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Watchmen fans were no doubt disappointed that the theatrical cut of the film adaptation was completely devoid of Tales of the Black Freighter, the series-turned-graphic novel’s story within the story. While some may argue that the pirate tale—which parallels the events of the main storyline—is purely supplemental, others find it to be an essential window into the Watchmen universe. Fortunately, Warner Premiere has released this side story on DVD and Blu-ray along with Under the Hood, a fictitious news program’s look at the Hollis Mason/Nite Owl autobiography, featuring interviews with several characters from the film.

In Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original work, Tales of the Black Freighter is a comic book read by a young man at a newsstand, its story at times intercut with the story’s main narrative. With superheroes playing a significant role in Watchmen’s alternate reality, people wouldn’t be too keen on reading comic books about them, particularly given the public’s soured opinion of them once masked vigilantes are outlawed. Given the cultural landscape, pirate comics would be a likely form of swashbuckling escapism in this skewed version of 1980s America. However, as we learn by reading Watchmen, the pirate story acts as a chilling allegory for events in the book. In essence, Tales of the Black Freighter can be perceived as Watchmen commenting on itself. Of course, that’s just one take on it.

Tales of the Black Freighter follows a marooned mariner (voiced by 300’s Gerard Butler) whose vessel is destroyed by the titular ghost ship. He washes ashore, along with the bloated, mangled bodies of his crew. Fearing that the Black Freighter is heading toward his home town, the mariner constructs a crude raft out of the bodies of his shipmates to warn his loved ones. Descending into madness, “borne on the bodies of murdered men” and sustaining himself on raw seagull flesh and seawater, the mariner finally arrives home. Believing that the Black Freighter’s crew has already overtaken the town, the mariner slaughters on innocent couple on the shore before murdering his own wife in his family’s darkened home, believing her to be a pirate. Realizing what he’s done, the mariner wades out into the ocean, where the Black Freighter waits to claim his soul. It had not attacked the town at all. The mariner has perpetrated the very act he fought to prevent.

For fans that have read Watchmen this animated version is a beautifully realized recreation of the original work. It’s short, clocking in at just over 20 minutes, but the film’s graphic, unsettling visuals—coupled with Moore’s intact and still phenomenal writing—make this a must-see for anyone who enjoyed Snyder’s adaptation. It’s not quite as poignant when experienced outside of the main Watchmen story, but a future director’s cut will surely rectify that narrative disconnect.

The secondary feature on the video release, Under the Hood, does a decent job in fleshing out the backstory of the Watchmen universe through a faux news program, but there’s little reason to watch it more than once. It’s great to see more of Stephen McHattie and Carla Gugino as Hollis/Nite Owl and Sally Jupiter/Silk Spectre, but the entire segment comes off as flat due to its television news magazine format.

Performances are great all around—particularly particularly McHattie, who has precious little screentime in the actual film—but it would have made for a better bonus feature on a forthcoming Watchmen DVD release. After the film’s opening credits sequence did such an admirable job in setting up the story’s alternate reality, a filmed Under the Hood just feels redundant, particularly since the best parts of it are taken word-for-word from the prose sections of the graphic novel.

Special features on this disc include an enlightening featurette examining how Under the Hood and Tales of the Black Freighter fit into the Watchmen mythology, as well as the first episode of the Watchmen motion comic, which seems like an altogether pointless exercise. It also includes a first look at DC Universe’s upcoming Green Lantern animated film.

Tales of the Black Freighter is a remarkable effort, and while the disc may not be a justified purchase for anyone but diehard fans of the film, it’s a worthwhile rental for everyone else.

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