more accessible and enjoyable in this form than the real comic book, though you will have to set aside a lot of time watch this. Running over 5 hours – split into 12 episodes – this is really something for hard core fans and not someone who is looking to quickly fill himself in on the origins of the upcoming "Watchmen" live action movie.

One of the reasons this motion comic works so well has to do with the fact that it is in high definition. With a razor sharp image, this presentation is absolutely amazing and more than once I was wondering how the creators managed to achieve this level of quality, since the artwork for comic books traditionally rather small and doesn't lend itself to be blown up to high def big screen proportions. I guess vectorization is key in the process allowing the creators to scale the content without degradation.
Colors are also amazing and the entire presentation is without compression artifacts that you would kind of expect from such flat-color content, as it is notoriously susceptible to compression artifacting. Not so here, and "Watchmen" is a real visual stunner.

As extras the release also contains a sneak peek at DC Universe's upcoming animated "Wonder Woman" DVD as well as a Production Diaries featurette featuring Dave Gibbons.

As a BD Live feature you get access to additional material over the web, such as a cool preview scene from the upcoming "Watchmen" movie.

"Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic" is pretty cool. It is a great example how technologies like Blu-Ray can advance the way we perceive and consume content. I have not seen the DVD version of this but I cannot imagine it makes half the impact the high definition version makes, simply because of DVD's inherent resolution limitations. While this motion comic doesn't make traditional print comic books obsolete – you just can't take your home theater to the bathroom with you – it certainly puts a new spin on an age old medium that may offer new opportunities in the future. If you're curious, give it a try. You may find that this sort of presentation suits you pretty well.