Friday, March 13, 2009

I Watch The Watchmen!

300's Zack Snyder adapts Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' acclaimed comic book Watchmen for the big screen. Set in an alternate universe circa 1985, the film's world is an unstable one where a nuclear war is imminent between America and Russia. Superheroes have been forced to go into retirement due to the government's Keene Act, but the death of The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), an ex-hero commando, perks the interest of one of the country's last remaining superheroes, Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) in Watchmen.

There’s two kinds of people in this world : Group 1: The ones who look at the trailer for the new blockbuster Watchmen and get all breathless/pre-orgasmic at the thought of the seeing the world greatest graphic novel finally adapted for the big screen. And then there's Group 2 : The people that think, "Oh yeah that superhero flick with the giant naked blue dude… 'sup with that?" And lets face it both of you are going to experience this movie very differently. We're in an alternate 1985. Richard Nixon is still in power. The world is on the brink of nuclear war. Superheroes exist but they’ve been outlawed. And now someone it picking them off one by one - but behind the murders lurks an even more insidious plan. I like to think of Watchmen as the sweaty anxiety dream that Superman would have. It takes the world of Superheroes that we've become so used to via flicks like Spiderman and X-Men and - in a sense - rips them apart by exposing the flaws in the notion of vigelante justice. As a cinematic experience, Watchmen is quite stunning. Its a mixture of flashbacks, montages and a film noir detective story. Its often quite heartbreaking - particularly the backstory of the character Rorschach. Its quite sexually explicit (ie, don't take kids). Its gritty, bloody and you may or may not someone head get meat-cleavered. That said, much of the movie features dialogue sequences that go on for way too long. Many lines feel extremely clunky and for some reason the ending of the movie was quite rushed. All in all - Watchmen is unlike any superhero flick you're likely to see. Ok, let me be clear about the 3 hour(ish) epic that is Watchmen - it isn't a bad film. Lots of things work really well. Take for example, the opening montage of America's parallel universe with superheroes with the tune of Bob Dylan's 'Times They Are A' Changing' - it's a stunning sequence that forces you to instantly re-evaluate key moments like the JFK assassination or Nixon's Election. Can you imagine America today if the Vietnam War hand been ended cleanly by a couple superpowers. Just imagine the pride they would have without that cultural scar? Visually, the movie is obviously stunning, though largely that goes down to the source material. However, credit where credit is due, Director Zack Snyder has realised the Watchmen world in a way that is thrilling and terrifying. Particularly the CGI Dr Manhattan, whose vaguely translucent skin is so impressive you almost forget that the lip-synching to actor Billy Crudup is way off. In many ways the film is commendably uncompromising - the violence is bloody as hell (seeing people being eviscerated is powerfully horrifying). There are also moments that genuinely break your heart (Rorscach's backstory anyone??). But the best thing about the film is that it just covers such a fascinating mix of Religion, Politics, Modern Mythmaking and the politics and personalities behind vigilante justice. In Snyder's admirable attempt to remain faithful to the book, he's lost that spirit. By re-jigging and slenderising the plot he's stripped back a lot of those additional layers and the montage-like feel. In doing so, he has inadvertantly exposed many of the scenes and dialogue as being quite week and clunky. ("What happened to the American Dream?" anyone? I suppose that line was never going to sound good). And I also suspect that it prevented the actors from truly creating something alive and human with their roles - which frequently felt quite mannered and inauthentic. That said there were some killer performance moments, usually involving Rorschach. After some time thinking about it, I believe the storytelling-inspiration for this movie shouldn't have been conventional cinema - it should've been something more. It's not that the movie is bad - it's definitely not a bad film. The source material, however had the makings of a BRILLIANT film. Please don't misunderstand, this isn't the sound of an angry fan annoyed that someone's messed with his comicbook... this is the sound of someone who believes that Watchmen has the makings of stunning cinema. If anything, I wouldve preferred Snyder to pull a Peter Jackson and give Watchmen the trilogy treatment. All this said, at the end of the day Watchmen is an incredibly achievement and Snyder's commitment to the material cannot be questioned. It's a sight to behold and definately worth the watch (pun unintended). I'm not sad to say that I didn't really agree with what everyone had been saying about Watchmen being "The Best Graphic Novel Of All Time". I'm sorry folks. I found it quite boring, but the movie was actually a LOT better than I thought it was gonna be. I went in thinking that I was gonna be disappointed, but I'm glad to say that I was not. This gets a 3 on my "Go See" scale. 

WTF Moment : Dr. Manhattan's schlong? LOL No... Pay attention to the little things in Watchmen. Zack Snyder pays homage to his other comic book movie 300 several times during the movie. I noticed 2 times (but there may have been more). In the scene where The Comedian is murdered, you'll notice that his apartment number is 3001. When he throws his coffee mug at the masked murderer he misses and knocks the 1 off of the door leaving the 300. In the scene where Dr. Manhattan seemingly attacks New York, there is a man with a briefcase. When he dies there is a close up shot of the briefcase as it flies open. If you look closely you'll see the combination upside down and it reads 3-0-0. 

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