This review is going to be a challenge for me. You see, I’m not the world’s biggest Watchmen fan by any means. The limited comic series of the same name bores me. I also know how devastating that must be to read in the third sentence of a review. However, let the record show, I’ve always been a fan of Zack Snyder’s movie adaptation of the property. After all, it’s what paved the way for Rated-R superhero flicks like Kick-Ass or this year’s Deadpool to even exist. How can you not love it? It ingeniously integrates three classic genres into one cohesive, albeit long film. Those of course are science fiction, superhero and what movie aficionados would brand as noir mystery. Luckily for me, and for all you fans out there, Warner Bros. brought this big, bold adventure to the brand-new HD format, 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. I can’t be anymore excited about it! I’m ready to begin here!
The 2009 Watchmen film was originally a DC limited comics series in 1986 through ’87. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons crafted that series. The movie adaptation that we’re here to talk about today stars an ensemble cast of Malin Åkerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Carla Gugino, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Patrick Wilson. If some of those names look ultra familiar to you today, they should! After all, Jeffrey Dean Morgan is Negan on everyone’s favorite Sunday night soapbox, The Walking Dead. Patrick Wilson ain’t no stranger either. He’s always fighting off ghosts and evil spirits in some James Wan directed or produced film. However, I digress. I need to stay on topic here.
I want to assume everybody reading this 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray review has already seen Watchmen, probably multiple times I would imagine. However, I don’t want to blindly make that assumption either because then I wouldn’t be doing my job as a reviewer. So for anyone who hasn’t seen Watchmen let me try to proverbially paint a canvas as to what it’s all about. Everyone else out there, please feel free to skip over the next paragraph while I give any newbies some proper Watchmen schooling.
Watchmen is a dark, Rated-R satirical take on the superhero genre. It’s not your gleeful Spider-Man or even Iron Man kind of movie. Think even darker and more brooding than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (another fine Warner Bros. 4K UHD Blu-ray release reviewed here by the way). Watchmen is set in an alternate history in the calendar year 1985 at the height of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. A group of “mostly” retired American superheroes investigate the murder of one of their own before uncovering an elaborate and deadly conspiracy that threatens the world. All the while their beliefs, morality and ethical limitations are tested by the circumstances. In other words, life happens.
You have to remember folks. Superheros, not mythical ones like Superman or Wonder Woman, grow old, develop aches and pains and even regret decisions and failed relationships. Think Batman and the many graphic novel and cartoon incarnations we have seen of him as an older character full of bumps, bruises, gray hair and of course, regrets. Yes, there are even superhero movies that exhibit strong sexual tension. Watchmen is definitely one of them. One “watch” of the steamy scene shared by Patrick and Malin going at it (a couple times actually) and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
I won’t bore you by talking about the long, convoluted history of this property trying to get it made as a film, but I do want to tell you how we eventually arrived at this particular version of the feature, Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut. After all, the word “ultimate” is a hard word to live up to. From my research and I somewhat remember this, but didn’t own it, an animated adaption of the comic Tales of the Black Freighter, which takes place in the Watchmen universe was released shortly after Watchmen. Coincidentally, a director’s cut of Watchmen with 24 minutes of a additional footage was released back in July 2009. However, it wasn’t until November of 2009 when The Ultimate Cut edition was released. What a confusing mess, huh? I know! The Ultimate Cut incorporated the Tales of the Black Freighter content into the film’s narrative as it was in the original graphic novel. So this is how we arrived at this 215-minute motion picture we’re here to pay homage to today. In other words, Zack and Warner Bros. milked this feature for all it was worth back in 2009.
The thing about the Watchmen film has always been the associated controversy that goes along with it in regards to the material presented. Longtime comic purists continue to argue over the inclusion of new and exclusion of certain source comic material Zack Snyder chose to present in the three incarnations of this film, the lack of certain characters and of course the different ending. Like I said up above, I was never a fan of the original comic series so as you can imagine I’m perfectly happy with Zack’s choices he made in adapting this into a film. However, with that all being said, I feel we could lose the animation sequences in this Ultimate Cut and the Director’s Cut version of the film in 4K would have just been fine with me. In my opinion the Black Freighter segments really affect the pacing of the movie. It just goes to show you that you can’t always make everyone happy. It’s all first world problems, right? Exactly!
