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updated 3/11/2009 with thoughts on Watchmen: Justice is Coming
Who watches the Watchmen? Everyone, apparently. You can't help it--the multimedia circus is in full swing. There are video podcasts, downloadable videos, DVDs, iPhone apps, games, the movie itself (of course), and reprints of the graphic novel that started it all.
Yep, that blood-stained smiley face symbol is everywhere these days. And now, on the eve of the movie's release, I'm scared. A nerd staple is about to get overexposed and risk plummeting in a death spiral of painfully crass commercialism. On the bright side, even if it does, the crass commercialism is smart enough to make even Ozymandias proud. Instead of playing out Watchmenhood, the hype ties everything together in an oddly satisfying way for the most part. In fact, many movie makers could learn a lesson from this about how to soak money from the public without making them feel like victims of vulgar exploitation. Much. Will I see the movie? You bet. Do I recommend snapping up every ancillary thing that sports the Watchmen brand? Let's set the doomsday clock (or is that a watch?) and evaluate some of the hype:
Videogame translations of movies are usually just scene-by-scene recreations of what you've already seen. Whoop-freakin-pee! As of now, not one but three games promote and offer sympathetic vibes around the movie. And each stands out in its own way.
Watchmen: Justice Is Coming
Basically, this soon-to-arrive online-only multiplayer game for the iPhone and the iPod Touch invites you to craft and battle other masked vigilantes in NYC. It's a real-time, 3D world that you'll be able to explore in depth. Advance the story, interact with other players, and proceed to beat the tar out of 'em. No word on if there will be extra costs after the fact, but it doesn't sound like a subscription is required to go online and play. The trick, of course, is getting online to play. You see, in order to rush the game out to coinicide with the movie's release (ALWAYS a good idea!) Justice is Coming launched an "Advance Release Edition", selling for 99 cents. Basically, you're paying for the privilege of being a beta tester. All I've been able to do so far is create a hero, suit him up, try and get into a fight -- only to watch the iPhone crash. Repeatedly. If you want to drop a dollar and hold out hope that the game will get fixed in an update, be my guest. After all, it does sound like a neat idea. Me? I'd wait.
Cost: $0.99 for the "Advance Release Edition" (iPhone/iPod Touch)
Enter the 1985 world in which Watchmen takes place by playing an old-school 8-bit arcade game. Minutemenarcade is really just a promotional site (www.minutemenarcade.com) where you can play this simple 2D, side-scrolling beat-'em-up starring some of the heroes discussed in the movie's background. Honestly, if you walked into an arcade in the '80s, you probably plunked down quarters for a game just like this one. Difference is, this time it's free.
Cost: Free (online)
Watchmen: The End Is Nigh
Now take that beat-'em-up arcade-era game concept, prettify it for high-definition sets, and release it for the PC, the PS3 and the Xbox 360 (available only through download). Some hardcore critics complain that W:TEiN is a little too mindless. Relax! You bash a few buttons, beat guys up, and get some backstory on a point that the comics barely alluded to: apprehending some dude named "Underboss." Playing as crime-fighting buddies, rightist Rorschach and left-wing Nite Owl go back and forth like a psychotic, steroidal Hannity and Colmes while dishing out two-fisted justice. The game itself is a snazzy-looking, straightforward experience that you can play solo or with a buddy. It's good, but is it $20 good? Well, I'd buy it. Only caveat: You'll probably be able to blow through the whole thing in about 5 hours. Then again, that's a lot longer than some of the DVDs that are getting sold around the movie's release.
Cost: $20 (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic
Break out the wallet, early adopters! This week, you can buy Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic. For readers new to the concept: The original artwork gets digitally animated in subtle ways--with panning, zooming, and slight animation--while voice-overs narrate the scenes. But really this is just another version of the movie you're about to see anyhow, so I advise you to save your money. If you want the full story ahead of time, just grab a reprint of the "olde tyme" pulp version (which sells for about $15).
Cost: $25 (DVD); $35 (Blu-ray)
Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter and Under the Hood
On March 24 comes a bonus for the fans of the comic: a separate direct-to-home-video release of Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter and Under the Hood (starring the voice of Gerard Butler). Both of these elements were supplemental bits that were thrown into the original comics and helped provide added context to the world. One was a comic-within-a-comic whose focus was bloodthirsty pirates. The other, a tell-all book about being a superhero.
Cost: $25 (DVD); $35 (Blu-Ray)
But don't buy anything just yet! At San Francisco's Wondercon last week, director Zack Snyder told a packed house that he hopes to put together a director's cut of the movie for a limited second release that will include the material from The Black Freighter and Under the Hood cut back into the main movie--as it was introduced in the comics. And no doubt, you should hang back for the inevitable home video megapackage that bundles all of the extras into one superheroic extravaganza. In short, beware of the double dip and don't pay twice for the same thing.
Watchmen (the iPhone app)
If you (a) own an iPhone and (b) have never read Watchmen and (c) plan to watch the film, download this free app. Every big-time flick now offers an array of downloadable buddy icons, gallery images, and such (the watchmen site is ridiculously overboard); but the iPhone Watchmen application is almost like a small-scale special features disc before you even see the flick. It provides background material on the Watchmen world and its main characters--especially helpful in view of the story's complexity. The app includes embedded links to movie trailers, behind-the-scenes video production clips, and samples of the motion video comic. Yes, it's a little on the slow side, but it provides a good starting point for someone trying to make sense of everything. The only thing that surprised me is that Watchmen marketing didn't throw in a shortcut for buying tickets.
Cost: Free (download)
I know, I know...it's all a bit much. And I feel a little (read: a lot) dirty because of all the tie-in products. Still, this is far better than seeing Rorschach Underoos on sale. (I'd buy 'em).
Until next week...
Need even more nerdity? Follow Casual Friday columnist and PC World Senior Writer Darren Gladstone on Twitter (gizmogladstone) for more time-wasting tips.