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Screened FRebruary 23 for Australian Media.
There's no reason for me to expect I was going to like Watchmen. I knew the cast was interesting - Patrick Wilson has made smart film choices that don't rely on or intentionally subvert his good looks (Hard Candy, Little Children); Jackie Earle Haley was icky in Little Children (and I'm old enough to remember him from Breaking Away); Malin Akerman is cute but 28 Dresses and The Heartbreak Kid do not a superhero make; Jeffery Dean Morgan, Matthew Goode - ??? And director Zack Snyder did cool things with zombies in Dawn Of The Dead and made a wild and wacky movie in 300, which totally indicated his third film was probably going to be worth a look, but...you know, whatever...
So they all signed up for Watchmen - based on a comic bo...sorry, graphic novel...that I'd never read and that was coming to theatres less than a year after Ironman and The Dark Knight had redefined how good superhero movies could (and should, from here on in) aspire to be.
That Watchmen has turned out to be the most complex, exhilarating and deeply-moving fantasy film since Terry Gilliam's Brazil surprises nobody on Earth more than me - and, man, did it surprise.
In equal measure, it is a) an inspired vision of an alternate world that echoes but redefines our own existence; b) a subversive yet bracingly humanistic exploration of the role of the superhero in modern literature, c) a supremely adult take on the fetishistic pull of the heightened existence that life as a saviour of society creates, and d) a wildly exciting adventure story that turns normal people into exaggerated victims of their own creation and then back into mere humans.
An exploration of the plot would reveal more vast themes, but at this early stage of its release I don't want to risk lessening the experience for anyone.
I can reveal this - Billy Crudup as Dr Manhattan and Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach create characters every bit as captivating (and deserving of Oscar recognition) as Heath Ledger's Joker; Malin Akerman makes an entrance to the world of superhero timelessness that will be the fantasy of every teenage boy, aged 15 to 50; and from the flawless art direction, set design and special effects to a mesmerising soundtrack, Watchmen is a film that revels in the perfection of minor details.
Be warned - those expecting Spiderman-like teen-angst or Fantastic Four-like silliness will be stunned, perhaps not quite sure of what they have found. Watchmen is an extraordinarily mature, risky project for Hollywood to role the dice on, especially given similarly-complex explorations of social collapse and vigilantism (V For Vendetta, most specifically) have failed to do blockbuster numbers.
But Watchmen is something special and deserving of analysis and discussion. As bold an attempt at commercial film-making as I can remember, Watchmen is an undeniably unique movie experience - rich, perverse, violent and resonant.
For over 25 years now, I have cited Blade Runner as my favorite movie
of all time. After seeing Watchmen, I may have to reconsider.
First, I'm glad I went to see the movie alone. I've heard so many comments focused on a blue dick, or the length of the movie, or some other such nonsense, that I'm sure watching it with someone would have been a constant barrage of commentary and complaint. And no, that's not Javier Bardem.
Yes, the movie is long; nearly three hours. But, unlike the dreadfully insipid Titanic, at the end of this movie I wasn't asking for those three hours of my life back. And, as with all such movies, you must be able to look beyond the literal.
Watchmen is iconic and iconoclastic, deconstructionist and revisionist, laden with allegory and allusion. Consider, for example, the character Ozymandias. I'm wondering how many people who viewed the film ever even heard of Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem by the same name. The character even quotes the poem on a plinth in his Antarctic lair. The allusion is amazing. Here's the full quote;
And on the pedestal these words appear -- "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away.'
Clearly one must see the allusion to the work, in this case, of a superhero who hopes to leave mankind a lasting legacy, but realizes in the back of his mind that everything is eventually lost in time. Ozymandias was the first poem I ever examined from an expositional point of view, and I was blown away. The use of it in this movie is equally impactful.
Then there is Dr. Manhattan, named, of course, for the Manhattan Project, which yielded the atomic bomb. His character is an allegory for God, and his relationship with man mirrors the apparent detachment with which God sees suffering in the world He created. The deity reference is reinforced often, and one thinks of Oppenheimer's citation of the Bhagavad-Gita, in which Vishnu takes on a godly form and says, "Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."
In an expository scene in the second act, Dr. Manhattan has a sort of recollection of his life. His account is dizzyingly elliptical, since he does not see time as linear the way others do. This scene has the lyrical feel of my favorite piece of fiction, Alan Lightman's almost unbearably beautiful Einstein's Dreams, and the reference to Einstein cannot be ignored.
