Movie Review for Watchmen (2009)

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Watchmen (2009) [R]
W.I.P. Scale™ Rating: $13.00

| Released on: 3/6/2009 | Running Time: 163 minutes |
| official web site | | preview trailer | |coverage of premiere |
| soundtrackTyler Bates - Prison Fight (From the Original Motion Picture Score for "Watchmen") - Single | | buy the graphic novel
| | spoiler || 2cOrNot2c |

Directed by: Zack Snyder (300)
Screenplay By: David Hayter (X2) and Alex Tse (Sucker Free City)
Based on the Book, Watchmen
by Alan Moore (writer) Dave Gibbons (illustrator)
Unsung Member of the Crew: Production Supervisor – Sara Flamm

Featured Cast: (where you might remember him/her from)
Malin Akerman (27 Dresses) • Billy Crudup (The Good Shepherd) • Matthew Goode (The Lookout) • Jackie Earle Haley (Semi-Pro) • Jeffrey Dean Morgan (P.S. I Love You) • Patrick Wilson (Lakeview Terrace ) • Carla Gugino (The Unborn) • Matt Frewer ("Eureka")

For decades, no one had any confidence that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s epic comic series turned graphic novel Watchmen could ever be made into a movie. With a zealous cult following and a complex, special effect-laden story featuring a glowing, blue super hero, the size, scale and scope were daunting causing numerous directors to bite and then bail. That was until Zack Snyder, the gifted, cutting-edge, young director from of all places, Green Bay, Wisconsin, brought the epic story of 300 to the screen with heretofore unimaginable box office results and unbelievable special effects wizardry. He seemed at once the last great hope for a successful translation for “Watchmen”. Of course, the main challenge facing Snyder was how to make something worthy of the original when the original medium and source material provides layers films cannot accomplish well, especially if they are to be of a studio-enforced, theatrically confining running time of under 3 hours. Moreover, when you make a film, you are making a new piece of art that opens the story line to a new audience of viewers who don’t read graphic novels or don’t care for comic. So there’s an entire world out there who are either going to love or hate what you’ve made either because it fails to live up to the original they knew or creates a new world to which they can finally relate.

Well Zack Snyder chose to revere the original creating a film that behaves on screen a lot like frames of a comic book, only now in live action. This effect adheres to the principle while boxing in the medium. It’s the virtual equivalent of making a movie out of Michelangelo’s murals in Sistine Chapel but then limiting your film’s frame to the space and curve of a ceiling. Most people will interpret this as being overly fixated on being true to the original format and material of the film. Snyder will be criticized mercilessly for developing his own interpretation of the source rather than adapting it so literally to the screen. Likewise, however, he will be heralded a genius for finding a way to redefine the flow and appearance of a film in this way. Even from an odd angle in the front row of a giant screen, Snyder’s Watchmen is absolutely mesmerizing.

Even from an odd angle in the front row, Snyder’s Watchmen is absolutely mesmerizing.
Moreover, Snyder’s film should have as much appeal for the ardent fan of the comic to people new to the entire alternate universe of a USA locked in a bitter cold war with USSR and Richard Nixon serving his third term.

So, for the plot. The complex, layered, and visceral plot concerns this alternate universe-esque USA where super heroes are part of the fabric of everyday life. Historically, they were policemen or other do-gooders with special talents who dressed in costumes to fight crime. They had no super powers and fell more in the vein of Batman. In 1977, however, vigilantes in costumes were outlawed sort of putting them out of business. Only two of an original band of crime fighters remained on in the service of the government. Of these, Dr. Manhattan / Jon Osterman (Billy Crudup) is the only super hero with so-called powers. He was, as is told through flashbacks, created by an accidental nuclear exposure during testing of some new technologies in nuclear physics. The resulting luminous blue being exists at a quantum level, can teleport anything anywhere, split into numbers copies, and has no use for clothing. His powers tipped the nuclear race in favor of the USA causing dread and fear on the other side of the Bering Strait. The other, Edward Blake / The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean “please don’t confuse me with Robert Downey Jr.” Morgan) starts the plot off with his mysterious murder – he gets tossed out the plate glass window of his high rise condo by a mysterious masked man. The discovery of his death, causes the inkblot masked Rorschach / Walter Kovacs (Jackie Earle Haley) to become suspicious that this is no coincidence, that someone is out to kill or eliminate the Watchmen. As he tries to convince each of his former fellow super heroes of their potential fate, he is met with disbelief and narcissism. Dr. Manhattan believes himself invulnerable, Laurie Jupiter / Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman) save with Dr. Manhattan, Adrian Veidt / Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) too rich and smart to be at risk, and Dan Dreiberg / Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson) to removed from life to really care much. But a series of events changes all that sending Dan and Laurie on a mission to save the world. Of course, you can see the spoiler for more details and insight into the plot and how it varies from the comic.

