Tales Of The Black Freighter (2009)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 6/6/09
Cast: Gerard Butler

This short animated film is the brilliant companion piece to the live action "Watchmen" (2009) film. It's the comic book that the kid in the graphic novel was reading and serves as an allegorical "story within the story." The plot concerns a sea captain whose ship falls victim to the mystical Black Freighter, a horrific ghost ship of death and destruction. He alone survives and manages to wash upon the shore of a desert island. Fearing for his wife and children should the Black Freighter make it back to his home town, the captain makes a desperate attempt to sail home on a makeshift raft of dead bodies. Despite being driven by love and noble intentions, the captain is ultimately consumed by madness and destined to damnation.

The film is narrated almost entirely by Gerard Butler, who does an excellent job of portraying the doomed and anguished captain. The animation is pretty good and the style is reminiscent of "Heavy Metal" (1981). It's definitely intended for mature audiences and revels in disturbing and horrific imagery, but it thoughtfully tends to shy away from showing you every disgusting little detail. Unfortunately, the whole thing feels a little drawn out and the pacing seems a bit sluggish. The story doesn't seem well suited to animation, as there's not much action and movement to capitalize on. The flow and exposition are more like reading a poem by Edgar Allen Poe, which is more of a mental journey than a visual one. However, the content is rich and really helps flesh out the nuances of the graphic novel. The fact that it even got made at all is an astonishing achievement, and I applaud Zak Snyder's insistence on making it happen. That it's a companion piece and not in the film itself also works surprisingly well. It's certainly not essential viewing, but it's additional icing on top of an already fabulous cake.