But the real beauty of Watchmen is the moral diversity of its superheroes. Each is flawed in different ways, allowing us to inhabit different ethical perspectives, intellectually at least, and witness their consequences. Everything from Rorshach's refusal to compromise, which makes him a doomed fugitive, to the ultimate compromise envisioned by Ozymandias, who can dispassionately evaluate scenarios where millions of lives are sacrificed, calls into question our most cherished beliefs. Where does it leave you? Well, that's for you to decide.
From a purely entertainment perspective, Watchmen is stunning. The visuals are state of the art, and do not suffer from the sort of mental rejection I have for some movies that present too many special effects to swallow at once as reality. And Watchmen doesn't suffer from Hollywood's apparent fascination with camp in comic book movies. Camp works to some degree in Spiderman, since he's a somewhat humorous character to begin with. But the excess of camp rendered the Fantastic Four sequel unwatchable. Watchman proves that superheroes can use more subtle forms of humor, such as irony, without devolving into camp for cheap laughs.
And the music, oh, the music. If you didn't grow up in the 60's and 70's, you will surely miss some of the impact, but don't worry. Even a second hand recollection of such iconic tunes will suffice. I am reminded of the painfully awful Across the Universe, which couldn't even pull together a decent movie built around the greatest catalog in modern music. Watchmen does it in spades.
I LOL'd, I cried. The people in the theatre applauded at the end. I vowed to wait 24 hours before writing a review to see if my euphoria passed. It hasn't.
Before anyone sees this film, Zach Snyder should be given a pat on the
back. He did what a dozen directors struggled to do for twenty years:
he made a Watchmen movie. It seems unthinkable that anyone could
properly put the greatest graphic novel of all time on the screen. But
Snyder has done pretty much that.
While it is not Alan Moore's Watchmen, it is the closest thing that anyone else could have put on the screen. Snyder approached the material with enough reverence that fans of the comic will appreciate the film. As Snyder has openly declared, the final act does include significant changes, but the alterations that take place fit better on the big screen than the original ending would have. It works because it cuts down on a lot of the necessary back story which Snyder could not include.
Even though many pages of the book were not included, Snyder did take the time to try and preserve other information by including short "historical" sequences in the fantastic opening title sequence. By this point, viewers will also have had a chance to appreciate the stellar, and time appropriate, soundtrack. Unlike the hard rock recordings the Snyder chose for the background of 300, Watchmen's background fits the tone and mood of most of the scenes. The only questionable choice was the selection of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," not because of the recording, but rather its awkward placement. Some may also question Snyder's inclusion of gore not present in the book. While the comic does include it's share of violence, Snyder did overtly change several scenes to be more violent. These changes, while flashy on film, may disturb squeamish moviegoers. However, changes aside, Snyder has captured the essence of the book and packaged it in a beautiful 2 hour and 40 minute delight. Overall, it is a satisfying film experience for someone familiar with the source material.
But this might be a different experience for anyone who does not know the book. There is a lot to digest, and the overwhelming visuals may distract some moviegoers from the bigger picture. The interaction of these unique characters remains an integral point to understanding this film, and when the book was pared down for the movie, the relationships of the masked adventures became a bit more forced. The best part of the comic was the glimpse of what is "beneath the hood," and we have less of that in Snyder's adaptation. Additionally, the ending, while simplified, is still a bit convoluted.
Fans and those previously unfamiliar with Watchmen should go in with an open mind. Snyder has performed what Doctor Manhattan might deem a miracle, so it may take more than one viewing to truly appreciate this unique adaptation.
Let's get this out of the way - Watchmen the movie is not as good as
the graphic novel.
Zack Snyder's Watchmen is not your average graphic novel adaptation. Unlike with 300, which was short and sharp and shallow and easy to adapt, the original Watchmen is incredibly dense and, as written, unfilmable. So Snyder did something very smart - he didn't even try. What he did instead was to take the world of Watchmen and rebuild it in a way which made a virtue of this new medium (film) rather than try to cram the graphic novel into a cinematic form.
