Friday, March 6, 2009

'Watchmen' Review

Never will you find a more faithful comic book adaptation than "Watchmen," ironically a movie which many thought could never be translated to the big screen. Sure, the vehicle through which the resolution happens has been changed (arguably for the better), but if you've read Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' classic, this film is nothing short of that book come to life.

And because of it, I could not recommend "Watchmen" more.

Unfortunately, just because the film brought the book to life, it doesn't mean there wasn't plenty lost in translation. I feel like director Zach Snyder's familiarity with the original work caused him to neglect some of the mystery and tension Moore was able to inject into the story. Before I get to the execution of the story, though, which would make the 'ole spoiler alarm go off, I'll get to the aspect of the movie I most fear will turn off the vaunted "mainstream" audience: pacing.

Just like the story, the pacing for "Watchmen" has been taken straight out of the book. Consequently, the film has an almost schizophrenic pace, jumping through the many flashbacks from the 1980s to the 1940s. Now, I don't presume to guess how a "Watchmen" newcomer will perceive this pace, since I was ready for each jump as it happened, but Snyder does throw an endless stream of exposition at the audience in a very quick fashion. As I said, for me, it worked. I would guess my previous knowledge of the work helped that, though.

Many of Snyder's other choices didn't quite work as well, though. For one, the soundtrack bounces back and forth from being simply acceptable to downright ridiculous. For examples of the ridiculous, go watch the scenes of Dr. Manhattan in Vietnam and the -ahem- nighttime scene in the Owl Ship. I can't imagine musical choices that would have taken me out of the movie more.

Visually, I also wasn't a big fan of the look of the movie altogether. Frankly, if I'm Alan Moore, I'm thrilled with this movie. If I'm Dave Gibbons I'm thinking "They turned my work into 'Batman and Robin!' " Nothing quite looks as realistic as it should be, not the least of which are the scenes with Nixon.

What did look fantastic though, was the casting ... for the most part. Jackie Earle Haley was the Rorschach I had always pictured in my mind, right down to the perfect pitch for his gruff voice. Haley should give lessons to Christian Bale before the next Batman movie. Jeffrey Dean Morgan was likewise as believable a jerk as The Comedian, and Patrick Wilson took one of my least favorite characters from the book and gave Nite Owl some real heart. Even Billy Crudup's Dr. Manhattan hit the right tone with me ... you know, minus the lots and lots of exposed blue penis.

Malin Ackerman's Silk Specter? Well, she sure is pretty to look at. Can we all agree on that? Good, because I don't want to hurt the girl's feelings too badly when I say Miss Piggy might have been a better dramatic actor than Ackerman in this film.

Let's put on the 'ole Spoiler Alarm on now, shall we?

I loved the Silk Specter's character in "Watchmen" the book. Of all the characters, she was the only one who felt like she had no choice and no desire to take part in that superheroic lifestyle, making her eventual role of re-igniting Dan Drieberg's love of heroing and convincing Dr. Manhattan to intervene all the more touching and important. That was never her world to occupy, after all. Unfortunately, between Ackerman's wooden acting, combined a bit of glossing over her story in general, Silk Specter's character is very lost in the film.

And then there is Matthew Goode's Ozymandias. Could Snyder have done anything more to give away Adrian Veidt's role of main villain from the outset? Aside from the fact that we kind of see that he is the one murdering the Comedian, Goode spends all of his scenes looking menacing and staring into the camera is if to wink at the audience.

As I said, consequently, all of the tension and mystery that Alan Moore injected into the story is lost. Again, this may be because I am so familiar with the material, I cannot presume to know how a newcomer to "Watchmen" perceives the story, but I fear that Synder's familiarity with the book caused him to give away much too much, much too early.

What really saves this movie, though, is how well Snyder succeeded in recreating some of the more memorable scenes in the book. Rorschach's initial meeting with Nite Owl is spot on, as is his prison breakout. Dr. Manhattan's perception of time is also accurately described, which I think adds a lot to his character. I was also a big fan of the Comedian's interaction with Dr. Manhattan in Vietnam. The scene really drives home two of the key aspects of the storyline 1) That the Comedian is much more sane and wise than he's given credit for, and 2) Everything comes down to Dr. M's whims.

And that brings us to the ending. For as much as I was disappointed with the interaction between the Specter and Doc Manhattan on Mars, I felt the final confrontation in Antarctica was spot on, capitalized by Rorschach's final words stealing the whole movie. And while I was no fan of Goode throughout the film, the look of dejection on his face, even after saving the world, was really what his character was all about.

"Watchmen" has plenty of flaws. Does it succeed as well in the movie medium as it does on the drawn page? No way. But it is still a memorable movie experience that I would recommend to anybody, of the appropriate age, of course. We don't need the young'uns staring at Dr. Manhattan's ding-a-ling, after all.

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