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My Watchmen Review

WATCHMEN (Minor spoilers, if any)

Bottom Line: It was good. Not great, but good.

Second Bottom Line: I don't think I've ever seen a feature film with more full frontal male nudity.

I'm certainly not an unbiased reviewer for this film. I read the original comic-books as they were being published back in 1986, falling in love with the work month by month as the tale unfolded. I puzzled over the mystery of the so-called "mask killer" and poured over the detailed back story for hints as to the killer's identity. This is a story I'm intimately familiar with.

In the twenty plus years since it's also become a bit of a sacred cow for comic-book fans. It's one of those key-stone books that those who are interested in the medium should read. That doesn't make it perfect (I did wince a bit at the marketing that claimed Watchmen was the most acclaimed graphic novel of all time: what about Maus?) but it's certainly a good and important read to understand the growth of the medium. It was one of the first books to honestly ask and answer the question of "how would super-heroes behave in the so-called 'real world?'" Moore and Gibbons (the original creators) hedged their bets a bit by making it an alternate 1985 where Richard Nixon was enjoying his third (fourth?) term as President, but the nuclear paranoia that hangs over the story is instantly recognizable to any child of the 80's. How would characters that dress in fetish outfits to fight crime react to a threat that could literally end the world?

I think the reviews of the group I went with is telling. I saw the film in iMax with eight people, six of which had read the book and two who had not. Coming out of the theater the six who had read the book gave it mostly a thumbs up. The two who had not read the book gave it a big thumbs down. It wasn't at all what they had expected, and they hated the flashbacks the film (and comic) used to flesh out the tale.

I've heard for years that the comic is "unfilmable" and that it would never translate to the screen, but when I saw the first trailer I dared to hope that Snyder and Co. had finally done it. The trailer LOOKED amazing. It LOOKED right. There were shots in there that looked ripped right from Dave Gibbons artwork.

The same could be said of the film. It LOOKS amazing. It LOOKS right. There are even many scenes taken line for line from the comic (as there should be.) Indeed, the most powerful scenes in the film are those that translated Alan Moore's original script word for word. But there are also many scenes which you watch and say to yourself, "man, that worked better on paper." Whether that's just the material, the performances, or the directing it's tough to say, but there were some clunker moments that made my inner fan-boy wince.

For example, there is a sequence set on Mars where an enormous secret about a character's history is revealed. The way this played out in the comic book the revelation is done through a clever repetition of a sequence in the past. The secret is not directly stated, the information comes to the reader through context as the past is replayed over and over. Here in the film version the secret is plainly stated in dialog. No need to spend time with clever repetition or art, let's just get it out there for the audience and move on.

Consider that this is a 12 issue comic book series that has been condensed down to under three hours. There's an enormous, enormous amount of material that's been left on the cutting room floor. Some of it was cut to stream-line the story (Example 1- the squid ending.) Some of it was cut for time (the Black Freighter plotline - Soon to be a DVD you can purchase! Oooo! Not sure how I feel about selling cut material, but there it is.) But they are still CUTS. What made Watchmen such a rich tapestry in the original version was the sheer amount of detail that populated every page, every word, every plotline. What we're left with in this film is a cliff-notes version of the richer tapestry that is the comic book. That could be said of almost any novel that's been adapted to the screen, but Watchmen the movie really is the lesser for it. I cite the confusion of my two friends who saw the movie but had not read the source material. Does the story work stripped of its rich detail? I honestly can't say, because I KNOW those details. I'm not the person to ask.

I should also mention the music choices. Almost every piece of music in here was instantly recognizable, from "Ride of the Valkyries" to Dylan's "The Times They Are A'Changin'" to Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" to Mozart's "Requiem." Heck, I even think I heard Nena's "99 Red Balloons" in there! Some choices work, like playing "Unforgetable" over the opening murder. Some come off WAY over the top, no more so than playing "Requiem" after the villain's scheme is fully revealed. I rolled my eyes. I've read the term "obvious" for Snyder's music choices, and that's a good term for it. For a "visionary" directory Snyder went with song choices almost anyone could have made.

So should you see it? That really depends. Do you like whiz-bang effects? Plenty of eye candy here. Have you read Watchmen? Enough of the story survives to make the almost three hour running time worth while. Is this a good introduction to an important story for the comic book medium? I'd say no, but as I've made clear above, I'm biased. If you're never going to read the comic book for whatever reason then I suppose it's an acceptable substitute, but really it should be considered a supplement to the original.



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