Written by J.T. Johnson
Zack Snyder, the director of the 2007 adaptation of Frank Miller’s “300″, takes on the challenge of adapting Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Hugo Award-winning DC graphic novel, “Watchmen”.
The story begins with the death of the Comedian, a costumed hero who appears to be the target of a killer who may or may not be specifically targeting costumed heroes. The film’s story is narrated by one of the masked heroes named Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) and it is revealed that the film is set in an alternate 1985. It is a world where superheroes have been banned, Nixon is still President, and the Soviet Union is about to send the world into a nuclear holocaust.
Of course, the only thing that can save the world from total annihilation is the very heroes that the rest of the population has prohibited from doing their jobs. The only real super powered hero is Dr. Manhattan, a quantum being that exists outside time and space. He wonders whether or not the human race deserves to even exist when he acknowledges that the rest of the universe would not care if the human race suddenly went extinct.
The other superheroes in the film are not really super-powered beings. They are average people who decided a long time ago to put on masks and become vigilantes for various reasons. Those reasons can include anything such as trying to do good for the benefit of others or just to make a profit.
Everything written so far is just a small example of the complex narrative that audiences experience with the film. It is one of those movies that demand the audience to return for a second viewing just to catch the subtle details that might be missed the first time around.
Every scene in the movie looks like it was ripped straight from the pages of Moore and Gibbons’ novel. The sets are beautifully constructed and they effectively make the audience believe that they are in an alternate time line. This includes the costumes, which are some of the best made for a film.
Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson) looks like Clark Kent when not wearing his costume while he resembles Batman in costume. Rorschach looks like he was ripped from a film noir picture with his fedora and trench coat while his mask is one of the most original creations with an ever-changing series of Rorschach pictures.
The special effects are also extremely well done. Whether it is the look of Mars or Dr. Manhattan himself, the special-effects department deserves to take a bow and maybe an Oscar next year.
The fight sequences will impress audiences with their stylized choreography yet brutal intensity. The audiences will also find themselves gasping when they not only hear but also see bones breaking through the skin. The film is not like “Iron Man” or even “The Dark Knight”. It is a very violent film and parents should be cautioned before letting their kids out to see it.
The only thing that can be a little annoying is the use of slow motion throughout the action scenes. Snyder did the same thing with “300” and got away with it. Here, it can often get frustrating. It is not a huge problem for the film, but it is noticeable.
On another positive note, however, the actors do an excellent job at making the audience believe in this universe that Snyder has helped create for them. Billy Crudup has the biggest challenge in the film as Dr. Manhattan. He effectively handles Dr. Manhattan’s indifference to the rest of humanity while maintaining enough compassion when the character is experiencing vague memories of a life that has been dead to him for years.
Another actor that deserves praise is Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach. Haley plays the character as someone who has obviously been scarred by his childhood and his experiences as a masked hero. However, Haley also shows the character’s compassion and unrelenting desire to destroy evil which allows the audience to follow him without being truly disgusted by him or some of the violent things he does.
The only thing about the film that will probably confuse the audience members that have not read the book is the little things that are explained in the novel but appear mysteriously unanswered in the film. One example is Dr. Manhattan putting a bull’s eye on his head. In the novel, he explains this as a hydrogen atom while in the film he just does it with no reason given.
While most fans of the graphic novel will enjoy it, there will inevitably be those “hardcore” fans that will be upset that certain scenes in the novel did not make it to the theatrical release. They need to wait until July before they get mad, however, because Snyder has already announced that with the DVD release, there will be an extended three and a half hour director’s cu. It will also include footage from the upcoming animated “Tales of the Black Freighter”.
Like Peter Jackson with “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Snyder has brilliantly brought to the screen a graphic novel that many skeptics (including “Watchmen” creator Alan Moore) said could never be done right. The movie is a visually entertaining ride while giving a rich and complex story that begs to be viewed again and again.