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Monday, July 27, 2009

Movie Watch: Watchmen

Alan Moore is a guy who has had a pretty rough road with movie adaptations, quite probably culminating in the completely dreadful League of Extraordinary Gentlemen but the basic trend of Hollywood running slipshod over his material.

So it is a bit of a shame, I think, that he decided in the end to "spit venom", as I believe he put it, on Zack Snyder's adaptation of the much revered graphic novel Watchmen which has, if anything, been critiqued for being too loyal to the source material.

The end result is anything but a standard comic book movie, but that's precisely what fans of Moore and Gibbon's work would have wanted. The story is a subversive and not exactly slightly deconstructive look on the genre in general, a story of "masks" running headlong into culture and history and the gritty outcome of the conflict for the characters and the world in general.

Snyder has put the somewhat sprawling novel onto the screen with a high attention to detail. The decision to avoid big name actors works extremely well and every performance in the movie is top notch, with Rorschach being particularly outstanding. The plot survives fairly intact, the major points remaining the same and no embarrassing changes to the ending or softening of some of the more controversial portions of the subplots. Moviegoers are seeing the novel here, there's little doubt of that.

So I find myself having trouble saying anything bad about the film. It's a beautiful adaptation of a great work in comics, highly recommended.

Even if you're Alan Moore.

5 comments:

jvm said...

I rented this on Blu-Ray recently, and I thought it was pretty good. I have absolutely no background in the source material or its creators.

I enjoyed the themes you highlighted and was particularly struck by Rorschach's ... nihilism? Not sure how you're a nihilist and still a superhero, but I'm not sure what else to call it.

I once watched "Spirited Away" (there's a jump, eh) and was pretty disappointed that it wasn't immediately wonderful. Despite never seeing it again, the images and story are still with me, and I think of it more frequently than I think of some of my favorite movies.

Like "Spirited Away", I've found myself returning to "Watchmen" to rethink and revisit the images and characters there. That made "Watchmen" special for me.

Brinstar said...

I disagree. I thought they empasized the wrong things in film, playing up the violence and downplaying all the subtlety and depth that was expressed in the comics. I thought the adaptation was poor, and disliked the changes to the ending.

I am a huge fan of the comic book, have been for many years, but I didn't really like the film. Well, the music was good, and some of the costumes were okay.

Josh said...

My only real problem with the violence is that it ups the ante on the "super" side of the vigilantes, whereas the original comic emphasized more their role as real humans in costumes, which also reinforces the notion that Manhattan eclipses that and represents a "new" kind of hero, as in one with real powers.

At the same time, though, the Oldboy style hallway fight was pretty good - if you're going to steal a scene, it's a good one to steal from.

I'm good with the ending changes in that they feel consistent with the cold war aspects, the masks versus people, and a lot of the underlying conflict the movie plays up. My real regret with it is that Ozy broadcasts his villian side way too early and too much, making him a more generic supervillian than the story probably needed or deserved.

Considering the original attempt to adapt it had an ending involving "an assassination and a time paradox", I feel almost lucky.

Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see a four hour epic that includes more of the backstory, the build up to the Watchmen with the Minute Men, etc. The DVD set has Black Freighter and Under the Hood, though I think the inter-connectivity of the former gets lost on its own. Gilliam wanted a five hour mini-series, which possibly would have been a better format.

GregT said...

Where did you get "no embarassing changes to the ending" from? It's the ending revamp and the awkward "Hallelujah" scene that to me cost the movie an A+ and left it sitting on B-.

As filmed, it doesn't make sense. Peace comes so the world can unite against Doctor Manhattan? He's an American hero with an American name; why wouldn't the soviets lay the blame at American feet? Plus it's more than a shame that the "nothing ends, Adrian" line got moved from Manhattan to Night-Owl; it loses a lot by not having that transhuman perspective behind it and drops from prophecy to commentary.

Snyder's got a pretty keen grasp of visuals but a pretty poor grasp of drama. We got a better movie than we deserved but a worse movie that we needed.

Josh said...

I'd disagree. Manhattan's AWOL at the end of the movie and the strikes occur all over the globe, at the same time. On the contrary, a big giant squid at the end of the shorter narrative of the movie would have seemed disconnected and if New York had been the only city attacked, as it is in the book, the audience would have wondered why America wasn't dropping bombs on Russia.

For a viewer who didn't read the book, a sudden faked alien invasion on New York which solves all the world's problems would have been a pretty hard sell.

I say again, "assassination and time travel". Let's count our blessings. Snyder decided to keep Hayter's ending, in part so that the there would be more time for character's backstories. I'm pretty good with that.

Again, if this was a five hour miniseries, I'd be willing to take most any change from the novel to task - but given the format, I think there was a lot accomplished. Parts I disliked, sure, but nothing that drove me crazy and in general left me pretty happy.