Nowhere is this approach more obvious than in the film's title sequence. A wonderfully composed collage of images depicts scenes from the universe of Watchmen in a way which is only possible in the movies. In this way, we are subconsciously introduced to a world where costumed heroes are a part of everyday culture and brought, in a stylish and fluid way, from the original days of the Minutemen to those of the Watchmen. This introduction is cinematically perfect and is indicative of the heights which the Watchmen movie is perfectly capable of achieving but not quite capable of sustaining.
Watchen is a brave film for a major studio to make and without a doubt it would not exist in its present form without the success of 300. It is incredibly dark (both in tone as well as shooting style) with events that would be anathema to any other superhero story. The less you know about the story, the better so there will be no spoilers here but suffice to say Watchmen's version of a happy ending is a far cry from the Hollywood norm.
Snyders brings his unique approach to action to bear on Watchmen, expanding on the action scenes in the comic without making it feel too redundant. His efforts are ably supported by the incredibly game cast, excellent cinematography and near perfect visual effects - this film is incredible to look at but also manages to create an entire world in a way which most superhero stories never do. The attention to detail in even the smallest scenes is commendable and the dense flashback structure means the same attention is paid to the presentation of full and complex characters.
Snyder has made a film which is gorgeous to look at, agreeably violent, well written, wonderfully designed and features some of the best small scale action sequences ever committed to celluloid. But, naturally, not everything is perfect. Most of the performances are excellent, with a cast of relative unknowns who manage to distinguish themselves despite constantly competing with overbearing effects and design. Patrick Wilson, in particular, does great work with a difficult role as Nite Owl, while Jackie Earle Hayley is blistering as Rorschach. Unfortunately in a film which could have done with a strong female presence, neither Carla Gugino nor Malin Ackerman make much of an impression, despite having quite a lot of screen time. Synder's musical cues are another bone of contention - often pushing the tone of the film into the realm of parody. And the ending... well let's just say it cheapens the experience in search of the lowest common denominator and the whole package suffers. On a related note, neither of the stories major revelations are handled that well. These moments were genuinely shocking in the graphic novel but are almost glossed over in the film.
Don't get the wrong impression, Watchmen is a good film, sometimes a great film. Snyder has managed to make a movie which is a terrifically well balanced compromise between accessibility and fidelity. That anyone can sit down in the cinema and experience a distillation of the Watchmen universe in just 163 minutes is a marvel. It does not deliver the depth of feeling and connection of the novel but that is more a matter of the differences in the media than a failure on the part of the film.
On its own merits, Zack Synder's Watchmen is a dark and twisted tale peopled with complex characters whose motivations are not obvious even to themselves. It is a solid film, sometimes rising into the extraordinary, and deserves to be successful. This is not Alan Moore's Watchmen but it is a competent extension of the universe into another medium and a worthy cinema-going experience.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
After months of anticipation, today I was fortunate enough to be able
to attend the premiere of Watchmen over here. Together with a friend,
who hasn't read the book, we went to Amsterdam this afternoon.
Expectations were ridiculously high and I was kinda afraid to leave
disappointed, since I wasn't sure how to possibly film the book that
people refer to as not filmable.
Zack Snyder appears to have been the right choice to take the job. 300 proved that he has an eye for visuals and knows how to adept a book as faithful to its source as possible, but faithfulness and nice pictures don't necessarily make for a good movie. In order to achieve this he was forced to cut several sub-plots and trim sequences now and then. He made some very smart moves here though, by making up with detail. Every single frame will please fans with in-jokes, or hints at related characters or plots that the unfamiliar moviegoer won't miss. This gives Watchmen the very much needed depth and heart that fans so very much craved for.
The overall story is an exact replica from the book, with every single flashback in place and only 1 noticeable change towards the ending. Much discussed by fans, but I'm sure that only the very worst nitpickers or haters might think badly of this. It works perfectly well, so rest assured, it won't disappoint. The movie begins, like the novel, with the Comedian being killed in a long, tense and action-packed scene that sets the proper mood and makes one long for more, which we get plenty of the next 160 minutes. After this scene comes the brilliant intro montage (with 'The Times They Are A-Changin' in the background), which introduces the Minutemen and helps newcomers to pick up on the story.
