Watchmen

Year: 2009
Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Jackie Earle Haley, Patrick Wilson, Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Carla Gugino
Written by Chris Murphy

Translating a modern piece of literature into a movie must be a hugely difficult process – especially if the source material is a widely popular one. Changing the story to feel fresh and current, whilst satisfying fans of the original text is a tough tight-rope to walk. Sometimes, the finished movie results in a love letter to the original; enhancing the original narrative and sometimes improving on it. Take ‘Jurassic Park’ for example, a book that was fantastical and extremely scientific (arguably too much so). The ideas in it were expertly original and the book itself wonderfully written. Then the film came along and took the core of the plot, and made a film that I believe improved upon the original material. The ‘Lord Of The Rings’ trilogy, ‘The Wizard of Oz’, ‘Misery’ and ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ are just a few that, for me were beautifully mirrored onto film. The key in my opinion is tone; It has to “feel” in some way related to the piece it was based on. That emotion that binds you to the unfolding narrative still needs to be present, and an adaptation should leave you feeling a similar way emotionally.  Some novels have been deemed impossible to film. ‘The Life of Pi’ was for years in limbo, and almost completely written off as a movie. Luckily Ang Lee dug his heels in and brought a beautiful and faithful interpretation to life. But some of the “unfilmables” have been less successful, and polarised fans of the original product and newcomers alike. 

In late 1986, Alan Moore wrote alongside Dave Gibbons as illustrator and brought us Watchmen, a twelve issue comic book series that was later compiled into one big, beautiful graphic novel. It was a huge critical success, and for almost thirty years, has been regarded as one of the best graphic novels of all time (even appearing on the best sellers lists amongst fiction novels). Watchmen is an outstanding and clever piece of writing. It subverts the superhero genre, trading the benevolent and virtuous super-beings we are used to, for a more contemporary approach. The characters are flawed, and feel very “real” against the back drop of a dystopian 1985 America. The story – a paranoid ode to the Cold War – is superbly clever and has aged extremely well, seemingly more relevant now than back in the new romantic decade of the eighties. Even though it was universally understood that a Watchmen movie could never stand up to its heritage, in 2009 it was eventually brought to the big screen. Hot off the success of another graphic novel to film translation with ‘300’, Zack Snyder was at the reigns as director.

The plot is very intricate, which is at the heart of some of the film’s failings. It centres around the inevitability of an impending nuclear holocaust on earth. The God-like Dr. Manhattan (played in full motion capture by a very blue, wonderfully stoic and blank faced Billy Crudup), is a superhero of almost inconceivable power. He can teleport, see into the future, is telepathic, has super strength, and the list goes on. The issue is, Dr. Manhattan has lost his faith in humanity, and in doing so no longer wants to help protect the conservation of human life. A group of now washed-up and disbanded crime fighters known as The Watchmen – consisting of Patrick Wilson’s Nite Owl, Malin Ackermans Silk Spectre, Jackie Earle Haley’s insanely twisted Rorschach and Mathew Goode’s Ozymandias – are all coming to terms with the brutal murder of old team member The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), and decide to adorn their disguises once again after discovering they are at risk, in an attempt to get to the bottom of these events. There are double crosses, twists and a remarkable number of arcs that make it almost impossible to cover in under twenty thousand words. Therein lies one of the film’s biggest issues – in trying so hard to cram as much in as possible, the end result is admittedly somewhat disjointed and sometimes difficult to follow. Even the film’s bloated running time of two hours forty-seven minutes still struggles to give an even and coherent plot delivery

What this movie does accomplish though, is the tone. It feels very faithful to the original book. The pallet of blacks and sepia are eye-wateringly juxtaposed by Dr. Manhattans intense blue glow. Snyder has never been one to lack style whilst filming, and this is a perfect example. Each shot is framed beautifully and full of energy; the violence in this film is extremely graphic; there is blood, lots of blood and an excess of shots featuring a blue penis; and a (hopefully intentionally) funny sex scene that is played out to Jeff Buckley’s Halleluiah. All this adds up to a very hard (ahem) 18 rating.

A special mention goes to the opening credits montage for this film, which is quite possibly the best I have ever seen. Shot in a typical Snyder trademark of slow-motion, we see the history of the Watchmen unfold whilst Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changing plays itself, as if written for these scenes alone.

The performances throughout are all serviceable, with Jackie Earl Haley’s sadistic and damaged Rorschach and Jeffery Dean Morgan’s Comedian standing out for me. These characters allow for a little bit of sick fun, in what is a very serious film with very little humour.

Despite dividing opinion with critics, ‘Watchmen’ is undoubtedly a stylistically beautiful and clever take on a great source. A little more humour, a little less plot and a shorter running time would have made it a must see for almost anyone, but I still recommend it highly.

Who will watch the Watchmen? Well I urge you to have a go and see what you think.

Chris’ rating: 7.8 out of 10
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