So while I’m a fan of the Watchmen film that doesn’t mean I don’t find faults with it, most notably it’s undeniable, agonizing long length. The feature gets a little too complicated for its own good and as for the convoluted plot…good luck with that. This movie is for the hardcore fans only. My girlfriend wouldn’t even watch this with me despite my disclaimer that it contains a visible penis throughout many scenes. Therein lies another fault I have with this film. Ha ha. Really? Do I really want to watch a giant blue penis in 4K? The answer to that is obviously a rhetorical no.
One thing that always troubled me is how do you explain this movie to people who have either never seen it nor have never read the comic series of the same name? Do you tell them that Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) is the only real superhero in the 3+ hour flick that has any powers? Do you spend your time discussing the alternate timeline this all takes place in? Does one make excuses for how the rest of the “superheroes” have seemingly fast reflexes and superhuman strength at times or do you just casually dismiss it like they do in the flick by never explaining it even though they discuss in length pretty much everything else down to a molecular level?
Another interesting thing to note here is how all the backstories are handled and told. They just don’t cram them in the first hour of the film like an ordinary superhero tale. Oh no! They are strategically told through many flashbacks, but I have to admit that at times they do severely hinder the pacing of the movie. That’s not a slam to the metaphoric story of the Black Freighter either. That literally just destroys the pacing of this “Ultimate Cut,” but I digress. Let’s talk about what I feel Watchmen is all about.
Watchmen is not a superhero film nor is it an action film. In my opinion it is a drama that uses superheroes to represent the American society, our flaws and problems. If you can hang for the 3+ hours, it actually does eventually wrap up nicely with a very strong message. It’s getting there that’s the problem as you’re forced to sit through a lot that can either be trimmed down and/or eliminated (there are a lot of boring moments). Yes, I’m talking about you Black Freighter narratives. Otherwise, it’s the style of the movie that Zack employs through his vision and the performances that shine through the lunacy of it all here. Pretty much any scene involving Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson) and/or the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) keeps me on the edge of my seat every time I watch this flick. The action sequences, when they happen, are nothing short of spectacular. I know everyone also bashes the female performances throughout, but I guess I’m in the minority as I have zero problems as they deliver the emotional impact in my opinion just like the boys do.
Long story short, I can go on and on about what the Watchmen represents, what all goes down in the excessive run-time and more, but I don’t think you’re here for that. You already know what Watchmen is all all about and I’m sure you can care less about my vernacular masturbation. No, you’re here because you want to know how the Watchmen looks and sounds on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. We all do! Curiosity gets the best of you. It happens to us all. So fret not! I’m here to answer all your 4K questions. Let’s get started down below!
The below video score and relative comments are based solely upon my viewing of the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray presentation of Watchmen – The Ultimate Cut.
- Encoding: HEVC / H.265
- Resolution: 4K (2160p)
- Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
- Clarity/Detail: Sure the 4K resolution brings out increased detail and clarity over the Blu-ray presentation. However, ask yourself this. Does it really matter when this movie is so dark and depressing? My eyes probably desire something a bit blurry due to the bleak subject matter. It is what it is I suppose. Textures in faces, wrinkles, pores, wood grains and fabric are represented here with the utmost of clarity and pop, but make no mistake about it…this looks like a Cold War piece. All I’m saying, is don’t get caught up on how sharp or not sharp this presentation is. It’s all about style over anything and unfortunately that comes at a cost due to the heavy use of CG. Dr. Manhattan may look chiseled, but he’s so flat to me onscreen and because of that my suspension of disbelief is broken whenever he’s onscreen. He doesn’t look real. Let’s not even go into that contraption he’s building on Mars either. That looked horrible here. Moving on…
- Depth: Despite the darkness of it all depth of field is prevalent in such scenes as the city streets, Dr. Manhattan’s and the Comedian’s apartments, the prison cells where Rorschach is held and look magnificent when Manhattan is putting the gears together. However, even though the characters have that three-dimensional pop to them it becomes very problematic with some of the green screen backgrounds. Certain backgrounds look rather two-dimensional and flat, not to mention Dr. Manhattan too many times than naught. People complain how fake the effects look in Mad Max: Fury Road on 4K Blu-ray, but it’s nothing compared to some of the flat, Gods of Egypt-like green screen moments in this one.
- Black Levels: Black levels are where this 4K video presentation excels. The whole movie is basically shrouded in shadows and I’m pleased to report that the black levels are gorgeously deep, inky and dreamy. In other words, it’s just like a living comic book. I do love that about this video presentation.
