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Review: Watchmen

Watchmen
Director    Zack Snyder
Starring    Jackie Earl Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Akerman, Matthew Goode, Patrick Wilson, Billy Crudup
Release    6 MAR (US) 6 MAR (UK)    Certificate 18

Rating:


Dear Alan Moore,

Hi. How are you? We hope Northampton is nice this time of year. I mean, obviously it's not, but unlike Zack Snyder, at least we're aware that it isn't in London. In fact, that Snyder fellow is the reason we're writing to you. We're sure you're aware his adaptation of your timeless graphic novel Watchmen is about to hit the big screen, and though you got in a huff and claimed the world didn't need any more "shitty movies" when it was announced - quite rightly, given the treatment of your other comics - we think you might want to check this one out. Because it's actually really great.

Before you start grumbling, hear us out. The plot is largely lifted from the pages of your, and artist Dave Gibbons', novel: it's still set in an alternate 1985 where the Doomsday clock stands at five minutes to midnight. We still follow 'costumed heroes' aka vigilante crime-fighters who are forced to retire - in fact, you must be pretty pissed The Incredibles ripped you off so blatantly. But more importantly Mr. Moore, the adult themes of war, peace and identity are still as prevalent as ever - this is no flash-in-the-pan movie of the week. Whereas your comic became known as one of the finest ever written, Watchmen the movie will likely be one of the most critically acclaimed and adored superhero movies ever - apart from that brute Batman, obviously.

Alan, relax - we know you weren't happy with Snyder as director. Like us, you probably saw what he did with Frank Miller's 300 - buckets of style, precious little substance. With Watchmen, however, it's the reverse - drawing from your own hand, he's gifted with an abundance of character and story, something which he seems a little uneasy with at first but ultimately weaves together into a feature that's worthy of carrying your name. Well, if you'd let him. His additions to the story - sacrilege! - are obvious: a few slo-mo fight scenes here, a bit of ropey dialogue there ("You are such an asshole!") and so on. In truth, they're nothing more than concessions to a younger audience: the lure of lycra is strong and, well, you've got to give the kids something. The opening scene - a scene-setting montage cut to Bob Dylan's 'Times They Are A-Changin' - is actually the perfect introduction to your universe and proves Snyder was a worthy choice to adapt a classic.

Otherwise, Snyder is slavishly faithful to your words, almost to a fault. At around two and a half hours, he's attempted to cram as much of your 12-part series as possible into a feature-length running time. Broken up into chapters, your book flowed seamlessly from one page to the next. On film, it's a little trickier - the first half is a fairly frenzied splurge of information as we attempt to acclimatise ourselves to your novel's dense plotting. Flashbacks flush with flashbacks, characters flit into one another's storylines, murderers and sociopaths and demigods come and go. But that's how it was written: it builds towards an apt and thrilling finale, which - if we're being honest - drags a little towards the end. Don't shoot the messenger, Alan: we all knew that squid bullshit only flies in comic-books.

You might not be impressed, but we're willing to bet Dave Gibbons is over the moon: his panels transfer effortlessly to the screen, breathing life into some of the most fascinating and multi-layered characters ever drawn. Hyper-stylised, even lesser scenes are framed to perfection, while action scenes play out in sumptuous slow-motion, and the eighties style gives it a unique flavour that immediately singles it out as something special. Though you'll probably never see it, the movie drips with detail; scenes are packed full of easter eggs and nods to the comic. It's definitely one to watch on DVD. If you have DVD.

The cast do a fine job of fleshing out your costumed heroes. Stand-out is Jackie Earl Haley's take on inkblot nutjob Rorschach, who nails the gravelly snarl that Bat-Bale fumbled and inhabits the wiry physicality that makes the character so fierce and threatening. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is outstanding as the loathsome Comedian, a beast who thinks nothing of gunning down pregnant women and raping his colleagues, yet Morgan brings added depth to a part that could easily have been two-dimensional. Only Malin Akerman as Silk Spectre II is a little shaky, but given her youth and relative inexperience, perhaps that's expected - she looks awesome in a PVC jockstrap, anyway.

Perhaps the most influential character, the nuclear-charged Dr. Manhattan, makes for an instantly iconic protagonist and lights up the screen both literally and figuratively. With bright phosphoric eyes burning endlessly in his blue skull, he's at once eerily calm and immensely terrifying - his semi-permanent nakedness just adds another layer of unease. We just feel for the poor animator who pulled wang duty - you were lucky Mr. Moore, you had Gibbons to pencil Manhattan's schlong. On film, this thing jiggles.

As bizarre as it may seem, Manhattan's atomic cock is pretty symbolic of Watchmen the movie as a whole - this is for adults only. There's tasteful nudity, gratuitous gore and weighty themes that at first seem alien in a mere 'superhero movie' - even The Dark Knight seems frivolous compared to your apocalyptic narrative. Everything in Watchmen matters: there are no small characters, no false leads, no flab.

Alan, you might think of Hollywood as a cancer eating away at the true creative arts, like... erm, comic-book writing. But after sitting through two and half twisted hours of Watchmen, people are going to need the assurance of your printed words to fill the gaps. It's a movie that compliments its source material, and vice versa - sales of your book are going to sky-rocket after its release. You've every right to be indifferent, outraged even at its existence. But the fact is, Mr. Moore, Watchmen is a very fine film - engrossing, thought-provoking and unique. Hate all you like, but that never got Rorschach anywhere.

Yours enthusiastically,
TheShiznit.co.uk


Tags:  Action  Drama  Sci-fi  Disaster  Superheroes  Book  Watchmen

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Ali
Posted by Ali at 12:31 on 05/07/09
Yup. What he said. Can't wait for this one to come out. Perfect film for Blu-ray - throw in the 3 hour diector's cut and I'm literally coming in my pants right now.

Tales of the Black Freighter is worth seeking out too. More a fun distraction than a proper supplementary story (never really liked it in the book tbh) but the animation is cool.

Kinda breaks my heart that this 'flopped', although it wasn't a huge failure by any means. A lot of people have said it's low box-office takings mean that studios won't risk big bucks on making films like this again, but to them I say - how many other books are there like Watchmen ARE there?
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