Cast: Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson
Director: Zack Snyder
Runtime: 163 mins
Release Date: 6 March 2009
To begin with, I should tell you that I. Bloody. Love. Watchmen. My favourite comic ever, and one of my favourite things ever. No hyperbole, this is what got me back into comics, and as some of the other Paradoxers will tell you, you can hold the pages from it up at me from distance and I can tell you the dialogue on those pages. I am the very definition of a rabid fanboy. When it was announced that Zak Snyder was greenlit to make the movie, I was all on the side of my personal god Alan Moore. ‘Unfilmable’ I said. I even swore to sabotage the production, such was my opposition. But with every passing month, small chinks began to appear in my glacial hatred: Firstly, Dave Gibbons’ hearty recommendation – I believe the project was his, as much as Alan Moore’s (the recent Watching the Watchmen really shows this) and well, if he thought it was going to be worth a look… maybe, just maybe. Then the trailers. Could they do it? Last night, I found out for myself.
Yes!… and No.
I’ll deal with the bad first – it can never come close to the sheer volume of ideas, and the use of the medium the way the comic does. In the build-up to the movie I have read a stack of articles by fans and professionals alike about Watchmen, and I’m fascinated to see that they all tend to have a different view on what it is ‘about’ – and that’s why it’s such great art; it invites so many different readings and perspectives. The film falls short here, its metaphors stripped down to a simple dynamic – ‘Is humanity worth saving?’ and as a result, I felt like I’d seen a version of Watchmen but not the definitive one. As a quick example, the next rainy afternoon, if given the choice between re-reading Fight Club and watching the film? I’ll watch the film. It got across 90% of the source material and added in a whole host of visual genius. Given the same choice with Watchmen? I’m reading the comic. Hell, I’m still getting new elements out of it now on my nth read.
But dammit – what a version we’ve been treated to. As a fan, it was a delight to see this universe so beautifully realised – an incredible first five minutes really sets the tone for what is to come. Snyder also deserves a huge pat on the back for handling the shifts in time and period so well, and managing to combine the ‘mask killer’ storyline with the countdown to Doomsday. It did suffer from not having the Black Freighter story, but I am now hugely keen to see Snyder’s ultimate edition, with it restored along with some of the other plot strands that were sacrificed.
But my experience of the movie is akin to that of many Lord Of The Rings fans – I know that for many of them, they knew that a ‘faithful’ adaptation was impossible, and that the compromises were worthwhile just to see that world realised on film. Ditto for me with Watchmen – the entire Dr. Manhattan on Mars left me open-mouthed in amazement at how skilfully my beloved comic had been brought to life. The direction, production and performances are all top-draw, and I’m even willing to forgive the sometimes-dodgy makeup on Nixon and the aged Silk Spectre.
Quentin Tarantino once made an excellent point. He said that most movie reviews were bullshit. “It comes down to one thing,” he said. “Did you enjoy watching the movie?” The older I get, the more I like his perspective. Forget the hows, whys, and wherefores – is it fun to watch? By God, yes it is! One final point is that we attended the screening with two people who had never read the comic. Their view? Two thumbs up. They’ve managed to make an absorbing, epic piece of entertainment that demands your attention. Hell, if this is the film that finally destroys the conceit of ‘the comic book movie’ it deserves a very special place in fanboy lore. I’m not scoring this out of 10, I hope that it’s enough to say that I’m off to eat a gargantuan helping of humble pie.