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WATCHMEN

8 March 2009 by Baldy 2 Comments

2009, dir. Zack Snyder
163 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Billy Crudup, Jackie Earle Haley, Matthew Goode, Malin Akerman

Well, the book(s) came out in 1986 and 1987. The movie has been in on-again, off-again production status for twenty one years. It’s been a long time coming. I remember wearing a Comedian smiley face pin back in junior high, people spraying “Who Watches The Watchmen?” graffiti in MARTA stations – kind of my generation’s version of “Frodo Lives!” How do you take the most acclaimed graphic novel of all time and make a movie of it?

You crank through lots of directors, propositions for who should play Veidt, decisions about what to keep and what to scrap, decide how true you want to be to the story, go back and forth with author Alan Moore who keeps telling you that you suck. . .

and then you get to the IMAX theatre in 2009 for the movie we’ve been looking forward to for more than two decades. No pressure, guys.

MAJOR DISAPPOINTMENT: No previews. Half of the fun of going to see a huge movie on a huge screen is getting to see previews of other upcoming huge movies. I guess the nice folks at Regal figured two hours and forty minutes was long enough. Too bad.

Let’s get this part out of the way. It’s a very watchable movie. It’s enjoyable and was put together better than I had thought they would do. If you’re a fan of the books, you’ve probably already thought about what a pain it would be to try to make a cohesive movie out of this thing. Snyder did an admirable job of trying to hold the thing together and make it a story that can be followed and enjoyed by even those who had no idea there was ever a Watchmen comic.

Here’s the quick version: It’s 1985 and Vietnam is the 51st state. Costumed crimefighters have (mostly) retired from their calling. Physicist Jon Osterman has become Doctor Manhattan, a god-like being of pure energy. He has made the reality of war – though not the constant threat of war from the USSR – a thing of the past. Then, one of the only active crimefighters is killed and the others come out from retirement to find out if or why they are being hunted.

One good thing about the movie taking this long to make is that someone actually made sure that the people making the film have READ and APPRECIATE the books. That is why this movie will always have a huge advantage over pieces of crap like, say, Daredevil. The look of the movie was pulled right from the pages of the comic. It was on par with Constantine in the degree to which the film looks like a single panel from the comic. The depressed, end-is-near, America went down a different path and elected Nixon for a third term feel is prevalent and at just the right level.

The casting was mostly excellent. Hollywood stars have been struggling to be chosen for this movie for decades. The fact that so many able actors were passed over for roles speaks well of the people that WERE cast. The best choices in casting were for the roles of Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl, Walter Kovacs/Rorschach, Eddie Blake/Comedian and Edgar Jacobi/Moloch the Mystic. Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl was excellent. I thought he looked familiar, but his is not a face that one automatically places in a certain type of role. Even if you had cast a Nathan Fillion as Nite Owl (which was considered), people would have preconceptions about him in the role. Not so with Wilson. He does a fantastic job of playing the man who misses his glory days, the geek with a crush, the man who only feels like a man when he is doing what he thinks being a man is. Jackie Earle Haley was a perfect choice for Rorschach. From the first time he mumbles “hurm” to the look on his faces to his scream of “give me back my faaace!” this guy hit the role dead on. He’s the most seasoned actor in the cast, and his performance reflects that. I won’t be surprised if his performance will make this role the one that launches his career to much greater heights. Casting Jeffrey Morgan as Eddie Blake/Comedian was impressive. There’s nothing in particular to which I can point. He just did a phenomenal job in the role and was very believable. Matt Frewer as Moloch? Great choice. He looked it, he did a great job with the little amount of screen time that he had.

Malin Akerman did fine as Silk Spectre II, but did not distinguish herself. There are dozens of other actresses who could have pulled this off with equal distinction. Billy Crudup as Doc Manhattan was good. . . but didn’t blow me away. The one truly good thing that he brought to the role was a voice that is eerily higher-pitched than one would presume for a god-like being. It just made the whole thing a little creepier. Matthew Goode as Adrian Veidt was good. He was too young, I think, but mainly I think he did pretty well.

The only truly BAD casting decision was putting Carla Gugino as Silk Spectre. She’s 37 and is playing a woman in her 60s for most of the movie. Even though they did a halfway decent job with her makeup, nothing was done to age her VOICE. Very incongruous, and it distracted from the movie.

DEVIATIONS THAT MIGHT BOTHER YOU-
Tales of the Black Freighter doesn’t show up at all. The interaction between that comic-within-a-comic was part of what gave the haunting and surreal feeling to the book. I hate that it was left out of the movie completely.
Artists, psychics and killer squids? Gone. The movie was already going to be long, and it was decided to not make this too much for people to follow. That’s unfortunate, but in this case, I think they did a decent job of making a HUGE plot change without killing the feel of the movie. Kudos to them for making the change and not making it feel like a complete sellout.
Lastly, there is no interaction at the newsstand. If you’ve read the books, you know how the banter at the newsstand was a way of keeping a finger on the pulse of what people on the street were thinking. It kept the books from being entirely of and with the gods, and showed how the actions of our heroes effected the lives of everyone who is just trying to get by.

Good job with the music, mostly. In some cases, it was brilliantly inserted quietly in such a way that it added to the film. Hearing “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” for Adrian Veidt, “The Sound Of Silence” at Eddie’s funeral, “99 Luftballoons” as the nation is facing off against the Soviet Union (just call it Russia for the younger folks who know never knew anything else). In several other instances, it just felt contrived and gimmicky.

One quick caveat: Though the killer squid and streets filled with ankle-deep blood and body parts is gone, THIS IS NOT A MOVIE FOR KIDS. The books were for grownups, and so is the movie. There is violence, gore, language, nudity, some fairly explicit sex. I know the trailers look really cool and all the kids are trying to go see it, but my fourteen year old is going to have to wait until the edited-for-TV version.

All in all, this was a very enjoyable movie. It stayed very true to the books, and did the best job of covering when it could not stay true. The performances were mostly excellent, the picture was beautiful to see, and it’s always good to see a comic-to-movie project done with people who have read and enjoyed the comic. I know Alan Moore’s unhappy, but I don’t know him personally and don’t care all that much. I liked it.

2 Comments »

  • Ozzie said:

    So, you had a Comedian smiley face pin in junior high, but you don’t think your fourteen-year-old is mature enough to see this movie? You assume they’re somehow less emotionally stable or desensitized than you were when you were their age? Or are you just a giant hypocrite?

  • Baldy (author) said:

    Okay, Ozzie. I will address your intelligent and well-thought-out reply.

    One: Something read impacts a child differently than something watched. Telling a child a ghost story has a different impact than dressing up as the Headless Horseman and chasing him around. Telling the story of the crucifixion in Sunday School to some eight year olds is different than making them watch The Passion of the Christ.

    Two: My son had massive cranial trauma and is developing at half the rate of other kids. So yes, he is less emotionally stable. Eat me.

    Third: Of course I’m a bit of a hypocrite! If you ever become a parent, I hope that you will be, too. I snuck beers when I was a teen. Does that mean that it’s okay for me, an adult, to allow my kid to drink? Of course not. I chased tail when I was a teenager. Does that mean I forfeit my right to be upset if I find my daughter giving it up for any horny little bastard out there who tells her she’s cute? Hell, no.

    It all just relates to your point of view on a matter.

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