The IMAX Experience: Watchmen, Part 2


[Note: This follow-up story has spoilers.]

Last week, I watched Watchmen at an inexpensive cineplex in North Jersey. Great movie, faithful adaptation, substandard equipment. Hey, the tickets were $6.50, and around here that's a bargain.

On Saturday, I shelled out more than twice as much and saw Watchmen again, this time in the DLP IMAX theater at the AMC Empire 25, just a block away from Times Square. After experiencing the film at both ends of the tech spectrum, I can safely say that the "IMAX Experience" is definitely worth the extra money and travel time. The sheer detail IMAX offers in a movie as rich and layered as Watchmen is truly impressive. The larger screen and clearer picture let me pick out so many great touches director Zack Snyder threw in, that would be barely noticed on a standard screen.

Like the story itself, it's best to start in the middle and hint at the end. One of the biggest points of contention with comic book fans is that Snyder changed the ending of the graphic novel. The original story had Ozymandias teleport a monsterous "space squid" in the middle of New York, killing millions. In the film, Ozymandias uses a energy device to destroy several cities across the world and make everyone think Dr. Manhattan did it. If you don't watch the IMAX version, you might miss a fantastic shout-out to the fans: Snyder indeed left the squid in the film . . . sort of.

Late into the first half of the film, there is a scene where Laurie walks out on Dr. Manhattan for simultaneously being with her in bed and working on a science experiment (quantum physics at its most adult). The science experiment is part of Ozymandias' plan, developed under the guise of producing free energy for everyone. In that scene, Dr. Manhattan speaks with Ozymandias and his scientists in the Antarctic through a small television screen, and then teleports the device he was working on do them. Before he teleports the device, you can make out a sign in the background of the television screen that gives the device a name. It's called the S.Q.U.I.D. It's such a small reference to the original story, and it's only visible for a few moments through that tiny screen, but on IMAX it can be clearly read. Unfortuantely, I only made out the words "Quantum" and "Device," because the sign vanished so quickly, blocked by the teleporting device. Still, it's a great shout-out to the "purists" who bemoaned that the movie wouldn't feature the catastrophic squid.

Countless other great details can be seen on IMAX during the movie's opening credits, which set the stage of the alternate 1985 in the film. One of the scenes in the credits is a tableau of the Minutemen, the masked heroes from the 1940's, arranged in such a way to look like The Last Supper. Sharp-eyed fans can catch several great nods on that one picture, such as the intimate look shared between Hooded Justice and Captain Metropolis, hinting at a relationship between the two heroes only suggested in the graphic novel's supplemental materials.

Of course, the hidden details aren't the only things highlighted and improved by IMAX. Textured set pieces and atmospheric effects, like the rain during the Comedian's funeral, the show during Nite Owl and Rorshach's approach on Karnak, and the gruesome and bloody results of Dr. Manhattan's powers are all seen, clearly and explicitly. Whether it's flying guts or falling snowflakes, the big screen and bright projector significantly improves the view.

I don't know how much longer Watchmen will stay in IMAX theaters. After only one week, the film has already dipped to #2 in the box office, pulling in just over $18 million last weekend, less than a third of its opening weekend numbers. This hardly means it's a failure, though. Counting foreign box office receipts, the film's already close to making up its $150 million production budget, and DVD and Blu-ray sales should see Warner Bros. and Snyder both quite satisfied by the movie's long-term success.

If you don't get a chance to see Watchmen in IMAX, then keep your eyes out for its inevitable release on Blu-ray. Even though the theatrical release of the film runs well over 2 hours, it was still significantly cut to fit running time. Rumors abound that the "director's cut" will run over four hours, and include the hour-plus animated Black Freighter story-within-a-story. It will hit DVD as well, but Blu-ray will be the best way to catch all of those great details, references, and shout-outs Snyder dropped into the movie.

Will Greenwald