Monday, January 11, 2010

Review - Watchmen (2009)

Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Carla Gugino Jackie Earle Hayley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson
Screenplay: David Hayter & Alex Tse

In the geek/nerd community it’s not that hard to find someone who had a defining life experience from reading Watchmen, a graphic novel written by Alan Moore. Yes that does sound a little extreme but this is why the movie adaptation has been anticipated by the graphic novel fans. The road to making the movie has seen the rights swap film companies and chew through a list of directors, a list that includes Terry Gilliam. This adaptation has been seen by some, as every bit problematic as Don Quixote, a movie that also broke Gilliam. Finally a young director that had turned some heads with his zombie remake Dawn of the Dead and his adaptation of Frank Millers comic 300, stepped into the arena. Many mocked and criticised the choice of Zack Snyder but he accomplished what many saw as the impossible and got the film made. Of course that’s just one step the other is making a movie that isn’t a failure.

By all accounts this movie does not fail, even though it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. It has a deep central story layered in symbolism that isn’t force fed, it looks absolutely gorgeous and does capture the atmosphere of the graphic novel, it has performances that are incredible and for some have proven to be great moves as they have garnered attention and finally film is faithful to the graphic novel while deviating where necessary. But; and you all knew there would be a but; the movie is far from perfect.

Acting wise the three stand outs in my mind have to be Jackie Earle Hayley as Rorschach, Billy Crudup as Dr Manhattan and Jeffery Dean Morgan as The Comedian. As Rorschach, Hayley is phenomenal, he embodies this broken man who once would have been considered a hero, but has become as big a monster as the criminals he fights against. Some may cheer Rorschach at the beginning but that all changes by the end. When I saw it at the cinemas it was fascinating to see people laughing and cheering for Rorschach only for those laughs to become uncomfortable and finally gasps. On the other end of the spectrum we have Jeffery Dean Morgan’s performance as the Comedian where he starts of in the eyes of the audience he is a bastard yet in the end he proves to be the sanest and most moral of the lot of so called heroes. I don’t think people have given Morgan’s performance the dues it deserves. He has only small scenes to work with yet he gives us a three dimensional character that like Hayley makes us cringe and feel sympathy for. Finally Billy Crudup has the hardest job out of the lot as he has to be completely alien in thought. He pulls it off splendidly, meaning unfortunately that most audiences will hate the character and probably not get him. His big scenes on mars are very impressive. Out of the other actors I would say both Carla Gugino and Malin Akerman are the weakest. Honestly I’m not sure if the blame can solely lay with them, maybe the script let them down, and they just don’t seem that connected with their characters. I will say that they aren’t horrible, they don’t ruin the movie, and in fact the do a good enough job, just when compared to the three gentlemen above they don’t come off well.

Effects wise this movie is top notch. The complete CGI character of Dr Manhattan is impressive as we can see the small facial movements and character eek out of this creation. Watchmen may not have invented the whole fully rendered CGI character for their movie but they use the existing technology very well. Setting wise every scene seems to be out of the pages of the book. It’s obvious that Zack Snyder has an eye for shots that will stick in a person memory. Seeing a gigantic Dr Manhattan walking tall through Vietnam, choppers flying behind him, sun slowly setting as he blasts the enemy to bits and pieces of gore is something I will always remember. Snyder should also be congratulated as he kept the story in 1985 time period and the sets, adverts and all the little touches help us believe in that era. Someone took a lot of time to make everything look right except for some of the make up. What is weird is that there has been an effort made yet someone really screwed up with the ageing effect. Carla Gugino character looks horrible as an older woman and it’s not how it’s supposed to be, as it just looks fake. While it may seem minor it stands out when everything else looks good.

Probably the movies weakest link is the story. Now I can hear a million people scream out in anger at once, but I have to look at this movie with out the fan boy in me wanting to just gush. This movie is very dark; people who are going into it thinking it will be a fun superhero romp are going to be very disappointed. For one it’s not action packed, yes it does have action but it slows down to let the audience get to know the characters and hit us with some deep questions. Needless to say this movie isn’t for everyone. Snyder has also changed the ending of the film as not to completely alienate those who haven’t read the comic. While I think this is necessary it’s going to piss off some fans. So unfortunately Snyder is in that lose lose position thanks to his source material. Also because the movie is so layered sometimes it’s pacing is horrible, honestly I can see why some people who have seen it, have said they are bored. The story that Alan Moore wrote works better as a graphic novel, there is no doubt about that, but this is probably the best adaptation anyone could have done.

This was my favourite movie of 2009 and yet I really do hesitate to recommend this for the casual movie goer. Anyone who does love film should see this movie, its director has one of the best visual eyes currently going, you get some impressive performances and if you are after a deep story then this has one. I think in time this movie will be recognised as a classic just probably not on everyone’s list.

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