Everything that comes after this is in one word overwhelming. Every character is well cast, takes complete hold of your attention and gets the time for a proper and detailed introduction. After watching it, it's hard to tell which hero I liked best. Patrick Wilson is perfect as Dan Dreiberg, Rorschach a joy to watch and you're watching Dr. Manhatting in awe, which makes sense for his character. Also, I'm sure everyone will secretly fall in love with Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman). The suits have been beautifully changed wherever necessary and also have the right effect. The Minutemen look kinda stupid, which is perfect for the superhero parody element of the book. But not only the heroes impress, the fans will have a splendid time recognizing all the smaller characters, such as the news-vendor and the reading kid, or the shrink with his pills.
Although Snyder adapted the book from scene to scene, there are not only passages he had to make shorter, but also those he slightly enhanced. Fights are longer; action sequences leave a bigger impression. He wonderfully uses slow motion effects and fortunately kept the editing at a modest tempo, never resulting in unwatchable quick fights. I heard that the UK rated this 18+, which makes sense given the amount of violence it has. Be it boiling fat thrown over a man or bones broken in the most horrible ways, there's plenty of gore. But the movie also doesn't fall short in nudity. Apart from a short scene involving Malin Akerman, it's Billy Crudup who gets to run around naked showing his digital penis the whole time as Dr. Manhattan. It doesn't distract however, but gives Watchmen something truly adult, very different from the far more gentle 'Knight'.
The special effects are really good, Dr. Manhattan looks awesome, Mars looks like you expect Mars to look and Rorschach's mask remains fun to see from start to finish. Most of the visuals and environments are very colorful and almost drown in atmosphere, a very welcome change from the realism that 'Knight' had. This is simply more fun to watch and impresses a whole lot more. The soundtrack is fun, picking various songs from that period. I'm sure most wouldn't work as well in other movies, but they seem perfectly in place here.
Watchmen is without any doubt the film I was so very much hoping for. A perfect adaptation of the novel is impossible, but this is the closest Snyder could've possibly gotten. His eye for detail will please fans, the visuals are wonderful, the characters intrigue and fortunately he hasn't made any wrong choices concerning the story. The 160 minutes flew by and I can't wait to see this for a second time next week. An astonishing movie that impresses in every way possible. I had a wonderful time.
I won't hold back here by giving this 9.5/10. By the way, my friend who didn't know the book loved it as much as I did.
Firstly, I have not read the graphic novel. This was deliberate, since
I knew there was going to be a movie, and reading any book tends to
ruin the movie. I'm sure there are a whole bunch of things in the
graphic novel that they left out or changed, and it's hard for those
who have read it to imagine how people could understand the subtleties
of the story without it. But trust me, the morally complex,
multi-layered characters and plot were very well delivered by the movie
alone. There was nothing that seemed like it didn't make sense or
wasn't quite explained. The movie was just about perfect.
I'm surprised to hear a lot of reviews saying that this is just an action movie for teenage boys; I thought quite the opposite. There was much less action than I expected, the movie centered mostly on emotions and ideas conveyed through dialog, narration and character flashbacks. The action scenes were all fairly short, though when there was action it was delightfully innovative. There were a lot of nasty and unexpected twists like limbs snapping, guts sticking to the ceiling, bones audibly crunching... Every time something violent happened, they made it interesting and shocking rather than recreating the generic ho-hum violence of every other movie. (And there was no obligatory 30-minute-long final action scene culminating in the conclusion of the plot... oh joy! Those get so boring.) Plus, many of the scenes were rather bold for a mainstream film, and showed certain things that are normally hidden off-screen or completely avoided. The only example I feel I can give without spoiling anything is the full frontal male nudity, something that is rather conspicuously hidden in almost every Hollywood movie. This movie isn't concerned about hiding little things like that, just as it isn't concerned about hiding certain subjects that most movies wouldn't show.
This movie definitely isn't for everyone. People expecting another Dark Knight will be disappointed (or, as in my case, thrilled), as this movie is completely unique. People who want an action movie and don't want all that talking and thinking will be disappointed. But to those looking for a long, complicated, deeply moving epic that will really make them think about the very concepts of right, wrong, and heroism (and who haven't read the book, which based on other reviews seems to ruin it): Do NOT miss this movie!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
An ex-superhero is thrown through a plate glass window, many stories
above the city. Was his murder somehow connected to the feared imminent
nuclear holocaust between the United States and Russia? Someone seems
to want the former do-gooders out of the way in this thrilling,
one-of-a-kind, jaded look at superheroes that turns conventional
comic-book wisdom on its head.
