So last night the lovely Ashley and I went out and got ourselves the director’s cut of Watchmen on DVD. When I saw the film this past March I found it busy and uneven and flawed in several other ways. I also thought it was the best superhero film I’d ever seen. And that was only the theatrical cut! That Zack Snyder, he sure had a handle on this whole Watchmen thing, I thought. I couldn’t wait to check out the director’s cut, nearly half an hour longer, to see how much better it surely was.
Alas, it was not to be. Oh, the director’s cut isn’t a bad film — don’t let me leave you with that impression. It’s not bad. It’s just not as good as the shorter version. It retains the strengths of that earlier cut — the nicely balanced tone, the striking visuals which more often than not are direct references to the original comic book, the outstanding performances from Billy Crudup, Jackie Earle Haley, and Carla Gugino. Unfortunately, the longer running time does nothing to smooth out the wrinkles. Rather, it winds up making them even more pronounced.
Most of the added footage is all right when considered scene-by-scene, out of context. There’s an extension of the scene early on when Rorschach investigates the crime scene at the Comedian’s penthouse that has some really stunning shots — one of Rorschach standing on the balcony railing about to flee from the cops, particularly. It gives Rorschach and Dan Dreiberg one more thing to talk about in a later scene, and it’s always nice to see Rorschach beat up on the police, I guess, but it’s totally gratuitous. Things moved better and worked just fine without the extra scenes.
That’s a minor example. The biggest problem, and one of the most noticeable changes from the theatrical version, is the scene depicting the murder of Hollis Mason by members of the knot-tops gang. There’s nothing wrong with the scene itself. It’s staged just fine. It just doesn’t belong in the movie. If all you care about is how much of the source material Snyder is able to cram into his film, then I guess the inclusion of these key sequence from the comic book will please you. But the murder of Hollis doesn’t play nearly as well without the earlier scene of trick-or-treating children showing up at the old Nite Owl’s door to parallel it. Why include one and not the other? Or better yet, just leave them both on the cutting room floor.
There’s also a noticeable extension of the scene where President Nixon meets with his generals about the imminent nuclear exchange with the Soviets. The new footage is nearly all right at the front of the scene, and totally killed it for me. I kept thinking, “Just get to Nixon’s awful fission joke already.” I had thoughts like that often watching the director’s cut. Having seen the film in the theater, I naturally anticipated seeing my favorite moments, and was very aware of how much longer it was taking to reach certain points in the story in this version. That’s never a good sign.
Apparently there is yet another extended cut of the film due out by the end of this year, this one incorporating the animated “Tales of the Black Freighter” into the live-action footage. If there’s anything else Snyder was holding back from this director’s cut, he might as well throw it in there. I found the two-and-a-half-hour cut of Watchmen to be an imperfect masterpiece, and this three-hour cut to be unfocused and overlong. Maybe an even longer cut is the way to go, but I have my doubts. The director’s cut of Watchmen is an okay movie, and for people who enjoyed it seeing it at the movies, it will be an entertaining curiosity, but in terms of drama and storytelling it takes a back seat to the shorter cut. Zack Snyder should’ve quit while he was ahead and left the film as it was. He still could’ve shown us the cut-out footage. That’s what Deleted Scenes features are for.