Tales of the Black Freighter: DVD vs. Graphic Novel

February 16, 2010

“Hope can be a horrible thing.”

I know the big question in everyone’s mind: is Tales of the Black Freighter as an animated feature as good as the comic found in The Watchmen graphic novel?

My answer is: Yes, but not really.
(There’s going to be spoilers here. But the chances are that you either A: Have already read/seen Watchmen, or B: you don’t care. So here I go)

Why it’s good: Tales of the Black Freighter is a 28 minute straight-to-DVD animated feature. That sounds really short, but it covers the Black Freighter storyline very well. It captures the horrific tale of a shipwrecked captain desperately trying to reach home in time to save his family. Gerard Butler is absolutely perfect in his role as the Captain. His performance is the highlight of the film and makes Tales worth recommending to even the most diehard of Watchmen fanboys. Because Tales unfolds all at once, it gives a very clear and hellish pacing to the story, (as opposed to revealing it bit by bit in the graphic novel). The decent into madness is very tangible, though that probably makes the ending more predictable.

Where it’s not so good: In Watchmen, the Tales comic book is revealed piece by piece in conjunction with the “real world” events. The bits and pieces change up the pacing of Watchmen and leave you both anticipating and dreading when you’ll get the next piece of this haunting story. That separation of time allowed my imagination to fill in the gaps, causing Tales to be even more horrifying. What was going on with Rorschach was disturbing, but the story of a shipwrecked Captain harnessing the dead, bloating bodies of his crew into a raft was beyond grotesque. This Rated R feature is certainly disgusting, and it has a short enough running time to keep you horrified without desensitization kicking in, but the ending doesn’t pack the same punch. The ending is powerful, but it didn’t deliver that kick-in-the-stomach feeling of despair that I experienced when reading The Watchmen.
I’m both disappointed and glad that Tales of the Black Freighter is not featured in The Watchmen: Director’s Cut, (which I own).  However, I read that it is included in the epic 215 minute Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut, (which I have not yet seen).  I definitely felt that The Watchmen theatrical cut suffered from not having the subtext of Tales, but with such a unique style, I’m not sure if Tales would fit as seamlessly into the film as I originally hoped. Rather than assisting the Watchmen story, it might make the pacing even more convoluted.  I will have to see the Ultimate Cut and decide for myself.

In Conclusion: The Watchmen is a terrific graphic novel and no movie adaptation can ever change that. Big screen versions can elevate certain elements to a higher level of experience than the graphic novel, (such as Gerard Butler’s voiceovers in Tales), but ultimately cannot capture the true depth and broad scope of Watchmen. Tales of the Black Freighter is a very good film adaptation of a haunting subtext. Maybe it’s presence here is not quite as powerful compared to when read, but there is also something gained by featuring the hellish story from beginning to end without interruption. The DVD also has Under the Hood, which is a pretty interesting “tv show” interview with Hollis Mason and other Watchmen characters about the famous autobiography. Both of these are worth watching and make a very geeky addition to your DVD collection, (just think how great it’ll look between your copy of V for Vendetta and X-Men2.) Next time I view The Watchmen, I’ll definitely pop in this DVD either just before or immediately after.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Zipped Lips.
Enjoyable and worth multiple viewings in connection with (or without) The Watchmen movie.

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2 Responses to “Tales of the Black Freighter: DVD vs. Graphic Novel”

  1. Erik Says:

    I haven’t seen it, but I’ve been waiting for the ultimate cut. I’ll maybe comment once I’ve seen it (hopefully soon).

  2. Isaac Says:

    I really wish I’d have known about the Ultimate Cut, otherwise I wouldn’t have bought the Directors Cut. Oh well, I’ve still got the book, right?


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