Friday, December 23, 2011
Movie Review "Watchmen" by David Pretty
I first read Watchmen as the original twelve issues were published in 1986 and 1987. I've re-read it almost every year that followed. To say that the original work is dense is an understatement. Even after several re-visitations I still notice things that I'd never seen before.
Despite it's delivery through the oft-maligned medium of comic books, I truly believe that those original twelve issues of Watchmen still rank as one of the most mind-altering pieces of art I've ever encountered. Talk of film adaptations go back nearly as far as its original publication date. At one point visionary Fruit-Loop Terry Gilliam was supposed to take a run at it. Allegedly he looked at the material and concluded that the story would be best served as a five-hour miniseries. It was a wise estimation.
When I first heard that wunderkind director Zach Snyder was going to take up this burden of self-flagellation, I was slightly encouraged. After all, he'd proved me wrong with his re-make of Dawn of the Dead, which transformed the epic Romero classic into a lean and savage action flick.
Watching Snyder's resulting take on Watchman was a riveting experience. Even though the film clocks in at a hefty two hours and forty-three minutes, it flew by for me like the duration of an egg-timer. My fear, however, is that people with no Watchmen prerequisites will liken the experience to paint drying. Indeed, the task for the neophyte Watch-phile is pretty daunting. There's tons of lore, intertwined back stories, political asides, visual throwaways, biographical tidbits and a million other things to try and piece together.
Even the trailer can be baffling to some movie-goers:
Anyone expecting the gratuitous action of Snyder's earlier comic adaptation 300 will be sorely disappointed. I suspect that even fans of The Dark Knight will be alternately bored and/or confused by the avalanche of plot and visuals.
Having said that, I think the material in Watchman is rewarding for the patient viewer. There's a nearly limitless vein of thematic relevance for people to take away. I was completely transfixed by the level of respect Snyder brought to the film, practically transcribing entire chunks of the graphic novel into loving celluloid detail.
The actors are well-cast for the most part. Jackie Earle Haley embodies Rorschach with the same coiled menace that (dare I say it) Heath Ledger brought to a certain Clown Prince of Crime. Jeffrey Dean Morgan actually engenders a bit of pathos in the otherwise vile role of the Comedian. Billy Crudup is an appropriately cold and otherworldly Dr. Manhattan. Patrick Wilson does a great job as Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl and is likely to be the character most audience members will relate to.
Of the major cast, Malin Akerman is very charming but I think she's a bit miscast as Silk Spectre II. I feel that Snyder needed someone a bit more world-weary in the role. Matthew Goode is also not quite the "ubermench" I would have expected as Ozymandias but I think his character is hurt considerably by having most of his origins scenes jettisoned.
The only thing that really irks me about the film are the (mostly) necessary changes. The comic version of Watchmen has been around for so long and has inspired so many creative people that it's been ripped off mercilessly. For example, one scene which has Rorscharch punishing a child killer has been pilfered by lesser fare such as the Saw movies and Snyder was forced to change the scene to his detriment.
Most strikingly, the original ending (which has always been problematic to realize cinematically and likely would have added an additional forty minutes of run time) has also been altered. I see Snyder's motivation for the change but it does distort the spirit of the original storyline somewhat.
I guess my biggest worry is that people will watch the film and write it off as derivative of The Dark Knight. I assure you that it isn't. Watchmen is the alpha and omega of modern superhero stories. Go read the comic. Watch the recently released five-hour long and likely Terry-Gilliam-approved motion comic. Then see this movie.