It's an alternate 1985. Richard Nixon has been elected to a fifth presidential term. But the USSR is encroaching on Afghanistan, and the US isn't taking too kindly to it. Enter the smartest man in the world, Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode), formerly known as superhero Ozymandias, who is working with the ethereal Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), a physicist who has achieved immortality and near-omniscience owing to a long-ago lab mishap. With Dr. Manhattan's help, Adrian hopes to dissolve the tension between the two superpowers.
But that's not the only conflict, not by a long shot. Since the characters here are unfamiliar to most audiences, there's plenty of backstory, seamlessly edited into the main story as important details that inform the characters. (For one thing, we get to see the rather graphic - more on that later - origin of Dr. Manhattan.) The superheroes have conflict within their own group, which has gone its separate ways - with different goals and outlooks. Not only that, but the world at large isn't entirely on the side of masked avengers, labeling them as vigilantes. By the present, most of them have ditched their costumes for traditional lives; some tinker with their gadgets in their basements, in hiding, and some merely blend into society.
Here's who's left in 1985, in addition to Ozymandias (who's revealed his true identity to the world) and Dr. Manhattan: Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman), and The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Others have gone insane or been murdered themselves in years past; all suffer as everyday humans now.
So how does Watchmen skewer comic-book tropes? Well, they're not always good, you see. Some are, but some maliciously kill, albeit for the greater good. Some take delight in the suffering of man if that man is, say, a child killer. That sort of thing. The truth is, no one here is perfect, not even the superheroes. Another difference is the high level of violence in the movie. This isn't a comic-book movie where the bad guys fall down when they get slapped, no sir. No, the heroes beat the stuffing out of them, with blood, entrails, and the like splattering all over the place. Limbs are dislodged, brains are exposed. It's wildly violent, much like director Zack Snyder's last film, 300, but without the detached, this-can't-be-real tone. This isn't a movie in which the bad guys are brought in for questioning or sent to prison to think about what they've done. This is a movie in which the bad guys are annihilated, period.
In case you're still contemplating taking the kiddies to see this superhero fare, here's another caveat: there's nudity. No, it's not Malin Akerman (although you do get a glimpse), it's the blue-hued Dr. Manhattan himself. Sometimes he's in a thong, but often he's just letting it all dangle there. Funny thing is, it's not really all that shocking. If it'd been one of the humans, perhaps, but Dr. Manhattan is more humanoid than human at this point.
At 160 minutes, the action really doesn't let up. But that's nothing - most movies are fast paced now. This one has a plot that can keep up with the action. In fact, the intricacies of the plot are delicious to unwrap; this was not a movie - superhero or not - where you can predict the end without just taking a wild stab.
I can't understate how tremendous an achievement this movie is. If we're all lucky, this will open the door for more adult comic-book films. The good guys don't always have to be about justice and truth and all that junk, and the bad guys can sometimes get what's really coming to them. I do want to point out that among the outstanding cast, Jackie Earle Haley as the haunted, masked Rorschach is tremendous. Wilson, who appeared with Haley in Little Children a few years back, is also dweebishly strong as the aging Nite Owl II.
Watchmen is the long-awaited graphic novel adaptation that has for a
long time been deemed un-filmable. There have been many different
points over the years where this movie was supposed to be made, which
always ended up not happening. But now Watchmen is finally here in all
its glory, and it's probably the best adaptation possible of this
complex graphic novel. The story takes place in an alternative 1985,
with Nixon beginning his third term as president, and the streets of
New York are gritty, dark, and violent. Within New York lives a group
of costumed heroes that used to be loved by society, but are now hated
by practically everybody. One night a depressed retired hero named The
Comedian is murdered by a masked person that breaks into his apartment.
Another hero named Rorschach, who wears a mask with shifting ink blots,
believes that someone is picking off costumed heroes to begin their own
agenda of destruction. Rorschach begins investigating and hunting down
the person that is responsible for The Comedian's death. Meanwhile we
meet another hero who glows blue, and has almost literally become a
God. His name is Dr. Manhattan, and although he has the power to save
the world he won't do it because he has lost many of his human
emotions. The other main costumed heroes are Night Owl and Silk
Spectre, who begin to fall in love amid the chaos of their secret
lives. Any other attempt to describe the complex plot of this movie
would be nearly impossible.