- Color Reproduction: Here’s where things suffer. Like in Man of Steel (reviewed here recently), colors are pretty much devoid of any life whatsoever due to the darkness of it all. When there’s colors they are earthy and natural. However, in the rare moments where red and yellows are allowed to come out and play, you better believe they take advantage of it and pop against the contrast. Like Justin Timberlake brought sexy back so many years ago, thankfully any scene that involves fire and explosions brings color back too. Ha ha. All in all though, this is NOT a title you show off to gramps to brag about how great HDR looks. To do that may provoke him to smack you. That you would be deserving of.
- Flesh Tones: Because there’s literally no color in this presentation you don’t have to worry about hot or exaggerated skin tones. They all look natural and authentic throughout, with the exception of Dr. Manhattan’s blue junk. LOL.
- Noise/Artifacts: There’s grain. There’s no doubt about that. It’s a Zack Snyder film after all. However, I never really felt it was very obtrusive or punishing. It’s there. That’s all you need to know. Other than that this presentation is clean of any noise, artifacts or anything nasty that will make you scream WTF in agony. It’s the best the Watchmen has ever looked, but if you already own this title on regular Blu-ray, it’s not night and day enough for me to justify a purchase in 4K. Save your money. Maybe Black Friday deals will bring this home for you.
Like I mentioned up above in the video section, the below audio score and judging comments are based solely upon my viewing of the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray presentation of Watchmen – The Ultimate Cut. It should be noted that on the back of the slipcover and rear cover art the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc is listed as containing a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround track, but much to my disbelief when I popped this in it is actually Dolby TrueHD. I believe it is the same 5.1 that’s on the 1080p Blu-ray. Can you believe it? Believe it!
- Audio Format(s): English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD (let the record show I feel cheated here because there’s no upgrade like the Dolby Atmos one Man of Steel got retrofitted with)
- Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
- Dynamics: Sadly I got so used to reviewing the bombastic Man of Steel and Batman v Superman 4K Blu-ray titles over the past week that I forgot what it was like to watch a drama film that doesn’t have all channels constantly buzzing and crackling all around you. That’s not to say things don’t sound good here, that’s just to say when there’s nothing much happening on screen, then there’s nothing much happening in your speakers either. However, I do want to caution you, that’s not true about the dynamics of this audio track and that’s where I think this one excels so impressively. Sure there are many loud moments, and unfortunately the animated sequences are so much louder than the live action ones, but it’s the quieter ones that really excel here such when Nite Owl tightens his fist when he suspects a home invasion or when he flicks the Comedian’s happy face pin into his grave. The realism of those moments and the authentic sounds reproduced by just those tiny actions goes a long way with winning me over. In other words, I am very impressed.
- Low Frequency Extension: The LFE channel is non-existent at times and at the next moment knocking me around in my Lazy Boy chair. It’s strong, deep and prominent, but only when it wants to be. take a fight scene for example. You feel every bone break, thud and punch. How about them explosions? How about them? They will rock your world with ferocity. Even Archie’s flying engines will punish your sense with depth and no holds barred aggression. Yes, I’m am talking about Nite Owl’s Archie when I say aggression. I just like how the LFE channel brings your subwoofer to life to complement and brutally beat the point in that the actions in Watchmen are a force not to be reckoned with.
- Surround Sound Presentation: The surround sound is another area where it’s not like a summer blockbuster as this isn’t’ your typical superhero movie. However, you better believe it though that when there’s action onscreen, your rear channels are going to let you know it from the planes flying by and past to the many shotgun blasts, knives and punches being thrown at you. A lot of the cooler surround moments happen when the charismatic Rorschach is on screen like when he shoots a grappling hook up at you or brawls with the cops showcasing a lot of glass breaking and an aerosol flame thrower to when the prison brawl starts and the surround track wakes the hell up after a lot drama has just transpired onscreen, including love making in Archie. Ooh la la! The animated sequences of the Black Freighter throughout also make great use of the surround channels, more so than the actual live moments like examples of crashing waves, chants and heavy falling objects. I think you get the idea here. The rears aren’t always active like they were in the last two 4K titles I reviewed, but you better believe it when called upon for their service they definitely do not disappoint.
- Dialogue Reproduction: The dialogue levels are clear and intelligible. Since this is a heavy dialogue driven film I will warn you of this. Make sure you watch this film uninterrupted so you can comprehend and take in every spoken word. Otherwise, you’ll get lost. Trust me!
Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut arrives on the new 4K UHD Blu-ray format in the way of a Combo Set that includes the Ultimate Cut version on the 4K UHD disc, Director’s Cut on the regular 1080p Blu-ray disc as well as the Digital HD copy of the Director’s Cut redeemable at your favorite UltraViolet retailer. The sucky thing about this is there’s nothing on the back of the box that indicates the Digital HD nor the Blu-ray disc is not the Ultimate Cut. In fact, you’re kind of led to believe it is. There’s also a second Blu-ray disc stacked underneath the Blu-ray with the Director’s Cut that houses all the same extras that were found on the formerly released Ultimate Cut Blu-ray package back in 2009. So with the cat out of the bag on what is all what here that means the extras in this UHD set clock in slightly over 2 hours in length. Let’s break it down below as to what you’ll find on each of the included discs in this 4K UHD Blu-ray set.
4K UHD Disc: Ultimate Cut (3:35:23)
- This one is obviously the The Ultimate Cut in HDR with English as the only language
Blu-ray #1: Director’s Cut (3:06:28)
- Maximum Movie Mode – Director Zack Snyder hosts this P-I-P movie experience giving fans a whole new level of viewing and a closer look at the filmmaking. I miss these in the glory days of Blu-ray.
- Focus Points – These are found here too, but just an FYI they are all the same ones found on Blu-ray disc #2 labeled as Watchmen: Video Journals down below.
Blu-ray #2: Special Features
- The Phenomenon: The Comic That Changed Comics (HD, 28:46) – Here we basically learn how this controversial, thematically complex and award winning comic book was created. Cast, crew and others all chime in about the comics and/or how they became involved in the movie.
- Real Superheroes: Real Vigilantes (HD, 26:17) – Here we get to explore everyone’s fascination with real-world vigilantes. It gives you kind of a history on the topic of superheroes/vigilantes as well as diving into the psychology of it all. Of course it all relates back to the themes present in Watchmen.
- Mechanics: Technologies of a Fantastic World (HD, 16:49) – This one allows us to see how the filmmakers incorporated the future science in this story to plausible effects and mechanics on the screen. It tells how physicists are paired with the Hollywood filmmakers here to make science and technology possible in this movie such as the device Dr. Manhattan is working on in the beginning of the film.
- Under the Hood (HD, 37:36) – This one is a faux-documentary aired on The Culpeper Minute television news show that gives us a retrospective look at the biography of Holis Mason, the original Nite Owl, and of course the world of those who stood for “hooded” justice. The authentic aging and engaging story of it all make this one actually really interesting and not a throwaway.
- Story Within a Story (HD, 25:01) – Ugh! This one dives deeper into all the layers of the world here and deals with my favorite Black Freighter story and others that in my opinion just add unnecessary material to the overall Watchmen story line. Although I do like Under the Hood so it ain’t all bad. Ha ha.
- Watchmen: Video Journals (HD, ~ 36 minutes) – Here we have eleven brief behind-the-scenes featurettes which I am told have been culled from the Director’s Cut edition of Watchmen. The segments include The Minutemen (3:33), Sets & Sensibility (3:54), Dressed for Success (3:03), The Ship has Eyes (4:20), Dave Gibbons (3:21), Burn Baby Burn (2:12), Shoot to Thrill (3:14), Blue Monday (2:59), Attention to Detail (2:53), Girls Kick Ass (3:03) and Rorschach’s Mask (3::38). Sadly there’s not a Play All button. You have to go through them individually.
- “Desolation Row” Music Video (HD, 3:15) – Finally, we have a music video from My Chemical Romance.
Like I kind of said up above before, I think this Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut 4K UHD Blu-ray set will be as controversial as the film property itself. You’re still going to have all those comic purists complaining about Zack’s film he made, why certain scenes were excluded and why he screwed with others. However, on the flip side you’re also going to have a bunch of 4K Blu-ray consumers in an uproar as to why they can’t own the Director’s Cut of the film on UHD Blu-ray too instead of being forced to sit through animated nonsense in the Ultimate Cut. I kind of feel like I’m in the latter category, but as a lover of this new UHD format, I’m just happy to have any new 4K material to throw at my gear and enjoy. So I guess you can call me the glass half full kind of guy when it comes to these new 4K Blu-ray releases. I’ll gladly take what I can get, especially when I’m a fan of the movie. That’s like a win-win.
Order & Bring Home
Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut
on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Today!
DISCLAIMER: This 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray review was judged and graded using the following 4K certified A/V gear found here.