Tales of the Black Freighter/Under the Hood

Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter/Under the Hood 2009

Even though I’ve watched the Watchmen already, I’m not quite done with it enough to write a review of it yet. But since this is presented as somewhat of a stand alone feature, I’m going to go ahead and give it it’s own review. One of the first things I realized after watching this is that even though this is presented as somewhat of a companion piece to the Watchmen, it’s really much more like a bonus disc to the movie that you can buy on its own. If you’re a fan of the movie, it’s worth picking up, but the actual bulk of the movie is extremely short clocking in at just under half an hour. It felt much more like an animated episode of Tales From the Crypt. That said, it also felt like a really good episode of Tales From the Crypt. It’s dark, twisted, and you’re never quite sure where it’s going, although when it gets to the actual twist, its fairly obvious. There are a couple other things on the disc that I didn’t even realize were on there at first. The biggest thing is the not-quite-a-mockumentary “Under the Hood” which takes a look at the autobiography of one of the original Minutemen within the world of the Watchmen, along with brief looks at the other members of the original Minutemen. It’s interesting in that it fills in a lot more information for characters we briefly see in the Watchmen, but I wasn’t overly fond of the overall presentation.

Tales of the Black Freighter
But first let me go back to Tales of the Black Freighter, which is actually a comic book within the alternate 1980’s timeline of the Watchmen. The theory is that in a world where superheroes actually do exist, superhero comic books wouldn’t have become as popular as they are today. Instead alternate stories like Pirates or Fantasy books would be the norm. Tales of the Black Freighter is one of those pirate comics. In the original comic, panels from the Black Freighter would often be interspersed with the main Watchmen storyline, which makes me curious to both read the original book and watch the Ultimate cut of the Watchmen which apparently also attempts to do that. But I’m getting away from the point, in this movie a captain of a ship has been attacked by the Black Freighter, which is something along the lines of the Flying Dutchman or Davy Jones’ ship or any other wraithlike pirate ship of the damned. The captain ends up being the only survivor of the attack and he is shipwrecked on an island with the corpses of his crewmates. He eventually manages to get back to town, but the journey has driven him to the point of madness.

The captain never loses him like Tom Hanks did either.

The captain never loses him like Tom Hanks did either.

One of the first things that struck me was the style of animation. Nearly everything in animation in the past several years has been drawing more and more of an inspiration from Japanese anime designs with stylized features and large eyes. This has absolutely none of that, making it have a distinctly American feel to it which I really appreciated. It also doesn’t hold back when it comes to the violence and gore. Gerard Butler is actually the voice of the captain and he does a great job essentially carrying the entire episode. The story really drew me in right from the start, and my only disappointment was that the already short half an hour felt even shorter due to how quickly it moved along. If you’re a fan of the Watchmen, it’s a must see, and if you’re a fan of Tales From the Crypt, it’s worth a rent or if you can find it in the clearance rack like I did it’s worth picking up as long as you know what you’re getting.

Culpepper talks with the Silk Spectre

Culpepper talks with the Silk Spectre

Under the Hood, not to be confused with Under the Red Hood, is a pseudo news magazine show done within the world of the Watchmen and gives a lot of backstory to some of the early heroes that are often only briefly mentioned in the Watchmen movie. At almost 40 minutes, this is actually longer than the supposed feature of the DVD based on the title. It primarily consists of an interview with Hollis Mason, the original Nite-Owl who wrote his autobiography “Under the Hood” which is a reference both to the fact that he was a car repairman as well as the fact that he was a superhero wearing a hood as part of his costume. I found the entire setup to be a little odd. It’s based around a fictional show called “The Culpepper Minute” which is from the Watchmen’s alternate 1985, but it’s mostly a look back at when the show “originally” aired in 1975. The cuts back and forth between the two time periods were rather odd, and there was little real entertainment value besides the oddness of the classic commercials which felt like they belonged in the 1975 version, but would make more sense to have been from the 1985 version. The first one is fake commercial for a Veidt line of perfume, but the second two are real classic commercials. The entire conceit of being a show within a show was overly convoluted for such a short program, and as a result, the 1985 segments really had little value at all. I think it would have flowed better to have just been set in 1975 in the first place. I did find bits of it very intriguing, and I enjoyed the use of the minor characters from the movie, but taken on its own, it’s way too dryly presented for most people to enjoy it. Unless you’re a die-hard fan of the Watchmen *and* are curious about the original Minutemen, this is easily skippable. I am curious if this is fit into the ultimate Watchmen cut, but I suppose I’ll find that out later. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.


