Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Watchmen

For over 20 years Hollywood has attempted to film the unfilmmable. First it was Paramount then it was Fox and finally Warner Brothers. All of them tried and failed to adapt the Watchmen comic to the silver screen. These guys had some of the best directors in the business like Terry Gilliam, Darren Aronofsky and Paul Greengrass, but it was a fruitless exercise. Watchmen, written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons is without question a masterpiece. I myself have read it at least 4 times and everytime I learn something new that I hadn't noticed the previous time. It breaks down the hero myths and crushes them under it's cynicism. It's a tough read but a good one, it captures the fear of the bomb and that every day brings us closer to Armageddon. I read that Paul Greengrass wanted to modernize Watchmen and put the heroes in Bush's America. Thankfully Warner didn't like the idea and scrapped it all together. It was only recently when a new up and comer, Zach Snyder (300), was given the keys to castle. The anticipation for this film has been through the roof and because of fanboys and critics there is a lot of heavy emotion in the air about this property. Love it or hate it the one thing you have to say after viewing it is -- gorgeous, simply gorgeous.Watchmen is an alternate reality tale that places Superheroes in the real world. The Watchmen have been retired by the government because of an anti-hero backlash. Now it seems that someone is killing off costumed heroes while the US stands at the brink of nuclear war. Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) represents the superman tasked with saving America from destruction. The film is narrated by masked vigilante Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) as he beats down doors looking for a killer. He enlists help from old teammate the Nite Owl II, Dan Drieberg(Patrick Wilson). A washed up hero with a broken libido and a loss of purpose.That is the pared down version of the plot but Watchmen is so much more. Zach Snyder really should be commended for his noble try at keeping this film faithful to the book. In many many ways he succeeds. The opening montage sequence setting us up to the history of this world is probably one of the best I've seen in a while. It spans from the 40's to the early 70's as we witness the history we know, like the JFK assasination and the Kent State riots, and the heroes we don't as they co-exist in these events. Say what you will about the rest of the film but to call this beginning anything less than brilliant would be an insult. Zach Snyder captures in fifteen minutes the heart of the Watchmen and the personality of a crime fighter that chooses to wear spandex and a mask in the real world. The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is one of the key components to the movie he bridges the old guard heroes to the Watchmen. His death sets off the chain of events for the film, and you are thinking, jesus that Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays a dead guy again? Yes, but not in a way that you would ever believe. The Comedian would rip Denny's face off with a grin. (For all you Gray's Anatomy fans.) For Watchmen to work at all the Comedian had to be shown in all of his horrible glory and again I believe Zach Snyder has succeded, at least with that aspect (More on this later). I also really enjoyed Rorschach in all of his madness. Like the comedian, Rorschach, is pivotal to the pathos of the Watchmen. I really loved his mood ring style mask changes. I also enjoyed the amped up action sequences. When these guys fight you don't just see a little blood spatter here and there. You see bones breaking through skin, hatchets split through skulls. It's a pretty intense thing to watch. Of course you can't have violence without sex. And we get a healthy dose of that too from the very beautiful Silk Spectre II, Laurie (Malin Ackerman). The other day I was reading the review by Dan Charity of CNN and he said something that truly irked me, he said that this film was a photocopy of Alan Moore's graphic novel. I don't like to call out other reviewers but on this I had to say something. Dan, you have every right to criticize the film as I am about to do in the next paragraph but to call this visually stunning film a mere photocopy is truly ignorant. The film overall may not be perfect but there is cinematic genius within this almost three hour film. I'm sorry you weren't able to see that.How do you cram a 312 page graphic novel into a 3 hour movie. In the case of Watchmen--it can't be done. As successful as Zach Snyder was at capturing the essence of the look and feel of the graphic novel he hasn't fared as well when it comes to showing us the layers behind some of these iconic characters. The Comedian, as I mentioned before, was played beautifully by Jeffrey Dean Morgan but because of the time restraint we only really saw the truly terrible things that he has done. This is a character that we are meant to despise but later feel some ounce of pity for him. These sequences were cut to the detriment of a key plot point (Which I will not reveal at this time.) that provides an important revelation about the Comedian. I really enjoyed Billy Crudup's take on Dr. Manhattan, he embodied the cold Spock-like superhuman with grace and ease. But I thought going full CGI was a bit of a mistake. Throughout the film when we are close up to Dr. Manhattan's face the mouth seemed out of sync to the dialogue. I understand fully that a bright blue man who can grow to incredible sizes at will would not look real no matter how fantastic the effects were, but I still think they looked a little cheap. I know a lot of die-hards were upset that the Giant Squid did not make an appearance at the end. I for one am glad that didn't happen but there were some other issues with the end of the flick. Again I don't want to give a spoiler so I'll try to be as vague as possible. In the book and the movie Dr. Manhattan struggles to reconnect with his humanity and finds himself more and more isolated. By the end he has rediscovered himself and his acceptance of mankind. He is asked by a character, who will remain nameless, if Jon believed he did the right thing in the end. Jon replies "In the end? Nothing ends. Nothing ever ends." In the film the line is delivered by Laurie and it falls flat. This was a key component to the book that was completely ignored by the movie. This ties into the thought process of Dr. Manhattan which seemed to be difficult for the filmmakers to convey on screen at almost every turn. I also thought that the Nixon sequences were just unnecessary. His fake nose looked too goofy and his over-the-top acting took us out of the story.Overall I truly enjoyed the movie and the performances especially Patrick Wilson and Jackie Earle Haley they truly embodied the spirit of Dan Drieberg and Rorschach. I didn't get a chance to see it in IMAX but I can't wait to see the DVD version where Snyder merges the Black Freighter storyline and the Hollis Mason Under the Hood documentary in with the film. I heard it could clock in at like 5 and half hours, which is just fine with me. So if you are a fan of the book you have to go and see it. If you haven't read the book you may have trouble understanding everything but you should still have a good time.

Grade: 4 Buckets


Speck said...

I agree that the giant squid was a good change. It would have worked on film, too hokey. And the CG mouth of dr. manhattan sometimes bugged me, not that it was out of sync, that the teeth/tongue didn't look right or 3 dimensional. It was just weird.

Other than that, I think a terrific showing the depth of the characters. I didn't walk away feeling as though I didn't know who they were when it was over.

The casting was spot on for Rorshach and nite owl, it was scary. The incorporation of the soundtrack was great. The opening sequence was amazing.

And the fight, finally a director who stays wide enough to see what is happening during the fight. So much nicer than everything being in so tight you can barely see the punch or kick.

Jeff said...

I couldn't agree with you more Specky.