A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this isn't a sequel to the Watchmen movie, just supplementary material. The balleyhooed segment on this DVD, an R-rated pirate cartoon, is hideously violent and thematically grim, with murders, dismemberment of rotting corpses, and a hero defeated utterly by evil. Even worse; it's short, just about 20 minutes long. The rest of the running time is devoted to a (PG-rated) faux documentary about "real" superheroes. Neither may mean much if you don't know the graphic novel and movie to which it gives background.
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What's the story?
When the movie Watchmen came out, it was assumed that Watchmania would have built an audience for this straight-to-DVD release, a spin-off of added material from the original Alan Moore Watchmen graphic novel. The cartoon derives from a delicious idea in the book, set in a world where comics superheroes really exist: what would their comic books be about? Pirate stories, that's what, and the "Tales of the Black Freighter" cartoon short here is an exceptionally horrific sea yarn, in which the ghoulish buccaneers manning a dread Black Freighter destroy another boat, leaving only one survivor, the captain (voiced by Gerard Butler). Deducing the pirates will next massacre his seaside village and family, the captain rigs a macabre raft (using bloated corpses of his slain crewmen) and pursues the marauding vessel, his own sanity slipping away during the nightmarish ordeal. Sharing the DVD is "Under the Hood," a longer, milder (PG-rated) mockumentary, fairly lighthearted in tone, that pretends to be a TV news special on the lives, loves, and scandals of America's costumed heroes in the storyline, from 1938 up through their retirements in the 1970s, when one writes a hot tell-all memoir.
Is it any good?
Strikingly moody, lurid, poetic, and downbeat, "Tales of the Black Freighter" could well have come from the pen of Edgar Allen Poe or Ambrose Bierce (or an adult-content horror comic). Aye, there be hardcore fans out there, of Watchmen and fantastic graphics, who might consider the DVD worth viewing just for this short alone. But that audience is a minority compared to those who would wish this collection had been either incorporated into a worthwhile anthology (like the R-rated cult sci-fi animation Heavy Metal) or, better, bundled as a Watchmen DVD extra with the feature.
It's not really enough to carry a whole disc, and the accompaniments (including a trailer for a Green Lantern animated feature and the first chapter of Moore's Watchmen book) feel like promos (albeit somewhat clever ones) meant to ride the coattails of the big-screen blockbuster into the marketplace. Pirating, you might say, arrrr!
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's downbeat, hopeless outlook and how it fit into the larger scheme of the original Watchmen graphic novel. Do you think it adds to the main storyline or detracts? How would it have worked woven into the movie version?
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