About Bubbawheat

I'm a comic book movie enthusiast who has watched and reviewed over 500 superhero and comic book movies in the past seven years, my goal is to continue to find and watch and review every superhero movie ever made.

Posted on January 3, 2013, in 00's movies, DC and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. I actually hated the Black Freighter scenes in the comic. I felt that they were just a distraction from the main story, and one of the things I liked about the Watchmen film was that they took those scenes out. I always felt like Alan Moore was just trying to be artsy and self indulgent with that stuff.

    That being said, as a stand alone story it might work better. I actually started skipping the scenes in the comic because they annoyed me so much, so I still don’t really know how this story plays out.

    I also like you mentioning that it has a very Western feel to the animation. I love anime, but I hate when Western animation just tries to copy it.

    My gut tells me that Under the Hood probably works better in the comics though, where it was a brief one page snippet of information at the end of every issue. I loved getting the background info on the Minutemen, and I thought the film and comic complimented each other. The film had all the action and excitement, while the comic had all the thought-provoking depth. The two are very different animals.

    Although maybe I should have left this commentary until you drop the actual Watchmen review!

    • I don’t mind that you put your comments here instead of waiting for the Watchmen review, I doubt many people at all have seen this, so I didn’t really expect any comments on it. It’s absolutely a different animal than the Watchmen movie proper. I could see it getting in the way of the narrative flow, there was a behind the scenes bit where they talked about the comic within the comic which honestly almost more interesting than Behind the Hood.

  2. Haven’t seen this, though I did read it in the comic book. I agree with Stephen, in the comic it was rather distracting. It might hold up better as its own story, though.

  3. Great writeup. I still haven’t watched this, though I’ve always wanted to.

    I enjoyed the idea of the Black Freighter in the comic, when you think of it as an allegory for Veidt’s actions. Had he left things well enough alone, the thing he feared so much probably would have been avoided. Instead he ended up with a guaranteed catastrophe. Its presence can kind of turn the whole premise of The Watchmen on its head, leaving its message much more open to interpretation.

    I was torn when they left it out of the movie, because the movie flowed so perfectly. But without this story, the ending and its message is much more cut and dry.

    You haven’t read “The Watchmen” yet?

    • I know you’re a more recent reader, but I haven’t read very many comics at all. The Maxx, Buffy season 8, and a couple other things here and there, and that’s it. I think my biggest problem was that I had a hard time convincing myself to jump into the middle, and when DC rebooted, it was just bad timing for me. Would love to pick up the big Watchmen boxed set with the comic included and read it there, or even check out the motion comic.

      And so far, it sounds like 1 for and 2 against the way it fit into the original comic.

      • The comic is definitely worth reading. It’s amazing. If you’ve been watching the movie recently, I highly suggest picking it up. I re-read it pretty much every time I watch the movie. It does have flaws, though sometimes people are hard pressed to admit it. Frieghter can go either way. It definitely interrupts the flow, like Morgan and Stephen mentioned. Whether or not that works depends on what you choose to take away from it in the end, I think.

  4. sanclementejedi

    I enjoyed this short film. Maybe not as much as I enjoyed the Watchmen but that is setting the bar pretty high. I know a few others mentioned checking out the graphic novel and it is well worth a look. The film does an excellent job staying pretty close to the source material other than the conclusion. Which was probably a wise decision.

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