Saturday, August 29, 2009

I Watch The Watchmen

Not exactly the Super Friends


It seemed like the movie that could never be made. Then once it was made, it seemed like the movie that never could be released. And once it was released, it seemed like the movie I would never get around to sitting down and watching. Now I have watched it. And it was good.

I'm talking about Watchmen, the three hour adaptation of what is considered one of the greatest graphic novels (read: fancy comic book) of all time. A dark, nihilistic alternate reality where super heroes came to being in the early 20th century. The super heroes of this alternate reality change historical events (such as the U.S. winning Vietnam or being responsible for assasinating JFK) and as a result have political ramifications usually ignored in comics. They also are flawed ordinary people, their super human abilities magnifying their mistakes and failures in both their personal lives and professions.

I won't bother to detail the story too much because the story has been out there for like a quarter of a century. And I'm watching on DVD so many have seen this film multiple times already. So instead I'll just jump to the pontificating, criticizing and nit picking that I enjoy after watching a movie.

With a story this large and sprawling it can be difficult to keep the focus when adapting to cinema, so wisely they whittled things down to three hours (I imagine a full adaptation would take a day and a half to watch, even with a supposed dvd planned to release later this year that will be longer than the directors cut I just watched). This version of Watchmen sticks with the main story - a brutal superhero named The Comedian has been murdered causing the other superheroes to take stock of their past,present and questionable future as the world edges towards nuclear war. Director Zack Snyder hits a comfortable groove, avoiding any drag that can come from a 3 hour film and visually capturing the comic's panels almost shot for shot. And the mood, that deep depressing mood, is intact as well.

Playing characters that are supposed to be good guys who have dark compulsions to torture, rape and kill can be tough. It's a good thing that the cast is really strong (super strong! heh, heh). I was amazed by Carla Gugino as the brassy, aging, drunken ex-super hero Silk Spectre with a super slutty side. I've seen her in movies before, Gugino was so into character I didn't realize it was her until the end. Jackie Earle Haley nails the near psychosis of Rorshach, the masked trenchcoated vigilante. Malin Ackerman and Patrick Wilson carry the film well as people who feel restrained and colorless without superheroism in their lives. Billy Crudup as the detached bright blue naked dude Dr. Manhattan also excels. It's a good ensemble, none of the actors seem lost on and their performances are on point.

There are so many things this movie does well while condensing the graphic novel that it's hard to nitpick it without guilt. My only real criticism is that while Watchmen captures the spirit and intent of the source material, it doesn't elevate it. Even with the controversial change to the ending I found nothing new or relevatory about it. Although I was impressed by the use of classic rock on the soundtrack, Bob Dylan's "The Times Are a Changin" had renewed poignancy over the opening credits and I downloaded Leonard Cohen's version of "Hallelujah" after hearing it in the film (cross marketing sucker that I am). To be honest, I would have enjoyed this movie more if I had not read the comic because the plot points are the same. Then again, when adapting something as beloved as Watchmen you're damned if you do and damned if you don't when it comes to staying true to the original story.
I enjoyed watching Watchmen, a sturdy adaptation of the revered comic. Much like Dr. Manhattan's construct on the planet Mars, Watchmen is big and shiny device trying to hold on to fragile dreams floating over mass desolation. All the while the clock is ticking.

1 comment:

Jeannie said...

Glad you liked it honey. :D