Watchmen was an extremely complex graphic novel filled with a lot of flawed costumed characters, strong plot, powerful sense of style, and also contained a world that seems a little too close to our own. The movie carries every one of these elements in the best way it possibly could. It stays true to the novel, and only changes a few details. The memorable characters are very well portrayed and acted as well. Dr. Manhattan (the giant blue guy) is played very well by Billy Crudup, who manages to keep the character interesting despite his emotionless attitude. Malin Akerman (Silk Spectre II), Patrick Wilson (Night Owl II), and Matthew Goode (Adrian Veidt) are also very good in their roles. However the two actors that truly help add depth and a real sense of anger to the film are Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian, and Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach. Rorschach was probably my favorite character because technically he's not really a hero at all. He's a psychopath with harmful and destructive behavior, even though in a way he's trying to do what he believes is right for the world. He is a fascinating character with his shape-shifting mask full of ink blots that mirror his personality.
The movie takes place in 1985 and mimics what was happening back then. Watchmen's story revolves around the threat of nuclear war and global destruction, and the characters mostly try to do the right thing for the world but have trouble seeing the point in doing so. This is a great film that stays true to the original graphic novel while transitioning its style, characters, chain of events, and storyline from page-to-screen the best it possibly could. However if you're not familiar with the source material you may find yourself confused by this movie. It's not like The Dark Knight where everybody that goes to see it knows who Batman and the Joker are. These characters are not as famous as those types of household name characters, and may be hard for someone's whose never read the novel to understand. Personally I only read a few chapters before I saw the movie, and I thought the movie was incredible. I always give a movie props for not taking the easy way out by spoon-feeding everything to the audience. The book, as well as the movie, was daring by taking of the risk of being complex and making you think for a change. Watchmen is a great movie, and despite its long running time of 163 minutes, I never found it boring at all. Watchmen is a fascinating graphic novel adaptation that deserves to be seen by anybody that likes their movies complex, dark, and absorbing.
It is 1985, Richard Nixon is serving his fifth term as US president and
the world stands on the brink of destruction as the world's two
superpowers vie for nuclear supremacy. The only thing stopping the USSR
from launching a doomsday attack is America's Dr Manhattan a being
with enough power to destroy planets and much else besides.
Wow! I was lucky enough to watch this at a preview screening in London last night and came to the film with little knowledge about what to expect. Having seen the posters around the place and perhaps catching one or two of the trailers I was expecting something akin to another "X-Men" movie (which frankly I've never found particularly interesting). However, it was a very pleasant surprise to find that Zack Snyder has served up something entirely fresh and quite dazzling. Watchmen takes the well-worn superhero format and turns it on its head. As you would expect from a movie of this genre you get a tale of attempted world domination by evil baddies, good guys wearing latex costumes, fistfuls of action and spectacular special effects. What you would not expect is to have this interwoven with eye-watering violence (a scene where one particularly nasty bad guy gets a meat cleaver brought down on his forehead being one example), full frontal male nudity (albeit computer generated) and rampant satire. The US political system, military posturing and blind patriotism are all given a bit of a roasting by David Hayter and Alex Tse's script. Add to this a host of compelling performances, notably Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach and Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl, and you have an exceptional cinematic experience.
Watchmen is no ordinary superhero movie and likely to manage the difficult feat of satisfying both the fan-boys and the uninitiated punters (like myself). Its success means it must be highly likely that there will be a sequel if not several. Catch this early if you can and be one of the first to witness that rarefied thing in cinema something beautiful, exciting and original.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"No. Not even in the face of Armageddon. Never compromise."-Rorschach
While Rorschach's (Jackie Earle Haley) proclamation may be possible to
uphold as a superhero, the refusal to compromise on behalf of the
filmmaker in the process of literary adaptation is impossible. As film
theorist André Bazin wrote, "Faithfulness to form, literary or
otherwise, is illusory: what matters is the equivalence in meaning of
the forms." In other words, Bazin is arguing that each medium has its
own modes of representation, thus the struggle for formal fidelity is a
lost cause and that the main objective is that the adaptation should
capture the original work's essence. Bazin continues, stating, "All it
takes is for the filmmakers to have enough visual imagination to create
the cinematic equivalent of the style of the original." Zach Snyder's
("300") attempt to adapt Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's "Watchmen"
(1986-1987) is compromised but that is the only possible way an
adaptation can work as a film. He captures the Bazinian essence of
Moore and Gibbon's work, a deconstruction of the superhero mythos, with
an aesthetic that also captures much of the style of the original
graphic novel (to the degree it is possible in film). Will die-hard
fans be disappointed? No doubt, but quite unjustly. Even with Snyder's
compromised ending, which ultimately can be interpreted as being more
devastating than the climax concocted by Moore and Gibbons (although
the film lacks a sequence on par with the opening pages of the comic's
twelfth volume), Snyder's ambitious attempt is the best that could be
done in a feature film.
