Watchmen: Tales Of The Black Freighter review

The Watchmen side-story comes into its own on this DVD release...

If you’ve just seen The Watchmen film, then you’ll probably be a little disappointed with Tales Of The Black Freighter. It won’t make any sense to you. You’ll be wondering why the film was rushed too quickly and where the rough-voiced Rorschach is – and what’s all this about pirates, for heaven’s sake?

There’s a reason for this break from the film universe, though, and that’s because Tales Of The Black Freighter isn’t really intended for the uninitiated. It’s aimed squarely at those who’ve read the comic, not just those who’ve read the film. Tales Of The Black Freighter is a treat for the most hardcore of geeks, not a rushed DVD extra for the masses.

For those of you who haven’t yet made your way through the graphic novel, though, (and shame on you!), we’ll explain that in fictional universe of The Watchmen, superhero comics aren’t very popular as the heroes themselves have fallen out of favour. In a world where the everyone lives only by the grace of a giant blue superman, the actual Superman starts to pale in comparison. Comic books in the alternate history of The Watchmen have regressed back to a prior fashion, pirate stories – of which the titular Tales Of The Black Freighter is the most popular.

Tales Of The Black Freighter appeared in the original Watchmen novel as a side story that was being read by a minor, but recurring character – and thus it found itself being culled from the script of the film. Director Zack Snyder, loath to leave any snippet behind, managed to persuade Hollywood to produce Tales as a marketing device, with the DVD going alongside the cinema release of the film. And so, here we are.

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The story told in Tales itself is pretty much a straight copy-and-paste from the material in the comic, much like the attached film. Unlike the film though, which divided fans of the source material in the way it altered and exaggerated certain elements, Tales is a true tour-de-force. The animated excellence of this pirate tragedy, which tells the story of a sailor struggling to make it home in time to warn his family of the ghost pirates who slaughtered his crew, is so brilliantly realised that it shines. While The Watchmen arguably lost something in making the transition from print to screen, the animated style of Tales means it makes no such sacrifice. The gory artwork and gravelled monotones of Gerard Butler work together gloriously, making Tales an unusually uncomfortable and terrifying experience even for those who are already familiar with the story.

At just a half-hour in duration, Tales Of The Black Freighter does feel a little too short on the initial viewings, but on closer inspection it’s hard to see how the episode could have been drawn out without damaging the final product. It’s so magnificently paced and put together that even the slightest alteration might tip the balance.

If you are seriously worried about getting value for money out of the purchase then there is some extra content on the disc to help draw it out a little further. The in-fiction Under the Hood steps back into the world of The Watchmen and is a worthy, if slightly joyless interpretation of the heroic autobiography of the original Nite Owl – another aspect of the comic that was neglected by film script. Drily delivered and lacking in punch, Under the Hood unfortunately pales in comparison to the main feature despite some excellent performances from Rob LaBelle.

Rounding out the disc is a quick look at the metafiction of the original graphic novel, which is mainly handy for filling in Watchmen newcomers to the relevance of the main features, and a sample of the motion comic made for iPhone users. Neither is particularly striking and the motion comic is especially lacking as it has just one male actor voicing all the roles – which makes the romantic scenes more awkward than watching them with your grandma.

Despite all these valid flaws, though, Tales Of The Black Freighter as a whole is still a roaring success in our eyes, even if that is mainly on the strength of the title feature. There’s simply nothing bad to say about this piratical tale of ghost and gore.

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Tales Of The Black Freighter is out now.


5 out of 5