Friday, March 06, 2009

On Watching the Watchmen

If eagerness to see it is any indication, Watchmen is going to be a monster success. I saw it an hour after its official release and felt like a latecomer, as several people had already reported to me having seen it. Anyway, here is my review, which will have spoilers at the end, so read carefully.

General Overview
Four stars. While I had modest expectations, I think this movie is as faithful an adaptation of the source material as a three hour movie could possibly be. To be sure some elements were modified and some left out, which I will address, but on the whole, I'd say Zack Snyder pulled it off.

The Performances
Off the bat, Jackie Earle Haley, who plays Rorschach, was simply amazing, on the order of Heath Ledger's Joker, in my opinion. From his opening grunt to his final stand in the snow, I thought Haley captured Rorschach perfectly. Who knew Kelly Leak had it in him?

Jeffrey Dean Morgan, as the Comedian, was unfortunately a little disappointing. His was certainly a competent performance, and to be sure, a lot is going on with Edward Blake and this is a challenging role, but the Comedian has some of the best, most pithy, thought-provoking lines in the Watchmen series, and there are times I felt that Morgan failed to give these lines some of the punch and passion (or stark dispassion) that they merited.

The Look

The movie looked cool. There was no doubt about it. Modern technology enables the filmmaker the ability to bring this material to life in a way that no one could have ever dreamed possible in 1985, and its great to have the opportunity to see it.

The Sound

Snyder's choice to pair each set piece with an overpowering pop song reflective of the time and moment did not work for me, and was the one major failing of the movie in my eyes. It almost felt like the movie was being given the equivalent of a laugh track.

For Non-Fans

While people unfamiliar with the graphic novel will certainly enjoy the movie, I'm not entirely sure they will be able to follow the whole thing. The "master plan" was modified for the movie format, so I felt like some of the "clues," for example, The Comedian's drunken midnight confession to Moloch, do not quite make sense. However in the end, the revised master plan is certainly clear, so perhaps that is all that matters.

The Modifications (BIG SPOILERS HERE)

The decision to leave out the Black Freighter and its implications is one I understand, as it enabled them to trim down the movie considerably. That being said, the necessitated revised ending is at once elegant and far too messy. Saying that the plan was simply to unite the world against Dr. Manhattan rather than against a fake alien monster transplanted into New York City was the elegant part. However, the movie seems to indicate that Ozymandias uses Dr. Manhattan's power to destroy something on the order of five major cities. Ozymandias' original plan only required taking out half of NYC for the same result, making the original a far cleaner, and far more Ozymandias-worthy, solution.

The tone, if possible, I thought was even darker than that of the graphic novel. In particular, with respect to Nite Owl and Silk Spectre. The movie portrays them as unrepentant killers. In their first fight scene, it seems that they clearly kill some of their attackers without remorse, something that does not seem to occur in the graphic novel. Similarly, during the Police Strike Riots, the novel has The Comedian using rubber bullets and tear gas, while the movie seems to have Nite Owl standing idly by while Eddie uses live ammo on innocent civilians. I think its important that Nite Owl and Silk Spectre have different (stronger?) moral fiber than some of the other characters, and that was lost.

The ages. The Comedian and the second Silk Spectre were both aged up to be the same age as their peers, with the Comedian appearing to be an adult as part of the Minutemen in the 40s and the Silk Spectre the same age as Nite Owl and the others in 1985, about 35 years old. I understand why they did this, but the reasons to do it are the same reasons it is problematic. Both characters were supposed to be teenagers, about 16, when with their respective super peers. This would be troubling on screen, as it would force the filmmakers to depict a teenager attempting to rape a grown woman in one era, and a man in his late 30s (Dr. Manhattan) carrying on an illicit affair with a teenager in another era. However, the contrast here, especially when we learn that the Comedian is in fact the Silk Spectre's father, is beautifully poetic and an important part of the story which should not be lost. On top of that, an adult Comedian wearing what is clearly a kid's costume in the 40s looks a little ridiculous.

On the whole, I have only some minor quibbles, and think the movie is definitely worth seeing. Maybe more than once. The diehard fans will probably never be satisfied, but I think this telling of the story is as good as anything they could have hoped for.

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