Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter is the tale of one man’s struggle against the sea, time and himself to save the people he holds most dear in his life, namely his wife, his youngest daughter (Salli Saffioti), and eldest daughter (Siobhan Flynn). The Mariner (Gerard Butler), captaining a ship destroyed by a pirate vessel known as the Black Freighter, is soon left at sea alone with only his own ingenuity to save him. Improvisation is the only means of escape for the Mariner from the island he is quickly marooned on. It is when he is back on the high seas in his “man-made” raft that the true story of this short film kicks into high gear. Whether it is the salt water he drinks or a derangement brought on by the isolation coupled with fear for his family is never made clear but by the end of Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter his intent (and their causation) is rendered moot by his actions. While on the raft, the Mariner is attacked by inhabitants of the sea and his own conscience. He believes his old shipmate, Ridley (Jared Harris), has come back from the dead and is talking to him. It is Ridley who brings the Mariner’s worst fears to life and makes them that much more deplorable. Ridley’s remarks also increase the Mariner’s thirst to stay alive and his desire to seek revenge because he knows there is no way his raft can beat the Black Freighter back to his home of Davidstown.
If the viewer has seen Christopher Nolan’s excellent film about dueling magicians, he or she will know that when the Mariner arrives back in Davidstown, he experiences what is known as The Prestige. The consequences of The Pledge and The Turn become all to clear to the Mariner and he has only one resort, one course of action, one sanctuary left to him. If the viewer has read Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s 12-issue comic book series Watchmen, they know that Tales of the Black Freighter is a supplement to the events in those books. That fact allows this animated narrative to be viewed in two ways: as a stand alone short film (which has been done up till this point) or as an appendage to Zack Snyder’s Watchmen film (one of Rorschach’s mask symbols adorns the Mariner’s raft sail). When looked upon as an appendage of Watchmen, it is clear that this film parallels Adrian Veidt / Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) and all the events that surround him in that film. When Tales of the Black Freighter is integrated into an eventual special edition of Watchmen, Ozymandias’ storyline, which was almost the least developed in the Watchmen film yet grew in prominence in the 12-issue series until the final book was concluded, will be buttressed and given more depth by its implied implications.
Daniel Delpurgatrorio and Mike Smith’s Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter is a tightly packed and quick paced animated short film with a good enough story for a full length narrative, though I would not want to see this tale elongated artificially.