Watchmen, the graphic novel, stands as one of the greatest narrative achievements in fiction to ever be put to paper. The story is the true north when it comes to discussing what can be accomplished in the world of comic books. It tackles a lot of big themes about the human condition and societal issues that has proven to be difficult to adapt into something that pleases fans of the material and general audiences alike. Zack Snyder’s film was unfairly maligned as it attempted to boil down the nuances into a feature-length film that made some missteps, but ultimately proved to be entertaining, especially in the superior director’s cut. Rather than embark on the fool’s errand of adapting this exact story for the small screen, creator Damon Lindelof (Lost, The Leftovers) has chosen to use the original story as a launching pad that pays tribute to the source material while blazing its own trail. The resulting limited series stands as one of the finest artistic achievements to come out in some time.
As with many series helmed by Lindelof, it is more satisfying if you do not know a lot about Watchmen: An HBO Limited Series before embarking upon it. For that reason, only the gentlest of overviews will be given to preserve the audience experience. The series picks up 34 years after the events of the graphic novel, not the Zack Snyder movie, where the world is still dealing with the effects of a perceived alien threat and vigilantes have been outlawed. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, tensions are high as horribly racist events from the past are confronted head on and a white supremacist group, the Seventh Kavalry, with a twisted take on Rorschach’s beliefs are looking to make America great again by any means necessary. Police officers have been forced to don masks for their own protection, as it is no longer safe to be linked to law enforcement. After a particularly devastating tragedy occurs, detective Angela Abar (Regina King) must work to stop the terrorist plot of the Seventh Kavalry while uncovering secrets about herself and those closest to her. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the story, just as it should be for newcomers.
It is truly staggering to see such a finely tuned, confident series that takes an iconic novel and creates another masterpiece from it. The world building in this alternate history is fully realized and deliberately parsed out for maximum enjoyment throughout the season. One can appreciate this story without any familiarity with the original source material, but fans who love the graphic novel will be geeking out over elements they expanded on here, like the current president or the crazy squid rain. Familiar faces from the graphic novel are integral to this story without being shoehorned in for no real reason. Lindelof and executive producer Nicole Kassell have carefully considered every aspect that would ring true to where these characters would be. As a matter of fact, there does not seem to be any angle that they have not considered as they delicately tie everything together by the end of the season. With each reveal, you are left with a sense of weightlessness from the satisfaction of knowing you are on a journey guided by a team that has a specific, immaculate vision in mind. There are questions answered that you did not even think to ask until you have the answers in front of you. The story is often thrilling and, at times, a bit strange, but it never feels like it is in danger of going off the rails.
One of the most important aspects of this series is the cultural commentary it provides to our real world. Watchmen was originally published as a response to major political uncertainty and the looming threat of a nuclear holocaust. This series continues in that tradition as institutional racism is confronted head on from the idea of reparations to police brutality to reckoning with scars from the past. This show is not preachy, but it is immensely powerful as it uses this science fiction story to put these issues into the proper perspective. While the original novel and film is extremely white, people of color such as Regina King, Hong Chau, Louis Gossett, Jr and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II are given center stage to create iconic, fleshed-out characters that anchor the story from all angels. All of these actors are simply incredible, along with their costars such as the hilarious Jean Smart, the insane Jeremy Irons and scene-stealer Tim Blake Nelson. Everything about this series is just about perfect. From the technical aspects to the plot, there is not a false note to be found. This is the type of defining television series that you aspire to consume.
Watchmen: An HBO Limited Series arrives on Blu-Ray with a stunning AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.78:1. The levels of detail this presentation is able to eek out truly does the show a great service, as all of the subtle details in the production design are easily identifiable. The color palette runs on the cooler side with a focus on blues and greys, but there are some instances of beautiful colors popping off the screen in Vietnam, among other locations. Black levels are appropriately deep and give way to a nice amount of detail in shadows. Skin tones appear very natural across the entire cast. There are no egregious instances of aliasing or compression artifacts detectable here. This would have been reference quality in a 4K UHD presentation, but the Blu-Ray is quite a looker as it brings a meticulously crafted series to life in a gorgeous manner.
