Monday, March 09, 2009

Julian's Watchmen Review

I know I'm supposed to be on hiatus, but Julian dropped another sick movie review.

Swiped from his facebook blog:

For almost two decades, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ sublime graphic novel Watchmen was labeled “unfilmable”; and with good reason. Since the early ‘90’s, many have failed in their attempts to bring this holy grail to the silver screen, unwilling to be crucified by fanboys for butchering the masterpiece. Finally, Zack Snyder(300, Dawn of the Dead) completed the task, as the first trailer for the film had the internets goin’ nuts when it was first seen last summer. However, with the bar for success set at lofty heights by the graphic novel, many wondered would the film adaptation be able to live up to its source material. Many questions were raised, with the most important being whether or not Snyder would be able to effectively translate Watchmen to the big screen. The answer? Yes and no.

The story is set in New York City, in an alternate 1985. Richard Nixon is currently serving his fifth term as president, and tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union have escalated to the point that nuclear war is certain. This looms over the head of a world where costumed crime fighters were once part of society, until a 1977 mandate outlawed all but two of these superheroes. But these, ladies and gentlemen, are not your fathers’ superheroes. The film begins with the murder of Edward Blake aka The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), one of the aforementioned government-protected crime fighters. Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), who has continued to fight crime as a vigilante, investigates the murder, believing that costumed heroes are being targeted. Dr. Manhattan aka Jon Osterman (Billy Crudup), is the other government protected superhero, and the only one with super powers. His god-like abilities have been useful to U.S. government, as it was his intervention in Vietnam that won the war for the U.S. His girlfriend, Laurie Jupiter (Malin Akerman) was once known as Silk Spectre II, but now serves as his assistant. She was pushed into crimefighting by her mother Sally Jupiter (Carla Gugino), who was the original Silk Spectre. Dan Dreiberg (Patrick Wilson) aka Night Owl II, has lost all confidence is his retirement; unsure of his place in the world without a costume. Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode) aka Ozymandias , is a mogul regarded as “the world’s smartest man” , as well as the first to reveal his identity. He and Dr. Manhattan are currently working together to fix the world’s energy crisis. There was previous generation of crime fighters, as the “Minutemen”, that both Laurie’s mother and The Comedian. Their history is briefly depicted in the brilliantly executed opening title sequence.

With any adaptation, particularly novel to film, portions of the original work must be compromised or omitted for the sake of translation. Unfortunately, every adaptation is always meticulously compared to the original, and more than often the consensus is: “the book was better”. This comparison was inevitable with Watchmen, as the film never had a chance of living up to the hype created by the graphic novel. However, Zack Snyder’s interpretation of Watchmen should not be viewed as a failure. Snyder succeeds at staying as close to the source material as he possibly could. From a visual standpoint, Watchmen is amazing. Snyder nailed the creation of a grim, pre-Armageddon New York City; and watching the characters come to life was spellbinding. The cast and crew have mentioned that the graphic novel was used as a storyboard, and it’s obvious, as many scenes mirror the graphic novel perfectly. The opening credits were also a success, as the characters are woven into various moments in U.S. history to the sound of Bob Dylan’s “Times They Are A Changin”. This lets viewers know from the start that the story takes place in an alternate reality. In addition, while Snyder utilizes slow-motion, he doesn’t abuse it as he did wtih 300. It is reserved for the action sequences, which are few.

One of the main criticisms of Watchmen is that it’s too faithful to the source material, catering more to the die-hard fans of the novel, and alienating viewers who aren’t familiar with it. I’ve read the graphic novel three times, and I know for a fact that there were allusions to the graphic novel that I recognized and appreciated, yet flew over the heads of non-familiars. However, I’ve heard positive reactions from non-familiars, so I don’t think the strict adherence should count against the film. However, the absence of some details hurt the story; as some information integral to the graphic novel’s brilliance was altered or omitted. Snyder & Co. tried to include some of the details, but some scenes that should’ve been knockout blows come off as pulled punches. A lot has been made of the changed ending, which didn’t bother me much because the end result was the same. However, weak writing and acting by some makes it feel forced and corny at times.

The performances were hit and miss, and while there were more hits than misses, the impact of the misses are too great to ignore. Haley is perfect as Rorschach, the psychopathic detective whose relentless investigation drives his story. There’s no way the film could’ve worked if this performance was weak, and Haley got it right. Wilson is effective as the flabby, incomplete Dan; his physique a metaphor for what his life has become. Crudup had the biggest challenge in portraying Dr. Manhattan, a withdrawn demigod whose limitless abilities are compromised by his fading humanity. He’s solid, though unlike others, I expected his interpretation to be more distant. Many viewers might be distracted by Manhattan’s frequent nudity, so consider this a warning. Morgan was entertaining as The Comedian, brutal and amoral; yet his screen time was short because most of his back story was cut. Gugino has even less screen time, but is satisfactory nonetheless. The weakest links here are Goode as Adrian and Akerman as Laurie. Adrian’s an important figure, and Goode’s performance just doesn’t resonate well. I’m not sure if it’s his actual performance or the way the character was written, but it falls flat. Malin Akerman looks good in latex and in nothing, but her Laurie is wooden, particularly at the climax. Her performance was better than I expected, but still wasn’t good.

Again, Watchmen should not be looked at as a failure. The graphic novel cast a shadow that was impossible for the film to escape. The film runs at 163 minutes, yet still feels rushed. I got the feeling that many details were left on the floor of the editing room. As a result, reviewing Watchmen has been difficult because I feel like I’m analyzing an unfinished project. What I would like to see is the director’s cut of the film, with some of the supplemental material and more detail. This will probably be close to four hours, yet worthwhile. In summary, Watchmen is ambitious and engaging, but feels incomplete. Zack Snyder gave it his all, and probably came as close as anyone could have to doing the graphic novel justice. Watchmen is worth seeing because of its interesting story and marvelous visuals, but could’ve been so much more. Need to see that director’s cut.

Rating: 2.5/4 stars

I’m interested in reactions from familiars and non-familiars. Thoughts? Feelings?

P.S.-That rating is subject to change....

No comments:

Post a Comment