Mar 05 2009

Unreal Movie Review: Watchmen

Published by at 10:00 am under Movies,Reviews

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Here’s a hypothetical question for you: What if someone decided to remake The Godfather?

Understandably, this would be a hugely controversial project, as the film is lauded as one of the greatest of all time. Everyone would decry the decision in public, but there would be murmurs that people actually wanted to see just how the hell such an absurdly ambitious project would turn out.

The director, understanding that fans of the original will be absolutely livid if anything from the film is changed, decides that he will take hardly any liberties with the story, in fact, he wants to replicated nearly every shot and every line of dialogue just the way it was filmed and written in the original, so nothing gets lost in translation.

He picks out a pitch perfect cast to assume the legendary roles. The Marlon Brando is spot on, the Al Pacino could be a literal clone and the entire cast acts out their lines with all the vigor and the intensity of the original actors.

The film is much cleaner and sharper than the original. There is no fuzz on the lens, the blood is no longer orange, and the killings feel even more brutal than they did before. It’s a flawless replication of the original film, down the very last detail.

But it’s not better.

Why?

It should be, it has every shot, every line given the exact same way, it looks better, sounds better, so what’s the problem?

But that’s not the real question. The real question is should the film have ever been made in the first place?

This is how I feel about Watchmen. Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel is perfect, in nearly every way. Clearly feeling like the fires of hell would consume him if he dared laid a finger on any aspect of the story, Snyder slavishly devoted himself to capturing nearly every line and every scene of the original book in the film, and for someone who has read the novel, it’s a strange experience, in fact I’d never seen anything like it before.

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When a book is adapted into a movie, it’s always different than you imagine it in your head. In a comic book film, you already know how the characters look, but the action on screen is almost never a direct port of a particular issue. Movie remakes often pay homage to the original by replicating certain shots or scenes, but it’s almost never for the duration of the entire film.

But during Watchmen, there was a strange sense that I had literally seen and heard it all before, and that’s because, well, I had. Sure, everything was moving and there was audible dialog and snazzy special effects, but I didn’t feel like I truly gained anything from it. If you have read the book, I feel like you’ll walk away satisfied, but unmoved. If you haven’t read it? I really don’t know what the hell you’ll think.

As much as this sounds like a pretty harsh criticism of the film, I honestly believe that Zack Snyder could not have done the film any better. The attention to detail in the film is unprecedented. The costumes, the sets, everything is just as it should be. The CGI is awe inspiring as you would expect it to be, and it certainly never feels like a Michael Bay movie despite its absolutely epic scope.

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I certainly don’t think the cast could have been any more spot-on either. Patrick Wilson is superb as pudgy, impotent ex-hero Nite Owl, Jeffery Dean Morgan brings the snarling Comedian to life with every bit of brutality he displayed in the comic, Mathew Goode is equal parts benevolent, violent and fop as Ozymandias, and even little Malin Ackerman, although she’s probably the weak link in the chain, still is an adequate Silk Spectre, though I’m not sure how I feel about the yellow.

But for me, the two shining lights of the film (in one case quite literally) were Jackie Earle Haley and Billy Crudup, playing the two characters I was most worried about when I saw the trailer. Despite my fears that Rorschach sounded like another husky-voiced, masked vigilante we all know, those fears were quickly put to rest as Haley created a character all his own. It’s amazing how much his acting comes through despite the fact you never seen his face 80% of the time, and his shifting inkblots were for me, the coolest CGI effect in the whole film.

Speaking of CGI, Crudup’s Dr. Manhattan was literally rendered in blue bulk muscle from head to toe, and the actor literally had to deliver all his lines dressed up like a Christmas tree. In the trailer I was upset that Dr. Manhattan didn’t seem to posses the big booming voice of God, but in the film, I found him to be more bored and uncaring than commanding, and though that sounds like an insult, that’s exactly how his character should be, completely uninterested, as all the little human ants scurry around him.

