Sunday, March 8th, 2009

Watchmen triumphs


As a preamble, let me just say that I’m a massive fan of the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. I picked up the original 12 comic run when it first arrived in comic book stores in 1986, and it (along with Frank Miller’s the Dark Knight Returns) blew my 15 year old mind.

Of course Hollywood being the avaricious creature it is, plans were soon put in place to make Watchmen into a film, but if ever the source material for a movie could be deemed “unfilmable”, Watchmen was it. The plot jumps back and forth over forty years of history, the supposed superheroes are at best washed-up and at worst psychopaths, the story delves into philosophy, human nature, politics and serves it up with dollops of sex and violence. Oh, and one of the main characters is a detached Superman who sees time differently than mankind and walks around with his (blue) dink hanging out.

Miraculously, Zack Snyder has taken all of those unfilmable elements and made a stunning bit of cinema. Snyder stuck very closely to the source material (even setting the film in 1985, as per the comic), and it’s paid off in spades. Watchmen’s alternate universe (explained brilliantly in an opening-credits montage that tours the audience through decades of could-have-been 20th century events) is a feast for the eyes. Add to that standout performances by Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan and especially Jackie Earl Haley as Rorschach, and Watchmen does not disappoint. I have a few minor quibbles, like the presence of Ozymandias’s cat Bubastis (which makes sense in the comic but seems out of place in the film), but my tiny complaints pale in comparison to standout sequences like Dr. Manhattan recalling his life on Mars, or Rorschach revealing just what drove him over the edge from grim vigilante to full-bore lunatic.

Opinion on the film seems to be split; geeks love it, and critics scratch their heads, admire the pretty pictures, and go back to worrying about their increasingly irrelevant jobs and worshipping French art films. I think we know where I land on this debate.

See Watchmen. Revel in its geeky fidelity to the original comic, but enjoy it on its own terms as a bold, visually stunning, thought provoking superhero film of the kind you never thought Hollywood could make. I plan to see it at least once more in the theatre.

Warren Frey is a journalist, freelance writer, podcaster, video producer, and all-around media consultant currently based in Vancouver, Canada. His written work has appeared in such publications as Metro Vancouver, the Westender, Mac | Life and the Japan Times.

One Response to “ Watchmen triumphs ”

Todd Sieling says:

What a relief that this isn’t a total wash. I think filmmaking (and watching!) has come far enough to handle quite handily disjointed jumps through history. Batman Begins did this with a lot of risk and a solid payoff. But on the bigger point of whether this is a film worth seeing. I’m really looking forward to getting in a matinee this week.

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