This Blu-Ray comes with an incredibly active DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track that creates a truly enveloping world. The tone of the series is set by a moody, futuristic score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross that tends to move into the side and rear channels. The effect is extremely satisfying and gives the soundtrack a nice foundation from which to build. Dialogue always come through crisp and clear without being stepped on by the powerful score or any sound effects. Action sequences and more kinetic moments are given the appropriate power in the mix with a forceful showing in the low end. Ambient sounds are also precisely placed in the rear channels. The audio presentation here is fantastic on all levels.
- Character Trailers – Sister Night, Blonde Man and Looking Glass: A three-minute profile on characters portrayed by Regina King, Jeremy Irons and Tim Blake Nelson. The actors give a brief overview of who they are playing and tease some of their developments.
- It’s Raining Squids: A two-minute look at the meteorological fallout from the conclusion of the graphic novel and how it impacts the every day lives of the characters.
- Watchmen – Masked and Dangerous: A two-minute look at the legacy of masked superheroes and the original graphic novel. This gives you a bit of an insight into the world in which the characters are currently living.
- 2019 New York Comic Con: A 37-minute condensed version of the New York Comic Con panel in which Damon Lindelof sets up how he was introduced Watchmen and why, if it had to be done, he felt he needed to be the one to adapt it. He is joined by Jen Cheney (host), Nicole Kassell (Executive Producer), Regina King, Jeremy Irons, Jean Smart, Louis Gossett, Jr., Hong Chau, Tim Blake Nelson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Dave Gibbons. All of the actors get a chance to discuss their history with the comics, and the creators get to go into further detail about their intention for the series. There are so many funny and interesting anecdotes that this stands as one of the best special features in the package.
- Becoming Sister Night: A minute-long talk with Regina Hall about becoming Sister Night and how the costume was developed to suit all the creative and practical needs.
- Watchmen: Alternate History: A two-minute discussion about some of the differences in this alternate version of the world. This is particularly fascinating as it mentions a few things that may not be readily apparent upon first watch.
- Watchmen – Unmasked: A nearly 17-minute dive into the psychology behind wearing a mask with the cast and creative team. This is a really fascinating featurette that touches on how anonymity fuels a greater ferociousness and what fuels the characters in the show.
- Andrij Parekh on Directing: A minute-long talk with director Andrij Parekh on his experience shooting his episode, how he landed the gig and how working with Regina King elevated his work.
- Squid Shelter with Tim Blake Nelson: A two-and-a-half minute discussion with Tim Blake Nelson in which he discusses what has led Wade to build his shelter. Nelson also details a lot of the fun production design elements that you might overlook.
- Anatomy of a Fight Scene: A two-and-a-half minute look at how they pulled off a particularly impressive fight sequence, which appeared to be one continuous shot. Learning the behind-the-scenes details does not lessen the impact.
- Immortal Vigilante – Hooded Justice: A twelve-minute featurette on how the show took the old school vigilante Hooded Justice from the original graphic novel and fleshed out his backstory for the show. The piece explores major themes that the character represents and how the show stylistically shifted to suit the flashback of the origin story.
- Adrian Veidt – The Colossal King: A thirteen-minute examination of the character of Adrian Veidt and how his actions from the graphic novel were extrapolated into something meaty and thoughtful in this continuation. This gives a lot of fascinating insights from the creative team.
- Glimpses – The Visual Effects of Watchmen: A three-minute look at the visual effects progression of various sequences throughout the season. It is very interesting to get a look at how they pulled off certain shots and what was digitally enhanced.
- Notes from the Watchmen Graphic Novel Artist Dave Gibbons: A two-minute conversation with artist Dave Gibbons in which he discusses illustrating the original novel and the subtle details of Sister Night.
- Rorschach Featurette: A two-minute look at how the Seventh Kalvary has twisted the messaging from Rorschach over the years.
- Sadiqua Bynum Runs, Jumps and Falls for Sister Night: A minute-long heartwarming featurette with Regina King’s stunt double in which she discusses how great of an experience it was working on the show and the lack of work for black female stunt people.
Watchmen: An HBO Limited Series is one of the defining series of recent years. The impeccable plotting, pacing and technical execution is the type of joyous confluence that you must cherish when it comes around. The series takes a beloved property and adds to it in new and remarkable ways that is overwhelmingly satisfying. Warner. Bros. Home Entertainment has provided an A/V presentation that is beyond reproach along with an assortment of essential bonus features that only adds to the enjoyment. This is the type of release that you simply need to have on your shelf. Essential
Watchmen: An HBO Limited Series is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray and DVD.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.