Friday, March 6, 2009
REVIEW - "Watchmen" (2009)
Who watches the Watchmen, and why should you? There’s been a lot of hype building toward this feature beginning with the controversial teaser from last year. Does it live up to it? Is it the perfect adaptation of the novel everyone has been talking about? Can people who haven’t read the book still enjoy the film? Yes and no, but it's still largely enjoyable.
“Watchmen” begins with the expected death of Edward Blake, a man who was known to the public as The Comedian. Outlawed vigilante Rorschach investigates and believes a “mask-killer” is picking off the now retired, and illegal, super heroes of the past. As the Watchmen dive deeper in to the mystery they unfold a conspiracy that shakes the foundation of everything they stood for.
The first thing to understand about “Watchmen” is it’s not your typical comic book, superhero flick. It’s not that action heavy and it explores the people behind the masks more than the masks themselves. Furthermore, it’s a movie made for the fans of the graphic novel. Zack Snyder should be commended for creating a film so close to the source material that even the simplest shots look like they were lifted from the page. That said, it’s almost as if “Watchmen” is a better companion piece to the book, than a standalone flick. Because of this I hope it encourages audiences to go out and grab the original material whether they liked the film or not.
As far as changes go, most were fine and largely needed to keep the film at a decent pace. The condensing of scenes such as Rorschach’s psychiatric analysis and Dan’s tour of his basement were fine if slightly uneven. The costumes that were altered were of no beef to me either. I actually prefer the Nite-Owl costume in the movie. (The Silk Spectre’s alterations are easy to live with considering how absurd she’s supposed to look anyway.)
The casting of this film was just about dead on. Patrick Wilson plays the perfect “everyman” that is Dan Dreiberg/Nite-Owl and Billy Crudup’s Dr. Manhattan is probably the best digital character brought to the screen. Sorry Gollum fans. The “Watchmen’s” big blue simply looks and feels more real than anything Jackson or Lucas has come up with.
The real show-stealer goes to the man with no face: Jackie Earle Haley’s Rorschach goes beyond expectations for his character. The casting could not have been more perfect. With a performance that borderlines “Oscar winner,” Rorschach comes to life as the most interesting, strangely lovable and thematically unstoppable force in the movie. Haley’s growl-like voice actually works better than Bale’s Batman and strikes a chord with, arguably, the most emotional scene in the film. (A massive spoiler toward the end I won’t give away to the less familiar.)
The few problems I had with the movie concern more trivial and technical aspects than overall enjoyment. For example, the only characters to kill anyone, or at least mentioned killing anyone in the book, were the Comedian and Rorschach. Seeing Dan Dreiberg and Laurie Jupiter take the lives of a few street thugs was strange. It seemed out of character for these ex-heroes. The same goes for Dr. Manhattan, although the flashback of him during the war is more excusable. And with all the amazing effects used to bring Manhattan to life, I found the make-up prosthetics for President Nixon absolutely laughable. It was terrible! He looked less like Nixon and more like a clown. Where’s Frank Langella when you need him?
Rolling back to Laurie Jupiter, Malin Akerman’s Silk Spectre II, (Laurie, for the less knowledgeable) she seems to be the film’s weakest link. With a script as decent as “Watchmen” it’s hard to really muck up the dialogue, but bravo Akerman! Her “Do it for me” line is just as poor as the trailer suggests, with Billy Crudup doing everything his digitalized face can do to save the scene. I'm still not sure if he did.
But in the end the only true detractor for the film is the loss of context from novel to movie. If writer Alan Moore meant that every aspect of “Watchmen’s” message being brought to the screen is impossible, then he’s right. Maybe it isn’t entirely "filmable." On the other hand what Snyder has brought to the table has proven otherwise. It is a movie, right? No, it doesn’t capture every grain of thought and majesty that makes the novel so captivating, but to this I ask, what adaptation does? Is "Jurassic Park" ridiculed for having almost nothing to do with the novel of the same name?
The movie isn’t a masterpiece by any stretch and it’s not the sure-to-be-classic “The Dark Knight” is destine to become, but it’s a fun companion piece and worth analyzing. It can be slightly confusing for those less familiar with the source material, and some of the potent ideas that were omitted from the film make it less significant than the novel. Not that I believe it was “dumbed down,” but Zack Snyder did the absolute best job anyone could to stay true to the source while appeasing outsiders. I can’t imagine there being a much better adaptation since the film has taken accuracy to a new level. “Watchmen” is a worthwhile movie, even if it seems to be daunted by the shadow of the novel.
*** out of ****