THE WATCHMEN WATCH

Watchmen arrives in theaters today (Friday) riding a wave of publicity that few movies have ever enjoyed, especially in early March. Noting that ticket sales have been selling at a record clip since the beginning of the year and that the film is being rolled out to 3,611 screens -- unheard of for an R-rated film -- several box-office analysts are predicting that the movie is likely to exceed the $70.9 million taken in by director Zack Snyder's last film, 300, two years ago. CNBC Media reporter Julia Boorstin commented that the movie presented "way too much gratuitous blood for me," but she added, "I'm not the target audience and neither are critics -- it's meant for 18-to-35-year-old guys, and I expect them to turn out in droves." Meanwhile, Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire, which was the top film at the box office on Tuesday and Wednesday, is likely to take second place over the weekend behind Watchmen. The film is in its 17th week.

MOVIE REVIEWS: WATCHMEN

Most critics have apparently not been influenced one whit by all the praise for Watchmen by fans of the graphic novel, something that Michael Phillips acknowledges in his review in the Chicago Tribune. "Zack Snyder's bloated screen adaptation will go over best with fanboys, fangirls, fanmen and fanwomen who give high marks for slavish fidelity to the source material," he writes. Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times calls it "something acceptable but pedestrian, an adaptation that is more a prisoner of its story than the master of it." It's "a bore," writes Philip Kenicott in the Washington Post, it's "long, dull and ... sinks under the weight of its reverence for the original." Claudia Puig in USA Today says that it "starts out powerfully" but as it proceeds, "it grows plodding, convoluted and forgettable." And A.O. Scott in the New York Times concludes that the entire premise of the film "is rooted in a view of human behavior that is fundamentally immature, self-pitying and sentimental." But Kyle Smith in the New York Post is won over. "It transforms each moment into a tableau with great, uncompromising concentration. The effect is an almost airless gloom, but the film is also exhilarating in breadth and depth. There is more going on in the spectacular opening-credits sequence than in the three Spider-Man flicks combined." And Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times awards it four stars, writing, "The film is rich enough to be seen more than once. ... I'm not sure I understood all the nuances and implications, but I am sure I had a powerful experience."

NETFLIX HITS NEW HIGH

Continuing to defy the market trend, shares of Netflix continued to rise Thursday and today (Friday), even as virtually every other media stock sank. Netflix are up 50 percent over the past three months, while some media stocks have fallen that much and more. At midday today Netflix was trading at $38.80 while rival Blockbuster was down nearly 9 percent to $0.41. Meanwhile, in a development that could affect the popularity of both online and brick-and-mortar video rentals, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is reportedly planning to release two versions of its movies, one with added-value "extras" that will be available for sale and another with those extras stripped for rentals. Video Business magazine said that the March 31 home video release of Slumdog Millionaire will include special features like trailers, deleted scenes, and commentaries but the rental version will include only the movie and trailers. In a statement, Fox said: "For rental customers, we are delivering a theatrical experience in the home while promoting upcoming releases; for retail [or sell-through] customers, we are offering a premium product that expands the entertainment experience of that particular property to further enhance ownership."

MPAA CLAIMS REALNETWORKS DESTROYED EVIDENCE

The Motion Picture Association of America claims that RealNetworks has been busy destroying documents and other evidence that are crucial in the MPAA's lawsuit against the software company. The organization, which represents the major film studios, has asked the court to bar RealNetworks from deleting relevant documents and to move up the March 16th date for a hearing on the case. Real denied the MPAA's claims and said that it needs the time between now and the 16th to complete its discovery process. From the outset Real has claimed that its RealDVD software does not violate copyright laws because it transfers the DRM protection technology from the disc to a computer's hard drive. But the MPAA claims that it gives users the ability to rent a movie and keep a permanent copy on their hard drives without ever having to buy it.

SYDNEY CHAPLIN, TONY WINNER, CHARLIE'S SON, DIES AT 82

Sydney Chaplin, who starred on Broadway in The Bells Are Ringing and Funny Girl and in movies opposite his father, Charlie, in Limelight and The Countess from Hong Kong has died in Rancho Mirage, CA at age 82. He won a Tony award for best actor in a musical in 1957 for The Bells are Ringing, in which he starred opposite Judy Holliday, who won the best actress Tony. In 1964's Funny Girl he played gambler Nicky Arnstein, a gambler who married comedienne Fanny Brice, played by Barbra Streisand. Although both Holliday and Streisand recreated their roles in movie versions, Chaplin was replaced by other actors.