By Jordan Raup
I’ll admit it. I’ve never heard of Watchmen until Zack Snyder was attached to direct during the summer of 2006. Since I hadn’t read the graphic novel the hype started when I saw the trailer before The Dark Knight. I knew it was something special and after reading the graphic novel during the past couple months my hype increased tenfold. After the lawsuit fiasco got resolved it finally sunk in, I would actually be seeing this very soon. Only watching the trailers and select TV spots, the day finally arrived. From the first frame of Watchmen, as lush yellow completely engulfs the screen while the company logos pop in, eventually fading into that iconic pin, we just hope Snyder doesn’t screw this up. Don’t worry, he doesn’t.
One may be hesitant about the slow motion Snyder is known for, as it is used pretty heavily in the opening scene. He eventually gets it out of his system as it tampers down the rest of the film and becomes quite seamless and effective. The brutality of the film is apparent from the beginning with the Comedian’s death. We feel every punch and it hurts. As the Comedian is thrown out of the window, the camera follows his fall to the pavement, focusing on his pin. As he hits the ground and the blood flows down the sidewalk we hear Dylan sing “The Times They Are a-Changin” and we are met with one of the best introductions seen in a long time. The Minutemen of the 1940′s are introduced in a series of pseudo “still shots” that change as the camera slowly moves around. It captures the essence of this doomed alternate world pitch perfectly.
After the introduction the story continues with Rorschach, played brilliantly by Jackie Earle Haley (Little Children). As he reads his journal he walks the audience through the story, which can be quite confusing for someone who has no previous knowledge of Watchmen. His performance is downright chilling as he becomes a dark hero. In my screening people were cheering for him during some painfully vicious victories towards the end of the film. His performance isn’t the only one to applaud. Jeffrey Dean Morgan (P.S. I Love You) who portrays the Comedian, mostly in flashbacks, is downright sadistic as a murdering psychopath with a certain charm. Billy Crudup (Dedication) also delivers an enchanting performance as the powerful Dr. Manhattan. He effortlessly echoes his vast knowledge, along with the lack of human compassion, in one of the best performances of the film. Malin Akerman (27 Dresses) as Laurie Jupiter aka the Silk Spectre II doesn’t quite deliver in a somewhat cold and calculated performance. It also takes a little while to warm up to Patrick Wilson (Lakeview Terrace) as Dan Dreiberg aka Nite Owl II, but once you spend sometime with the character, he is ultimately laudable. The rest of the cast deliver fine performances, nothing particularly special.
It’s no surprise that my favorite sections of the graphic novel are the same with the film. The movie takes a little while to get going but once we are met with Rorschach’s and Dr. Manhattan’s back story it is kicked into full gear and doesn’t let down until the end. The most beautiful part of the film is how perfectly Snyder was able to capture the graphic novel. Scene after scene I had flashbacks of my fingers turning the pages and in turn, seeing exactly what I wanted on screen. Unfortunately this is also one of the few downfalls of the film. Snyder traps these characters like Dave Gibbons trapped them into the frames of the graphic novel. Each scene moves with such rapid pace that it’s hard to get a full grasp of what is exactly happening. Each conversation is only on screen long enough as absolutely necessary before jumping to the next sequence. Knowing the story beforehand definitely had a hand in my enjoyment of the film. Since I knew was going to occur I could keep up with the pace. For a 2 hour and 42 minute film it surprisingly flies by with ease, giving the audience the big picture, as well as intricate details. With that said, I’m still very eager to see the 3 and half hour director’s cut. I was also slightly confused at some of Snyder’s musical choices. Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” plays during Nite Owl and Silk Spectre’s intimate scene, making a complete joke of it. Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” lives in the background during the Comedian’s funeral. While I love these songs, none of them seem to quite seamlessly intertwine with the film.
The film is disturbingly violent as well. Bones break, pregnant women get shot, rape is attempted, exploded guts hang from a ceiling, a butcher knife repeatedly hacks someone’s head, dogs get murdered, and limbs get sawed off. While it may be a bit much it fits with the film. The violence handed out by Rorschach is the most gratifying and deserved. The prison and the child murderer sequence deliver like no other. Some of the other incidences will have you wondering if it was necessary. Matched with the morbid brutality are scenes of breathtaking fascination. Dr. Manhattan and Silk Spectre II’s conversation about humans that takes place on Mars is one of the magical moments of the film. I won’t say much about the end, but just because there is no squid doesn’t mean it isn’t hauntingly beautiful.
Snyder has created an immensely enjoyable piece of entertainment that won’t disappoint fans, but may leave some new viewers in the dust. His adaptation is nearly perfect, but overall it doesn’t say much more than what it set out to do. The images of the graphic novel are all there, and the themes, for the most part, have effectively translated. This is like no comic book/graphic novel adaptation you have ever seen, mostly due to the fact how close Snyder has stayed to the source. It is a unique piece of cinema that will likely divide audiences. Some may think it’s overblown and forgettable, but while it likely won’t change superhero movies, it is a marvelously challenging story that deserves all the attention it has received.
Watchmen hits theaters March 6th, 2009.
Welcome to the latest episode of our official podcast, The Film Stage Show. This week, Danny King, Amanda Waltz, and I discuss Don Hertzfeldt’s new short film World of Tomorrow, which will be released on March 31st on VOD (or stream below). Then we dive into a feature review of David Robert Mitchell‘s horror film It Follows, which […]
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