I’ve talked a lot of about Snyder being faithful to the comic in every regard, and he is, in every aspect save one. The “changed” ending has sparked a firestorm of controversy, and I’ll discuss it with the only spoilers being that of the end of the graphic novel, I won’t tell you what the change actually is. So if you’ve read the book, read on, if not, skip the next two paragraphs.

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It’s completely understandable to me that Snyder read the end of Watchmen and said “What the **** are we going to do about this ****ing squid?” or something along those lines. I’ve read the book about five times now, and I only have a vague understanding of the lab-grown, psychic powered, interdimensional giant squid that kills New York with a psionic shockwave. If he unleashed that beast upon the audience, I think a lot more people would be scratching their heads.

The change in the ending achieves the same results as the giant squid’s appearance, but without all the WTF. The ending is much more logical and cohesive, and certainly isn’t worse than the comic. In fact, it very well could be better, although I do like the thought of two countries stopping a war because they think they’re being invaded by aliens. But the point is, the ending change is necessary, and it’s certainly not a detriment to the film in any way.

Zack Snyder proved critics wrong that Watchmen was “unfilmable.” It’s clear now it is filmable, but the problem is, it’s just not necessary. A living, breathing replication of the original book only serves to educate those who are too stuck up to ever stick their nose in a comic book, but it doesn’t add anything extra. It’s definitely cool to see the characters all rendered on screen in IMAX glory, but it’s not going to drop nearly as many jaws as say, The Dark Knight, which everyone experienced together for the first time, having never seen anything like it before.

Watchmen is indisputably the greatest graphic novel ever, and exact duplication to film leads by default to a fundamentally good movie. We’ve all been clamoring for this film for years, but maybe Alan Moore was right, and I can’t shake the feeling that maybe we all just should have left it alone.

4 out of 5 Stars

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9 responses so far

  • FriarNoir

    This review excited me, since I have never read Watchmen, so I’ll be one experiencing it for the first time.

  • TRadina

    Christ that took me forever to read.

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  • Andy

    Really? I thought it was horrible. I thought the changed ending would be the only thing for me to gripe about, but the movie was just so bad. No character development, no explanation of what is going on. If I had not read the comics I would have no idea what I just watched. People with me had no idea what was going on. How can you include Bubastis and never mention him or explain what the hell he is? People were laughing at him because they had no idea what he was, he is just thrown in for the hell of it. And that is just one example of many. That’s my two cents. Still appreciate your blog though.

  • Twitch

    I agree with your review in almost every way.

    I think the #1 thing that REALLY messed with me was the non-original music. Tyler Bate’s score was simply fantastic, IMO. Subtle, but extremely fitting.

    “Hallelujah” and “All Along the Watchtower” were completely and insanely out of place, and tore me out of their respectable scenes. They took two of the most serious parts of the novel, and made them evoke a totally different emotion.

    Which was something else, they made a lot of the serious moments funny, or ironic, instead of being serious.

    I don’t have the movie, and I’m not saying these things make me dislike it, they just seemed like really odd, out of place decisions. I think Snyder made a fantastic film, and it’s basically the exact movie I wanted, and expected.

    Great review.

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  • Kevin J.

    I have to say that I for one thougth the movie was excellent. The characters were well developed in the time allotted, and I think most of the people who just “don’t get it” are the same types of dolts who love SAW movies because there is the inevitable flashback and explanation of the whole movie in 3 minutes for those too stupid to put the pieces together yourself.

    I can’t imagine the movie any other way, and at least to me it was one of the most respectful adaptations of a “comic” movie ever made.

    But then again… that’s my humble 2 pennies. :)

  • http://www.coffeerama.com coffee

    something that stands out to me about Watchmen is the amazing character development; they do a great job making each person in that movie a whole, unique person

  • bea

    I agree with this review, but I saw the film and then read the comics. I loved the film completely, there is a plot that isn’t too dumbed down, there is certainly character development, I found it perfect as a film.

    I don’t understand how people didn’t get the plot, however the person I watched it with (who also loved it completely) was slightly lost at some points. Word of mouth caused a sharp decrease in ticket sales and I’m at a loss as to why people wouldn’t recommend this film, but I’m glad that I went to see it. I’ll spread the word.

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