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March 07, 2009


Watchmen - The Movie Review


The short version - it's excellent, but is definitely for adults only unfortunately.

I'm not going to review the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, even though one of my copies is signed by the artist. Scandalously, I don't consider myself properly qualified, having only read it for the first time last year. I picked it up so many times in Forbidden Planet over the preceding two decades, but the price tag always made me hesitate, and say to myself "I'll just wait and get it in the sales". The sales did finally arrive, and I ended up with two copies - one signed one for the shelf, one to read.

Why all the preamble then? This is a movie review, not a comic review. The reason is so that you understand that I don't actually have a lot of the emotional investment that many other reviewers have. Comic fans 'love' this book, have been waiting a very long time, for something that the author has said was unfilmable, to reach the screen. They will tell you that the ending is different, maybe they won't like the omission of the comic within the comic story "Tales of the Black Freighter". Maybe they've lived with the characters so long that the actors will never live up to their expectations. I have none of those misgivings, and yet, unlike the majority of cinema goers, I have actually read it, so I think I'm in quite a small category of people who only quite liked the comic.

With the story fairly fresh in my mind, I went into the first day screening with some trepidation that inevitable changes would have been made to fit such a dense work into only two and three quarter hours. But Watchmen is uncompromising, and in my opinion, included everything important - everything I remember anyway.

So - to the movie. Imagine if there really were a group of masked heroes, fighting crime on the streets of New york. Heroes like Batman, not Spiderman. These people use their fists to beat up the bad guys, with a few handy tools and a flying ship, but mostly just their fists. Then imagine further that they were driven underground by an anti-vigilante movement, and most of them have retired. The action takes place in an alternate universe where this has already happened, and it's 1985, and the world is in the middle of the cold war. Richard Nixon is in his fifth term as President, and his finger is hovvering over the armageddon button.

Once masked man, Rorschach, discovers that someone is killing off his ex-colleagues, and starts to investigate. He gets a pretty poor reception along the way from his old gang, but we get a chance to see each of them with flashbacks filling in the backstory. These shifts in time, along with the alternate universe setting, and Dr Manhattan's concept of knowing the past and the future as one time, make it a pretty challenging experience, but every scene is so full of interest that even if you don't fully understand it, it's still enjoyable to watch. I've done some reading around this, and I missed a ton of references I'll only fully discover with a DVD and director's commentaries; I'm looking forward to that. (One example is a tiny scene, where a masked hero saves Batman's parents from murder at the back of an opera theatre - so this universe has no Batman).

Dr Manhattan, I mentioned him above, is the only real superhero in the film. He is a man turned superman, with massive powers over time and space. He has lost most of his humanity and is so apart from it that he doesn't seem to understand right from wrong any more. He is also blue, and naked most of the time.

Jackie Earle Haley is a revelation as Rorschach - the prison scenes are my most memorable, and his line "I'm not locked in here with you, YOU'RE locked in here with ME" summed up his anger, persecution complex, and egotistical personality so well. In the book we don't get to see him say this directly, it's much better in the film. I also loved The Comedian - a great character, must have been so much fun to play. I was a little disappointed with a couple of the others - Night Owl II was a bit too wishy-washy at times, so that when it came time for him to be hard it was less believable. And Carla Gugino I felt was wasted, all that old person makeup.

I was completely surprised by how much music there was in the film. Quite a few scenes dispensed with any dialogue and just ran a full 3-4 minute song - from Dylan's "The Times they are a changing" for the opening titles, to Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable", from Phillip Glass to Wagner. In most cases, I really liked the songs, and it was great to hear them loud in a cinema, but they didn't work as soundtracks to the film. They jarred me out of the scenes, out of the action, and made me think about the song. This isn't a soundtrack's job, you should hardly notice the music unless it's wrong.

If you've seen '300' you'll already be familiar with the ultraviolence of his fighting scenes - we get them here too.
We also get sex, and some hints at violent sex as well. And of course a huge blue naked man walking around. Was this necessary, or gratuitous? Tough call, but I would have cut a bit, and left more to the imagination. I would have made the film a '15' certificate - the '18' is going to kill the audience figures, and even the DVD rentals, and wasn't necessary. It's a shame that so many people who would have loved this film are not going to be allowed to see it, and it would not have hurt artistically I think. If a film is definitely horror, or definitely soft porn, then include everything you need and give it an '18', but maximise your audience unless there is an overwhelming need not to.

Phew, nearly finished. Conclusion - Zack Snyder has made a remarkable film, that looks fantastic. He has taken the comic, and had storyboarding help from the original artist in crafting the scenes, and it all works. It looks authentic, and I can't see any fan of the original, or anyone else, knocking it for this. It's fairly long, but I wanted more, as it's fascinating from beginning to end. I loved it, and would encourage everyone to go and see it - we need more of this kind of cinema, so we should support the people who make it.

Posted by se71 at March 7, 2009 07:20 PM


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