10 Mar 2009

Screen Time: WATCHMEN

Review by James R

Cast: Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson
Director: Zack Snyder
Runtime: 163 mins
Certificate: 18
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.


Matt Clark said...

I will post up my review in a couple of days (complete with score! out of 10!) - I just needed a second viewing to properly get my head around the thing.

I can confirm though that James was completely against this project at the start, so if it convinced him there must be something there, right?

Justin Giampaoli said...

Hey guys, fun to see you reviewing rhe film and enjoyable to read. I also posted a review and seem to agree with you and the general consenses - the film is not without it's flaw, but the positives outweighed the negatives and I basically enjoyed it overall.

13 Minutes

Anonymous said...

I haven't read the comic in years (I was confused that i don't own it, will drop into paradox and get me a copy when i'm next in town, make sure you get some in andy) therefore i my memories of the book were vague and a little mixed up with the incredibles, got straight on the internet to check i wasn't mad in thinking they had cut out the giant squid thing, this being said i enjoyed it a lot, i found it a little long, but that might have something to watching it quite late on a week night when i knew we had a long drive back to weymouth afterwards. Would really like to watch it again to take it all i. it was strange that even though the doctor manhatan story-line was probably the most interesting i found the big blue guy to be a tad tedious. Rorschach ruled, wish i could watch a whole movie about this guy.

Silk Spectre was HOT!

be sure to checkout the next edition of the creeping with armstrong podcast (available on itunes), I'm sure there will be plenty of discussing on this topic

Anonymous said...

Well, I caught the film this lunch time as I had the day off from work. Unlike James I had no pre-conceptions for the movie, positive or negative. And aside from watching the very first trailer that was aired early last year, I avoided all other press on the movie (which wasn't easy!). Added to which I haven't read Watchmen since it first came out in the eighties as a 12 issue serial, so I was going it to it about as fresh as anyone who had read the story could do.

My verdict – I really enjoyed it. I came out thinking it was about as good as you could expect a movie adaptation to be. In fact, scratch that – probably better than you'd expect a film of Watchmen to be.

My only criticisms of the movie would be:

1) I have a personal dislike of slow motion/freeze frame/bullet time fight scenes, and would have preferred to see realistic fighting, but I recognise that audiences expect the more cinematic approach these days, and that I'm in the minority.

2) I still don't like the rubbish Silk Spectre II costume, but that's a minor gripe.

As regards the ending – I thought it was an improvement on the original. I was one of the critics of the original comic who thought Alan Moore's end game for Ozy was faintly ridiculous at best, and at worst wouldn't have worked. The idea that America's reaction to New York being toasted, while they were on Def Con One, would be “hang on one darn tootin' moment – I know we're expecting a nuclear strike on our cities by them darn Russkies and when it comes we only have 60 seconds to launch our missiles before they get knocked out, but let's not jump to conclusions – let's just wait a bit in case New York was really destroyed by a teleporting alien space squid,” never really suited a story that was so realistic in all other respects. The new ending makes a bit more sense as it's more likely to succeed.

So, yes, it worked for me. :)

Rob N

Tom P said...

I went to see it last Friday and had a great time watching it. I too can't wait to get the Ultimate Cut, i will just sit down at home and just watch every last second of it. The opening credits of the film rocked, I loved all the golden age stuff. It was the details in the film that stand out the most, the sets are incredible.

Bloody good film.

boo said...

can't think of the last time i saw a film that zinged me up as much as this - and i just watched all the rambo films in a row...

seriously;watchmen 10/10 ...can't wait for watchmen 2!

incidentally - there were some weird references/crossovers in the rambo films that linked to the watchmen in a strange way, spooky...but that's for another time.