This week’s batch of new DVDs is anchored by two fantasy films, each one aimed at a different audience. One is a stop-motion effort that’s spooky yet family friendly. The other is an R-rated comic book adaptation that is high minded and for adults only.
3 stars (out of four)
Rated R for strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity and language
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
“Watchmen” may be a superhero film, but it’s got more in common with “Sin City” and “V for Vendetta” than the traditional caped crusader flick. That’s because it’s dark, gritty and built around a traditional detective story. It’s also because the movie is based on a graphic novel written by Alan Moore, who also penned “Vendetta.”
Fans of the “Watchmen” novel will notice that — aside from a tweaked finale — the film is a faithful adaptation. The action starts with a superhero known as the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) taking part in a brutal, life or death battle that ends with him getting thrown through a skyscraper window. Another hero, Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), checks out the crime scene and decides someone has it out for masked crime fighters.
So, Rorschach begins to warn his kind, most of whom are long retired thanks to a government ban on vigilantes. Along with unraveling the mystery of the Comedian’s death, the film delves into the personal lives of key characters that include a Batman-like fellow known as Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), an all-powerful super-being called Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), and his significant other, the Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman).
The story is interesting even if portions are a little goofy, and director Zack Snyder does a fine job capturing the spirit of the novel. Surprisingly, because Snyder also directed the visually stunning “300,” the special effects are slightly off. Everything to do with Dr. Manhattan, who is phosphorescent blue and typically naked, is noticeably computer animated, and several backdrops were obviously faked.
Fortunately, these problems are minor distractions in a film that is well plotted, ambitious and always entertaining.
The movie is available on multiple DVD configurations, including a two-disc director’s cut that runs 24 minutes longer than the theatrical release. Extra features vary.
Rated PG for thematic elements, scary images, some language and suggestive humor
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Writer Neil Gaiman’s “Coraline” novella is a gem of children’s fiction, and director Henry Selick’s stop-motion animated film is a respectable if imperfect adaptation. The movie is surprisingly faithful to its source, straying only modestly from the Gaiman story, which repeatedly veers from wondrous to creepy to suspenseful.
The focus is on a girl named Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) whose family has moved from Michigan to a new apartment home in an undisclosed area. With her parents too busy working to pay her much attention, Coraline passes time by exploring their new digs.
One night, she discovers a small doorway which serves as a portal to another home that is much like her own. While there, she meets a woman who claims to be her “Other Mother” and a man who is introduced as her “Other Father.” Unlike her real parents, they are doting but have one disconcerting feature: buttons sewn where eyes should be.
At first, Coraline is fascinated by the new world, but as time passes, she realizes that her Other Mother might actually be dangerous.
“Coraline” has a dark underbelly reminiscent of pictures like “Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride” and Selick’s directorial debut, “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” The similarities come not only in theme, but in the slick, modern stop-motion presentation, which Selick helped pioneer.
“Coraline” is not, however, a clone of earlier projects. The sets are often brighter and more colorful than those in “Nightmare,” and the characters have a distinct look and personality. Also, those familiar with Gaiman’s work know that he is fiercely individual, and that shows in the film.
The main flaw in the “Coraline” movie, in fact, is that it lacks the richness and depth of Gaiman’s novella. Of course, asking a film to be as lush as a book is something that can seldom be fulfilled. Selick deserves credit for coming as close as he has.
The movie is available on multiple DVD configurations, including a two-disc collector’s edition. Extra features vary.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“The Great Buck Howard”: Independent dramedy starring John Malkovich as a has-been mentalist who makes a surprising comeback with the help of a hard-charging publicist (Emily Blunt) and new road manager (Colin Hanks). Written and directed by Sean McGinly.
“The Lucy Show” — The Official First Season: Lucille Ball followed her insanely popular “I Love Lucy” sitcom with this series in which she plays Lucy Carmichael, a widower sharing a home with her divorced friend, Vivian (Vivian Vance). The program ran for six seasons during the 1960s, and this four-disc set contains the first 30 episodes.
“Hotel” — The First Season: The first 22 episodes of producer Aaron Spelling’s drama about the staff and guests of a high-end, San Francisco hotel. James Brolin, Connie Sellecca and Anne Baxter star.
“Pushing Daisies” — The Complete Second Season: This TV drama, about a pie maker (Lee Pace) capable of resuscitating the dead, was critically acclaimed and won numerous awards, yet it only lasted two seasons. The final 13 episodes are presented on this four-disc set.
“Jon & Kate Plus Eight” — Season 4, Volume 2: These days, it’s Jon and Kate Gosselin’s breakup that’s making news, but the 17 episodes presented on this set were recorded before all that drama. It contains old-school Gosselin programming, showing the then-together couple raising their eight children.
Jean-Luc Godard films: The Criterion Collection is releasing newly restored versions of two Godard classics. The first is the French director’s 1966 pop noir effort, “Made in U.S.A.” The second is “2 or 3 Things I Know About Her,” a 1967 drama focused on a Paris housewife who makes extra cash through prostitution. Both movies are presented in French with English subtitles.
“Wolverine and the X-Men — Deadly Enemies”: Comic book fans recognize this animated series as one of the best X-Men adaptations. Unfortunately, this release — the second so far — contains only five episodes. Here’s betting a “complete first season” package will street soon.
“SpongeBob Squarepants — To Squarepants or not to Squarepants”: Eight episodes of the animated series about a dimwitted sponge and his wacky undersea friends.
“Dakota Skye”: Direct-to-DVD drama about a 17-year-old girl (Eileen Boylan) with the ability to see the truth in any lie. This “gift” leaves her disillusioned with life … until she meets a boy (Ian Nelson) who appears to be truthful all the time.
“Prison Break — The Final Break”: Just when you thought the “Prison Break” television franchise was over, this feature-length movie shows up. Reportedly, it fills in a number of blanks that weren’t covered in the series.
Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at Forrest@ForrestHartman.com