Saturday, 7 March 2009

Who Watches The Watchmen?

I don't normally post reviews in this blog, but due to the length of this review I really felt this one needed to be posted here and not on my facebook page like my previous ones. So here is my review of Watchmen.
And just so we are clear...
HERE BE SPOILERS.

There are no words to describe how loved Watchmen is as a graphic novel. It truly is one of the most celebrated graphic novels of all time, and for anyone who hasn't already read the book, I truly recommend you do.
In many ways, the book is unfilmable. It's detailed and complex back stories, adult themes, political and social commentaries, episodic nature, philosophical ideals, subtle action and sheer length make this book the polar opposite of pretty much everything Hollywood has become.
Now with that said, I think it's understandable that many people and fans were concerned at the idea of this movie.

I am the kind of person who likes to go into a movie with no expectations to avoid disappointment but I'm such a fan of the original work that I found it very difficult to contain my excitement for this movie, combine that with a stunning trailer and a promising director and I couldn't help but have high expectations. And in the back of my mind I knew that ultimately, those expectations were going to tarnish my impression of the movie.

So imagine my surprise when it not only matched my expectations, but exceeded them.

Zack Snyders love, admiration and respect for the source material is obvious from the first frame, and that is exactly the kind of director a project like this needs. His stunning visuals and determination to keep this as faithful as possible are what make this movie so incredible to me.
Obviously, this could never be a shot by shot remake of the book, but it surprisingly isn't far off.

It manages to maintain all the key plot points and back stories, and it even manages to keep the nihilistic, political and social ideals that lie in the books core present. As well as making the bold move of maintaining the books adult themes, leaving the scenes of attempted rape and highly graphic violence in. This will no doubt surprise fans of recent and more family friendly comic book adaptations, but pleased me greatly.

The story itself is mostly coherent.
The first act is almost perfect, introducing us to the players and starting to dive into the back story without missing any key information. The only character I feel is a little under developed in this act is Adrian Veidt. Who didn't get alot of screentime.
The second act is where the problems, if any, lie.
Some of the characters motives are unclear and the development of the overall story starts to become a little convoluted. It's this act where someone who has read the book would be able to fill the gaps in, but Joe Average who isn't familiar with the source material would struggle.
Rorschach's backstory is given enough screentime to be developed clearly, but somehow this script fails to do that. It skips out key information and doesn't cover the story of how Rorschach acquired his mask. The same can be said for the conspiracy plot. It isn't made clear that the Comedians death, Rorschach's imprisonment and Dr. Manhattan's exile to Mars are connected and that events are being manipulated by an exterior foe. And once Nite Owl and Silk Specter free Rorschach from prison, the investigation that leads to the reveal of Adrian Veidt seems underwhelming because the character was underdeveloped and because the audience were not really clear on exactly what it is he is supposed to have done. The third act is alot more coherent and didn't confuse many audience members until Dr. Manhattan killed Rorschach as the motives for this killing were not made clear.
But, these issues are nothing more than a minor blemish on the achievement that this film is.

Now, on to one of the largest points of controversy, the changes made to the ending.
As excited as I was for this movie, the idea of major changes to the ending was worrying. But watching it I discovered that the major changes weren't so major after all. The only real difference is that instead of tricking the world into uniting to face the common threat of alien menace, the world is tricked into uniting against the common threat of Dr. Manhattan himself.
Now, I'm going to receive alot of hate mail for this, but this ending is an improvement on the original.
The idea that Adrian Veidt unites the world against Dr. Manhattan just makes so much more sense to me. And as much as I missed the visual of a giant squid decimating New York and the dialogue that goes with it, this made more sense and kept the plot focused on the characters. The people I as an audience member was invested in.

Speaking of the characters, the cast were phenomenal.
Every single actor was perfect for the role they were given, in looks as well as performance. I literally cannot emphasise enough what an incredible job these guys did bringing these characters to life.

Most of the omissions didn't bother me, as much as I loved the full story behind Rorschach's psychiatrist as it appeared in the book. It isn't relevant to the overall plot and was comfortably omitted to make room for central plot development. Removing things like this also kept the movie focused, which is a good thing because I think audiences would reject a movie that goes on as many tangents as the book did.
The only omission I was truly sad to see made, was the death of the original Nite Owl. In the book this was a truly important moment that fully demonstrated the chaotic place the world had become and this highlighted how necessary Adrian's plan was. The fact that is was removed also made the set up scenes, which were left in, seem clunky and out of place.

One thing that impressed me is that despite the fact they couldn't fit all of the plot's and characters in, every single one was at least referenced at one point of another in this movie. Everything from the snowglobe to the original Nite Owls book showed up briefly in one way or another during the film.
Many of these references were hidden, subtle or appeared in the beautifully shot title sequence. I have alot of respect for Zack Snyder for doing that.

One little gripe, the group were on two occasions named "The Watchmen" in dialogue. Which may seem like a confusing complaint to people unfamiliar with the source material, but they were never referred to that way in the book. The title derives from the graffiti that reads "Who watches the watchmen."

The real brilliance of this movie is how little it cares for Hollywood conventions. Much like the book from which is has derived it does not bend to tradition. No large action set pieces were shoehorned into the movie to pull in wider audiences, none of the characters were flawless perfect superhero types and the ending remained far from happy.

Overall, I cannot sing Zack Snyders praises enough.
I was thrilled with how the film turned out and cannot wait for the directors cut, which will contain 40 more minutes of film.

If you're a fan of the books, you MUST see this movie.
If you're not, should definitely consider it.

Thanks for reading.
-- Dan

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