Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I Watched the Watchmen

Finally saw the Watchmen at a late show in an Imax Theatre the other evening with some buddies. Here's my review....

I was just out of college when Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' 12 issue Watchmen limited series was released in their original comic-book format in 1986 and 1987. I bought and read the entire series (I'm sure the comics are buried somewhere among my boxes of comics), but I have very little memory of it. (On my bookshelf, I have a copy of an unpublished script from the late 1980s that was an early attempt to adapt the series). While intellectually I knew it was a monumental achievement, it's not a work for which I felt any particular personal affinity. As a result, I must admit I wasn't feeling particularly compelled to see the movie; in fact, I likely wouldn't have if not for the fact that several longtime college buddies and I who share the same geek ethos have lately made it a tradition to make it a "guys night out" to see films like these together.

Simply put, I think this is a terrific film.

I give director Zack Snyder and the screenwriters full credit for finding the "through-line" and soul of the story, and putting it to screen without feeling like something was left out. This is a film that stands on its own, and that anyone who has not read the book could enjoy and follow.

And as faithful an adaptation this film is (some have called it "slavish"), Watchmen does more than simply superficially re-create the look of the original series. Watchmen successfully understands and captures the soul of the story: it is full of heart and, though not as strongly as Moore's original story, presents the same ambiguous arguments about the price of "heroism" and salvation.

The actors—particularly Jack Earle Haley as Rorschach and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the Comedian—deserve the critical recognition theyhave received for their performances. Another actor worth mentioning is Patrick Wilson's as the Nite Owl for a quieter performance that grounds the film on a human scale.

I've never been a fan of films that are explicitly violent. And while I would have preferred the movie to be a less graphic, it nevertheless was in keeping with the tone of both the film and the book, and never took me out of the film.

It seems safe to say at this date that Watchmen is a financial disappointment. As well done as this movie is, I can understand why Watchmen might be an acquired taste with limited appeal. As one of my friends who saw it with me noted, it might be too early in the current trend of comic-book based movies to present to general audiences a superhero film as morally ambiguous as Watchmen that attempts to subvert the genre and use it for bigger ideas. It doesn't help, too, that Warner Brothers marketed the film as a "must see" event without trying to fully explain the premise of the story to a wider audience who might not be familiar with the work.

Whether or not better marketing would have helped the movie is debatable. The filmmakers should be proud of what they have achieved.

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