For those of you unfamiliar with the story, "Watchmen" takes place on an alternate timeline beginning in late 1985. The United States won the war in Vietnam, Richard Nixon has been elected to third presidential term, and the only man standing between nuclear war between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. is "Dr. Manhattan" (Billy Crudup), a human nuclear bomb who stands on the American side as a nuclear deterrent. The film, like the comic, begins with the murder of Eddie Blake (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a retired superhero formally known as "The Comedian." While clues point to robbery, the sociopathic Rorschach believes that the death of "The Comedian" could be the beginning of plot to eliminate former costumed heroes. Hoping to foil such a conspiracy, Rorschach warns his former partners in crime fighting: Manhattan and his lover, the beautiful Silk Specter (Malin Ackerman), the Batman-esquire Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), and the smartest man in the world, Ozymandias (Matthew Goode). Collectively dubbed the Watchmen, the group initially disregards Rorschach's theory. That is until Dr. Manhattan is forced off Earth, making the possibility of nuclear war a near certainty.
This complex story, as readers familiar with the book will attest, is existential that the typical comic book and the film is much the same. Much like last summer's "The Dark Knight," "Watchmen" is not concerned with action scenes and obligatory fights. As the film's antagonist notes in the film's climax, "I'm not a comic book villain," and, like the film, he is not treated as being the product of a fantastic world far outside our own. While Snyder does bring an unrealistic edge to the action sequences (particularly his manipulation of time via cuts and slow motion), these techniques, much like those of Sam Peckinpah, become a means of deconstructing motion...just like a comic book. Instead, "Watchmen" as both a graphic novel and a film favors the approach of making comic book and superhero fans think about the motives and actions in what becomes a study of ethics. In this study, it is only the murderous and sociopathic Rorschach who is able of following any sort of moral code...even if it is demented in its adherence to rejecting compromise.
For the most part, Snyder's direction is precise. His graphical style captures Gibbon's graphics and layout perfect...right down to the book's fearful symmetry. The framing and camera movements mirror those of the book, a treat for avid fans of the book and Gibbon's art. Moreover, Snyder's work with the actors is quite accomplished. Jackie Earle Haley continues his streak of embodying sociopaths perfectly. Patrick Wilson captures the sadness and longing for a greater goal in life, something all retired heroes must face.
The film is not without its flaws. For the most part, the film and Snyder do a fantastic job of drawing out the background of the individual characters and the past of masked heroes in general very well (particularly during the film's opening ten minutes and the beautifully executed credit sequence). However, the one character who seems to receive the short end of the narrative-stick is Nite Owl. Snyder establishes his background, but not to the degree that the others benefit from. In addition, Malin Ackerman's performance, while being far from bad, seemed to be the weakest out of the leads. However, her character is the most clichéd in the book, so perhaps Ackerman just did not have that much to work with.
The most glaring flaw in the film, however, is in Snyder's choice of end credit music. The film, like the book, ends on a relatively quiet scene but it is entirely displaced by a terrible cover of Bob Dylan's "Desolation Row" by My Chemical Romance. While Dylan's version would have been fine and in keeping with the period music used (listen for a Musak cover of "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" in Ozymandia's office) throughout the rest of the film, the cover is loud and obnoxious and seems like it was fitted for an entirely different film than the one just watched.
Snyder has made an adaptation that is as faithful and accessible as possible, a compromise that is ultimately successful. Snyder, to borrow from Bazin's model, not only captures the essence of Moore and Gibbon's novel but also demonstrates a "visual imagination" that creates the impression of Gibbon's layout and graphical style.
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