Year Released: 2009
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Starring: Billy Crudup, Malin Akerman, Jackie Earle Haley,
Production Company: Waner Bros.
Release Date: March 6, 2009

There’s a large group comic geeks and assorted nerds the world over. Many of those geeks have been enjoying Hollywood’s recent turn to comics for quick cash profit. And of those many geeks, they’ve been given such ham-fisted attempts such as Batman and Robin, and an even lower extend, the Fantastic Four Franchise. I am one of the many comic book geeks out there, watching, and pondering, waiting for that one glimmering moment where the entire world believes it’s cool to be a geek all over again. Well, imagine my surprise when I heard about Watchmen, Alan Moore’s to the point, spawning graphic novel that covered politics, greed, and immortality to name a few topics. It’s a richly detailed, mystifying ride that will teach you something new each time you read it, and it’s a wholesome adventure with an inconclusive ending that leaves you with the ending devices. And that’s just the book. The comic was meant to only live within the paneled realm which Dave Gibbons created; certain story telling elements could only be portrayed in a comic book format, and untranslatable to any other format. But, damned if you can keep a filmmaker down, someone really wanted to reach a wider audience other than kids who spent too much time at the comic shop.

For all the cogs, there is only one spoon.

From Stage right strides in Zack Snyder, a respectable director hailed for his faithful representation of comicdom’s Frank Miller’s 300. He was able to capture the grandeur and glory of a chest thumping battle-hardened king Leonidas. Could Snyder capture the ethos, pathos and multiple underlying story elements that made Watchmen a timeless masterpiece? Well, he comes pretty close.

Watchmen takes place in an alternate 1985 where costumed folk fight crime, pursue justice, and have deep psychological problems. President Nixon is running for a third term, and the doomsday clock (a huge symbol in the comic book) is set 5 minutes to zero hour. Cold war tensions have reached a tedious high with the Soviets invading Afghanistan, yet are reluctant to strike with America in possession of the living superman Dr.Manhattan. The chain of events starts with the murder of one Edward Blake; costumed vigilante Rorschach investigates only to find Blake is actually the superhero ‘The Comedian’. Rorschach believes he has discovered a plot to eliminate costumed adventurers and sets about warning his retired comrades: Dan Dreiberg/NiteOwl II, Dr. Manhattan and Laurie Jupiter (Juspeczyk as told in the comic). Dreiberg informs Adrian Veidt, the world’s smartest man and former costumed avenger Ozymandias with little success. This all of course the set up so far, and I don’t want to spoil it for those who have never read the book, so I’ll stop here, but I can at least elaborate on what I did, and didn’t like.

Didn’t I see you in ’27 Dresses’?

Zack Snyder was handed the role due to his success with merging special effects with live action, he does a fine job here; he seamlessly matches up a pre mega-scraper New York complete with Gunga Diner elephant float, conveys mood, theme and attitude all incredibly well. Dr. Manhattan’s ethereal blue glow is handled in practical way as I found out on his blog, it matches the character and it the blue is never a distraction, only a tool that never distracts from the bigger picture. The flashbacks are handled quite well, as he choose to cast the actors younger and let the rubber latex add the years on in the 1985 timeline. The sets are wonderfully dreary without letting on they were lifted quite literally from Dave Gibbon’s artwork, and he does a fantastic job of translating literal famous comic poses onto the silver screen (See Rorschach’s jump onto Comedian’s balcony, or Dreiberg in quiet contemplation after hearing the line ‘you quit’). There’s never a moment on screen that isn’t drenched in history or burgeoning with in-references and nods. Each place you look on screen there’s a visual queue, a tip of the hat to the comic fans, and for non comic fans there’s always something worth coming back to. The mythology painted from the visuals is a rich tapestry from which you can find something new in repeated viewings. The lighting lends a heavier context with certain characters and there’s a certain flux in the flow of any scene. I was thoroughly engulfed in this world; a mix of real sets and computer generated backgrounds gave it more depth and I praised Snyder’s attention to detail.

Thankfully the blue smurf penis was petitioned out of this publicity snapshot

The characters themselves are visually stunning (Malin Akerman Anyone? Damn!), but just as Dr.Manhattan is detached from humanity, I too felt the actors were a little too disconnected. Patrick Wilson as Dan Dreiberg didn’t feel as intimated or as non-threatening in plain clothes; his physical demeanor and mere presence at times were staged as him being powerless, yet he always felt much more in command. Malin Akerman is as always a knockout, but she felt like she was going through the motions of her character, but I just wasn’t feeling it. Dr.Manhattan’s numbness to the world wasn’t really felt through Billy Crudup’s voice, but he does come close a few times. Matthew Goode as Adrian Veidt, the world’s smartest man certainly feels like he’s conveying the same detachment, although if his words carried the same impact as his punches he would have been fully realized. All this, and the one character that came shining through was the stark black and white characterization provided by Jackie Earle Hale in Rorschach. The raspy voice over’s, absoluteness of his morals and drive for the truth couldn’t have been played better.
Too bad there’s no such thing as a sequel in this universe, I know who Hollywood would happily create a spin-off for his character.

Damn you Bruce Wayne, damn you.

The logic behind someone putting on mask and doing dumb things at 3:00am isn’t explained easily; it takes someone that’s little bit off kilter and willing to bend rules to do something like that. The overall feel of the book is captured nicely through the music, tone, dialogue and pacing. There’s never a moment you feel left in the dark with anyone’s motives and I can’t say enough about the eye candy throughout the production. As a comic geek, I was thrilled to see this adaptation come to fruitition. Everything is a little bit larger than life, and the production crew really outdid themselves in this Alan Moore tale of politics and superheroes. There were many layers omitted for obvious timing reasons, but that’s the fate of a book to movie adaptation; there’s always going to be a few sacrificed plot devices to fit the entirety of a film.

If you want a film that’s beautiful to look at, has lots of history and a loyal fan base, check out Watchmen. You won’t be disappointed.

8.5 out of 10