Watchmen is worth watching, but it’s also worthy of several return viewings (at least one in IMAX®) a reading of the original now graphic novel, & hours upon hours of discussion by the fireplace at your local coffee house.
If you see the film without knowing this detail or never having read the graphic novel or comic series, you’ll like the movie far less. What you need to know is that Alan Moore began with the idea that it would evoke some serious emotional outpouring for people to see a beloved super hero fallen, dead. Second, he believe that “Watchmen” was meant to be read 4-5 times with more being revealed upon each reading and that, in fact, the story as a whole is far less interesting or entertaining that the parts of the story where much is learned about each individual character – the sum of the parts is more than the whole mentality. It’s hard to gather this from the film which starts out seeming disjointed and hard to follow. If you know however, that you are not supposed to be paying as much attention to the overarching story as you are to the development of head of the heroes and understanding of Moore’s focal point – every hero has its warts along with all the genuinely heroic parts. Seeing that shades of gray in these people opens one’s perspective on people altogether. Think about it this way. Have you ever wondered why the very same person who will knock down a little old lady and steal her purse will take have the money and give it to a mangy homeless person on street. This is the lens Moore points at his characters in the original work, and Snyder carries right along.

The resulting film is a dark yet fascinating look at a world sadly too reminiscent of our own. The alternate view allows more reflection on our USA today, and where we’d prefer it might be instead. The special effects and cinematography, despite the constraints of frame are outstanding to behold. Dr. Manhattan is an achievement all in his own for the beautiful CGI performance. The casting choices left something to be desired. Some of the actors flourished, and some blended too much into the background. Still, each has his or her own challenges in the role. Malin Akerman has been at the end of brutal critiques here before, but this time there was something different, more playful, more fun about her performance. She’s still a deer in headlights at times, but she’s growing more worthy of her roles. Lucy Lawless would have been a bit of a better choice, however, for her role. Interestingly enough, Jackie Earle Haley could be a long shot, dark horse for a best supporting actor nomination. He was no Heath Ledger, but there’s a similarly tormented figure role here in Haley’s Rorschach. If you want to see a really good Jeffrey Dean Morgan see P.S. I Love You. It’s not that he doesn’t play The Comedian well, it’s just that this is not his type of character. Ironically, Robert Downey Jr. would have been a better casting choice--Mr. Morgan simply isn’t a comedic actor. Patrick Wilson’s performance lacked the depth of the others but then so did his character. Matthew Goode has finally arrived in America while Billy Crudup played the role of his lifetime demonstrating a new range and dimension to his résumé. All in all, so much of the relevance of any of these comments fall completely by the wayside as they are eternally upstaged by the drama of the genre and the dread inspired by the themes of the story. It’s sort of a nice way of saying the story is far larger than the sum of its parts – the actors undoubtedly knew that when accepting them.

Zack Snyder made a movie that many brilliant directors found themselves unwilling or unable to make. He did so against great odds and with an author who wanted nothing to do with the film feeling it could never live up to the original work. He delivered a film that is as reverent to the source material, almost to its implosion, as any could have been imagined. Watchmen is worth watching, but it’s also worthy of several return viewings (at least one in IMAX®), a reading of the original now graphic novel, and hours upon hours of discussion by the fireplace at your local coffee house.

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