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Sometimes, the Night Is Generous: The Watchmen Director's Cut on DVD

What a difference a year makes. Around this time in 2008, geeks were buzzing about the Watchmen teaser trailer and the exclusive footage presented by director Zack Snyder and the complete cast at San Diego Comic-Con. This was going to be the superhero movie that would Change. Superhero. Movies. Forever. Now, on the eve of another SDCC, the director's cut of the film has just been released on DVD in a decidedly different atmosphere -- one in which Watchmen is considered not only a box-office failure (despite being the second highest-grossing R-rated release of the year so far) but also a huge disappointment to large pockets of its core audience, nerds who have been message-board screaming their displeasure like an abattoir full of retarded children (sorry, couldn't resist).

Almost five months after I was blown away by Watchmen on the big screen, I have enough perspective to see the merit in some of the criticism of Snyder's choices. But, if anything, watching it on DVD has made me love the movie even more -- partly because seeing it in half-hour chunks at home is the closest thing to the idealized HBO miniseries fans always dreamed of, partly because many of the changes made to the book actually work (the Comedian's "God damn, I love working on American soil!" exuberance during the '77 riot scene is a brilliant touch) and partly because the extra 24 minutes of footage added to the theatrical cut really do, for the most part, make it a better, richer experience.

Here's a look at the most significant additions on the DVD. And, in case it wasn't obvious: like tygers, here be spoilers:

Absent Friend: The most talked-about added scene is the murder of Hollis Mason, which is indeed perfectly staged to mirror the book, with shots of the original Nite Owl in his prime, slugging old-school bad guys like Captain Axis and the Spaceman, intercut with his tragically less successful fight with home-invading Knot Tops. (If only we didn't have to endure some of the most excruciating exposition in the entire movie in the moments leading up to this.) Bookending this, there's also an extension to the Rorschach/Nite Owl II bar sequence, in which Dan sees a report about Hollis' death on the TV set and then goes apeshit on the one Knot Top unlucky enough to be in the vicinity -- showcasing a violent rage that we later see again when he attacks Ozymandias right before leaving Karnak.

Sometimes, the Night Is Generous to Me: Good as the Mason scene is, the best adds in my opinion are all of the new bits with the heart and dark soul of Watchmen, Rorschach. There's more dialogue in his interview with prison psychologist Dr. Long, giving actor Jackie Earle Haley an opportunity to provide more depth and shading to an already outstanding performance. We also get the memorable scene from Chapter V of the book, in which Rorschach puts on his "face" in an alley and then interrupts an assault, seeing "something rewarding" in the eyes of the would-be rapist. Even his alter ego, Walter Kovacs, gets some important extra screen time, in an interaction with Bernie at the newsstand that establishes his attachment to the New Frontiersman. Plus, sprinkled throughout are additional "Rorschach's journal" voice-overs (pure poetry). All of it adds up to a more fully rounded portrayal of an already compelling character. The only bum note is a completely unnecessary sequence -- notably not in the comic -- involving Rorschach beating up a cop during his foray into the Comedian's apartment.

We're All Puppets: More than anyone else, Malin Akerman's much-maligned depiction of Laurie, a.k.a. Silk Spectre II, is greatly enhanced by the addition of a couple scenes at the military base apartment she shared with Dr. Manhattan, where she's interrogated by a government creep, bangs his head against a ping pong table and, eventually, handcuffs him while she escapes to Dan's. But the action is secondary to the dialogue, in which it's made clear that her paid job was essentially to sleep with the country's greatest weapon -- and that she's "been a prisoner in my life long enough." Partly thanks to these new moments, I'd go so far as to say that this is one character that's actually better served and more humanized by the film than the comic.

Humans Are Savage in Nature: Along with Haley's Rorschach, Jeffrey Dean Morgan's Comedian is the highlight of the film as far as the actors go, and though the director's cut doesn't have any major new scenes with him, we do get some extra beats that showcase his sadism (shooting Viet Cong from a helicopter and then savoring his chance to burn a legless soldier) and his humor (swigging from a flask during the extended first and only meeting of the Watchmen).

None of these extra minutes will change haters' minds, of course, which is fine by me. I never needed Watchmen to be a Dark Knight-sized blockbuster with tie-in Happy Meals and meatheads wearing Rorschach t-shirts on the street. Warner Bros. accountants have an understandably different viewpoint, but I'm glad to have the cinematic version of this story, these characters, this world relegated to cult status. And in another 20 years, we may have another Blade Runner on our hands -- a smart, adult sci-fi epic best appreciated in retrospect. One difference being that the Watchmen marketers aren't bothering to wait to squeeze every dollar out of fans -- a third ("ultimate") cut of the movie will be on DVD in December, integrating the (frankly weak) Tales of the Black Freighter animation into the film. And though I'm happy with the director's cut as it is, no doubt I'll shell out for that release, too, along with my hard-core brethren.

"We do not do this thing because we are permitted. We do it because we have to. We do it because we are compelled." -- Rorschach, 1985

Can't wait until December either? Buy the director's cut DVD of Watchmen here or get it from iTunes.

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