Rated: R for strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity and language.
Release Date: 2009-03-06
Starring: David Hayter, Alex Tse
Official Website: http://watchmenmovie.warnerbros.com/
Film goers, be warned. Watchmen is no ordinary superhero movie, but it’s also not an extraordinary one.
This latest comic book adaptation is one complex, multi-layered murder mystery, set in an alternate 1985 America in which costumed superheroes are part of the fabric of everyday society. It is the world Alan Moore created for his legendary comic book series, which, when published, challenged both the genre and medium.
For those who haven’t read the books, Watchmen chronicles a group of vigilantes which disbanded years earlier when masked superheroes were banned by the US government. The story begins when one of its members, “The Comedian” (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is murdered, setting “Rorschach” (one of his former partners) on a mission to find out who done it.
Those that have read the books, will know that in reality the story is about much more than that. It is part political satire, part Shakespearian tragedy and oh yes, part “Detective Comics”. It’s mature content is without a doubt bound to surprise many. The ones who argue that comic books can’t be or aren’t “deep”, simply haven’t read this one. And that’s precisely the challenge the filmmakers met when adapting it to the big screen.
The books are so carefully crafted that everything in them, needs to be there. If even one of the elements goes missing the story just doesn’t work. There’s no question that director Zack Snyder attempted to make a faithful adaptation, but when you try to fit all 12 issues into a regular movie’s running time (this one runs 15 minutes shy of three hours), some of the desperately needed elements in the story are bound to be lost in translation. In the end however, some different directing choices could have tied things together more coherently.
One such thing I think could have been re-imagined is an opening montage that condenses the origins of the Watchmen lore to the duration of a 1960s folk song, leaving you will little time to figure out what’s happened. At times things feel a bit convoluted but unlike reading a comic, in a movie you can’t go back and re-read a page to further understand what happens later in the story. Fortunately the appeal of some of the characters are undeniable. Jack Earle Haley wonderfully plays “Rorschach” the borderline psychopath who wears a mask with shape shifting inkblots, and gives the film its edge and ferocity.
It is not the first time that one of Alan Moore’s graphic novels is adapted to the big screen. V for Vendetta and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen were the other two films that fell short on their promise.
While the film disappoints on some levels, my hope is that viewers will be drawn to read to the comic book series that set a precedence for future books of its kind.