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Thursday, May 7, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW - "WATCHMEN


    “Watchmen” is considered one of the most influential graphic novels of the 1980’s. Written in 1986 by Alan Moore (V for Vendetta, From Hell) and Dave Gibbons (Doctor Who, Green Lantern), “The Watchmen “appeared at a time when America was going through drastic economical and political change. Even after 20 years it continues to influence the world of comic books and graphic novels with its incredibly profound and intense storyline and complex characters. For fans “The Watchmen” remains one of the most important superhero graphic novels of the last 20 years right alongside “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns”, “The Sandman” and as writer/co-creator Alan Moore is considered one of comics greatest modern writers in the same respect as Frank Miller and Neil Gaiman. “The Watchmen” has even earned mainstream prestige with its spot in Time Magazine’s All Time 100 Novels.    With the rise in comic book movie adaptations in the last 10 years there has been some hits (“The Dark Knight”, “300”, “X-Men”, “Spider-man”) and some misses (“Catwoman”, “Elektra”, Punisher War Zone”) but there was one comic property that was considered un-filmable (i.e. “Lord of the Rings”) but on March 6, 2009, Warner Bros. released “Watchmen” Directed by Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead (2004), “300” (2007)) and starring Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Carla Gugino, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Patrick Wilson.    To the uninitiated “The Watchmen” is essentially a murder mystery with superheroes, based in the alternate history of the 1980’s. In the world of “The Watchmen” it’s 1985, and the world stands on the brink of a nuclear war with Russia. America won the Vietnam War and President Nixon is still in office. As in the comic, the main character is Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), once a masked hero and partner to Note-Owl (Patrick Wilson), delves into the murder of an ex-vigilante named The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) As he seeks the truth behind the murder he probes deeper into the lives of both former heroes and partners including Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), and Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman). As far as superheroes go, no one in “Watchmen” actually has any super power except for Dr. Manhattan who has almost limitless god-like powers gained from an accident with a scientific experiment (and did I mention he’s bright blue and nude for 90 % of the movie). In 1985 costumed heroes have retired due to a governmental act and most go on living ordinary lives except for Dr. Manhattan who works for military research with the help of his girlfriend Laurie Jupiter formerly the Silk Spectre (II) and Ozymandias who is now a billionaire businessman and industrialist. The most mysterious and enigmatic character is the fan favorite Rorschach, who possesses a strange white mask which displays various interchangeable Rorschach inkblot patterns. Rorschach is an intense, violent and obsessive character who refuses to give up his costumed persona and lives like a vagrant.
    When Rorschach discovers the identity of The Comedian he begins his search believing that there is a conspiracy to murder former costumed heroes and anyone of his former associates and even villains could be next as he stumbles onto the truth of one of the most convoluted and world shattering murder plots ever which the end result could mean all out nuclear destruction.
    Still considered a new director, Zack Snyder has shown his talent in both horror and action/comic book based movies with the impressive 2005 remake of George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” and the adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel “300” in 2007. Zack Snyder has brought the world of “Watchmen” straight from the pages of Moore and Gibbon’s comic masterpiece and brought new life to the story as it most certainly will impress both new and old fans alike. Like any adaptation, there is always the element of revision and change to that of the source material, and like most comic book movies there are always some parts where the directors and writers alter certain aspects of the source material. Already having some experience and success in “300”, Snyder brought Frank Miller’s graphic novel almost literally word-for-word and scene-by-scene to life he has done incredible justice to the book. As with most adaptations of Frank Miller’s works it somewhat disappointing and maybe a little thought provoking of why Alan Moore has completely distanced himself from all of his books turned to movies  such as “From Hell”, “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” and “V for Vendetta”. Although he remains an extremely talented yet eccentric personality, because he has no involvement whatsoever with those stories he unfortunately gets zero credit on the movie as Dave Gibbons, “co-creator” is the only one who gets his name in the credits.
    As for the movie itself, it is an intense, deeply thought provoking if not somewhat a little saddened that such a comic masterpiece be made into a movie it both empowers and hurts the comic as it will not likely give the mainstream film goers a completely new experience but will please most fans of the original series. The film version takes much of the original scenes and dialogue right from the pages but the movie does take its liberties with the story as only Hollywood could. Even from the beginning of the movie you can already see every detail has been painstakingly crafted and both the actors and direction is superb. The choice of actors for the various parts are nothing if not perfect even with some of the younger actors chosen for older parts you can see as the past is constantly revisited in numerous flashbacks from the 1940’s to the 1980’s that the illusion of age is very well done with the makeup of the characters.    As for the music used in the film, which is something to be noticed as it draws heavily from nostalgic music especially from the 60’s, ‘70’s and ‘80’s where much of the story takes place. With selections like Bob Dylan’s “The Times, They are-a Changin’” in the opening title sequence, to “The Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel, “Unforgettable” by Nat King Cole, and Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower”, “I’m Your Boogieman” by K.C. and the Sunshine Band, and even the use of “Ride of the Valkyries” during the scenes of the Vietnam War, ala “Apocalypse Now”. As many of these seem obvious others are somewhat perplexing in their placement.
    If you are a fan, there is a strong chance that like me you will be impressed by this movie, however many of the more devoted “fanboys” will be sorely disappointed and unsatisfied with this adaptation, particularly with the alteration of the final scenes of the movie which I will not spoil. This movie is one of those rare films that will change the way people will think about comic book films. The only regret I have is that although I believe this to be an amazing movie, for most people and the mainstream movie audience this will be a perplexing and even confusing film that many will not fully understand or appreciate. For those people who will not get a single moment of “Watchmen” I say have a more open mind and forget everything you think you know about superhero movies and for the fans who expected so much more than a 2 ½ hour, $130,000,000 blockbuster could give.
    So my answer to the ancient “Who watches the Watchmen?” (Juvenal, Satires, VI, 347) the answer is “We Do!”