Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Watchmen (2009)

Starring Jackie Earl Haley, Patrick Wilson, Malin Ackerman, Billy Cruddup, Matthew Goode, Jeffery Dean Morgan
Directed by Zack Snyder
Action/Adventure/Science Fiction
Rated R: Strong Graphic Violence, Language, Sexuality and Nudity
Based on the graphic novel illustrated by Dave Gibbons


I can't think of a movie more polarizing for comic book fans than this one. This is likely because of the complexity of the source material, widely considered to be the magnum opus of the comic book medium that was so complex that it has been called "unfilmable", and some might legitimately argue that this is still true.

Taking place in an alternative 1986, this film depicts costumed vigilantes as people who have helped shape the face of history and culture in America, but have since been outlawed, and now one of the older heroes has been murdered and the investigation leads to the revelation of a greater conspiracy set against the apocalyptic tension between the US and the USSR.


The dialogue felt very scripted and stilted, likely because of dense adaptation and the exuberant amount of exposition that needed to be laid out so that is understandable. The scenes with Laurie (Malin Ackerman), especially those with her mother (Carla Gugino) were absolutely terrible, thankfully her screen time is relatively brief. The violence is considerably bloody and lovingly shows bones breaking and human fillets whenever possible. The street fight at the beginning is easily the goriest, with Adrian’s assassination attempt near the middle coming in for a close second. By the time we get to the prison fight, we’re all but immune to the buckets of blood they show us in the sawing scene. To his credit Snyder reverses our expectations by cleverly staging Rorschach’s last kill occur off screen, using the swinging door as a tool for building tension and concealing what I imagine would be the bloodiest scene in the whole film, making it much more effective and scary.

The scenes with Dr. Manhattan (Billy Cruddup) are easily the best part of the film. For all those complaining about Dr. Manhattan’s lack of attire, please do us all a favor and grow up. His back-story does have to most weight and depth to it, especially when you realize how horrible the directions he was pushed into ultimately were. I sight the “Ride of Valekyries” scene in Vietnam as another example of just how terrifying the scope of this character can be amidst the tone of triumph and victory that is the intent of the scene itself.

Being unable to relate to others seems to be a theme of this film specifically. As the world's smartest man Adrian cannot relate to anyone but Rameses, Rorschach’s sociopath behavior alienates everyone close to him, Manhattan’s lack of humanity, and Laurie claims that she doesn't know anyone but other superheroes. I don't know wether this was an intended theme of the original work, and I had to wonder if this was Snyder's weakness when it came to working with actors over visuals that was unintentionally constructing this theme.

I find it ironic that for as heavy handed as things got in the original source material, things managed to be even less subtle in the movie, likely because of the medium’s reductive nature. The child murder had to be absolute so that Rorscharh’s action in killing the killer could be justified and could still be seen as heroic next to the "villain"; Ozymandis. Ozymandis's sympathy with the auidence is somewhat hampered by his diminished screen time and the forgiveness he asks from his pet CG tiger rather than for the millions he has just killed.
Altogether, even though I knew the story back and forth from the book and the previous viewing I can still say that it is very engaging. Saying it’s the fastest two hours and a half of your life is no exaggeration. While it has its faults but I still say as a film adaptation has done more good that harm done to its legacy.

Zack Snyder is a very visually oriented director and you could tell that this was a real passion project for him. The production design captures the look of the comic quite strongly, and the effects are complimentary in their workmanship quality, but the feelings I experience while reading the graphic novel are absent in this film. It is the best adaptation I think we could have gotten. No adaptation of this story could ever be as ground breaking as the original, but it tries more so to be a small representation than an avant-garde piece, just aiming to wrap everything up in a neat package. It was designed to satisfy those who were familiar with the source material, and on that level it works. The film contains a lot of the elements from the original, but the spirit and scope are absent due to the sheer abundance of the project.

Final Score:

3 1/2 out of 5. As good as it could have been.

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