DVD review: 3-hour Watchmen is old and new

Having Watchmen arrive on DVD means having an extra 24 minutes added to the theatrical cut, so the entire movie (with end credits) now runs 186 minutes. That’s a long time to tell a tale, but given the fact that Watchmen is based on a solitary graphic novel that’s set apart from the well-traveled superhero universes of Marvel or DC,  uninformed viewers have a lot of catching up to do.

They get that and more in this superb expanded cut, which introduces the multi-generational heroes who were forced to drop out of sight by a furor akin to the mutant-hunting scares in X-Men. And then, of course, they’re needed again.

The characters are both familiar types (strongmen–what a concept) and kooky-new (Rorschach, with his ever-shifting masked face). But the most intriguing, in a way, is the godlike Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), who was transformed by an agonizing scientific accident into a near-omnipotent (if not omniscient, as he reminds us) bald and blue creature. He can get real big, too–real fast.

What makes Dr. Manhattan such a kick is that he faces much the same dilemma as one of the greatest characters ever created for a single network TV episode. And by that, I’m referring to the classic 1960s Outer Limits episode titled The Sixth Finger.

In it, David McCallum played an illiterate coal miner who agreed to be the test subject in a scientist’s experiment to advance human evolution via a machine. McCallum became advanced, all right — and kept going. Soon he was devouring books in seconds and playing piano like a master. Then he got even smarter — and more detached from human reality, seeing us as mere ants.

Similarly, Dr. Manhattan has trouble connecting with the human experience. He’s simply too godlike to relate, much as he might try.

In either case, it’s an incredible character “arc,” which is what many actors live for. You don’t want to go from A to B. You want to go from A to L to X to Z and then — who knows?

At any rate, Watchmen fans are urged to check out McCallum’s extraordinary performance and how his alarming human evolutionary imperatives are resolved. And speaking of ’60s TV sci fi, also keep in mind what Bill Shatner’s Captain Kirk told a similarly godlike being (played by Gary Lockwood) in the classic Star Trek episode Where No Man Has Gone Before: “A god must have compassion.” For humanity, if we truly can transcend our wretched existence, perhaps such compassion, beauty and love are where our greatest character arc — and evolutionary path — lies.


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