This past weekend found me at the theater for my first official 2009 movie, The Watchmen. The movie is taken from a highly-celebrated and successful graphic novel of the same name. The movie also was the focus of legal wrangling that threatened to derail the entire project.
If you don’t know the story (and most don’t) it’s a bit similar to Batman in nature. You have a group of regular people who decide it’s time to take on crime by dressing up and fighting back. It’s a dark story filled with despair, sadness, loss and just about everything else challenging in the psychological spectrum. This is not a feel-good story.
The movie version does the typical job of trying desperately to stay true to the original story and, as a result, it clocks in at nearly three hours long. It also feels like it at a few points. It’s a story that you’ll need to pay close attention to as key elements fly by at every turn.
The first thing that strikes you about the film is the look of it. It’s visually stunning. It’s also quite apparent that much effort was made to create looks and find actors that match the book as closely as possible. Several scenes looked like they were filmed with the goal of matching every minute detail of the drawing of a single cell in the book.
The movie starts out strong and, for us, kept our interest throughout. I can see where many might find trouble after the start. You either accept this kind of storytelling or you don’t. The characters tend to be complex and the main ones are no exception. This leads to scenes that feel over-done in trying to make sure we get all we’re supposed to get. Some scenes are played and replayed to make the point.
A decision was made to use mainly lesser-known actors in the roles (the notable exception is Billy Crudup playing a fully CGI-rendered character, Dr. Manhattan). It shows in spots. The brightest positive is Jackie Earle Haley who plays the critical role of Rorschach. If anyone can be said to steal this movie it’s Haley. The screen comes to life every time he’s on it. Three other choices heavily let the movie down. The actors that play Night Owl II and Ozymandias are out of their league for much of the film and the woman playing Silk Spectre II is a complete disaster. She appears to have been hired simply because she’s attractive and willing to take part in a near-pornographic sex scene that had no need to be so graphic.
There’s also need to mention Dr. Manhattan. This is a CGI character because he’s the one exception to characters not having super-human attributes. Due to a mishap he was re-created as a being with incredible powers but of so high a level that he struggles to remain connected to humanity at all. The reason he bears mentioning is that he spends most of the movie onscreen naked and blue. That includes full frontal nudity in nearly every scene he’s in. There’s nothing wrong with it but it does distract.
Many reviewers have said that only fans of the book could possibly like this movie. I tried to read it and gave up at the mid-point. My friend had never been exposed to it and we both really liked the movie. It’s complex, overly long and poorly acted in parts but when it works it works on all levels. You’re taken with it. It looks great. It sounds great and it compels you to keep watching.
My curious question is, would this story have been better off if the agreement to allow it to be released wasn’t given and this version scrapped for another effort? We will likely never know.