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Blu-ray Reviews: Watchmen

Originally published in Sound and Image, Sept/Oct 2009, v.23#01
Last updated 25 February 2013

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Watchmen (2-Disc Special Edition)
2008 - Warner Bros Entertainment Australia Pty Ltd
Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson and Carla Gugino

Movie: 5.0 Picture: 5 Sound: 5 Extras: 4.5

Could it be that every second movie currently being made is based on a graphic novel? If they keep on making them as well as this one, I won't mind at all.

This is the live action movie version of award winning Watchmen novel. There is also a TV version (also available on Blu-ray) which is not so much a traditional animation as an artful presentation of the original cartoon panels, well narrated. That consists of twelve episodes with a runtime of over Watchmen screenshotfive hours, so it isn't surprising the movie loses some elements. Surprisingly few, though.

Although I was totally unfamiliar with it, having first watched this movie and then the TV version ('Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic'), I am now a fan. The movie breaks lots of Hollywood rules as to what the 'good guys' can do. In fact, the most interesting four characters are each hero and anti-hero rolled up into one, with the 'anti' part predominating for a couple of them.

The US version of this movie was issued by Warner Bros on Blu-ray, whereas our is from Paramount. Both are two disc versions and have much the same content, but are very different anyway. Most obviously, the US version is the 186 minute Director's Cut, while we get the 162 minute theatrical release. In addition, the US version has a bunch of mini featurettes branching from the movie, whereas they are pushed onto the second disc for Australian release. What we get in compensation is 27Mbps MPEG AVC video, while in the US they get around 18.5Mbps in VC1 format. I don't know if theirs suffers by comparison, but I do know that ours looks absolutely brilliant.

And sounds just as good.

There seems to be an increasing trend towards using 24 bit lossless sound on movie releases. In this case the lossless codec is Dolby TrueHD. I'm all in favour of lossless, but I'm not sure that there is much benefit in the extra eight bits over regular 16 bit sound, at least for movies. In fact, it's starting to look like six or seven of those eight bits are being employed to faithfully reproduce extremely low level noise.

My concern is where the disc may be short of space, because then wasting space on sound comes at a cost to video. Fortunately that's not the case here.

The second disc has stacks of interesting featurettes in full high definition (our Disc 2 is 20GB, whereas the US version is less than 7GB!). One of the few SD features is a so-called 'Viral Video' hidden as an Easter egg. To play it go to 'NBS Nightly News', press the right arrow and then Enter.

Running time: 162 minutes
Picture: 2.40:1, 1080p24, MPEG4 AVC @ 27.02Mbps
Sound: English: Dolby TrueHD 24/48 3/2.1 @ 3513kbps (core: Dolby Digital 3/2.1 @ 640kbps); German, French, Italian, 2 x Spanish: Dolby Digital 3/2.1 @ 640kbps
Subtitles: English for the Hearing Impaired, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish (Spain), Spanish (Latin America), Swedish
Extras: Bookmarks; 14 Featurettes (1080p24, MPEG4 AVC, DD2.0 @ 224kbps - 108 mins); Music Video: 'Desolation Row' - My Chemical Romance (1080p24, MPEG4 AVC, DD2.0 @ 224kbps - 3 mins); Viral Video: 'NBS Nightly News' (4:3, 480i60, MPEG2, DD2.0 @ 224kbps - 3 mins); Easter Egg Viral Video: 'The Keene Act And You' (4:3, 480i60, MPEG2, DD2.0 @ 224kbps - 3 mins)
Restrictions: Rated MA (Australian rating); Region Free

The following video bitrate graph was generated by BDInfo 0.5.2:

Watchmen video bitrate graph

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