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Often called the greatest comic book ever made, Watchmen, birthed in 1986 by writer Alan Moore and illustrator Dave Gibbons, was also considered one of the most unfilmable comic books ever made.  Every aspect, from its nihilistic theme of the death and deconstruction of the superhero myth and gullibility of the public, to the storyís structure and layers of narrative behind each of the multiple ďheroesĒ (- none but one have any actual superpowers) and even the bookends and subplots are held as sainted relics to its fans and windmills for filmmakers to unsuccessfully tilt at.  Now, over 20 years after Watchmenís release, the audiences who pay to see films based on graphic novels have grown more sophisticated and demanding in their expectations of quality.  There is a lot at stake with the film version of Watchmen, and every frame fairly palpitates with director Zack Snyderís pressure to get it right.

The DL: Someone has killed a hero.  The Comedian, an old man who runs around in a mask, cigar clenched between choppers, wielding a nasty shotgun, is praised as a national monument.  From stopping street crime in the 1940ís, to black ops missions in Vietnam at the behest of the President, to quelling civilian anti-hero protests (- all achieved with uncomfortably sadistic tactics), this man is who our nation has depended on for its security.  Even The Comedianís strength and combat skill canít help him win a battle with a sidewalk after a brutal home invasion is topped with a flight out a plate-glass window.  This leads Rorschach, another masked fellow with aggressive notions of right and wrong, to find out just what or who was behind The Comedianís murder.  His investigation will call to order his forcibly retired crime-fighting running buddies, who have settled into lives of varying normalcy and compel them to question the meaning of those existences, their relationships with each other and the world that now despises them.

In making what is probably the most devoutly faithful adaptation to the comic possible, Snyder has refused to let very much into Watchmen by way of originality or ingenuity.  Many of the frames you see onscreen are exactly the frames you see in the graphic novel.  Many of the lines of dialog are directly out of the book.  Placing such chains on himself does Snyder no favours as a director.  Lighting doesnít strike twice in the same place and what was so successful with Snyderís 2006 opus, 300 (- based on another graphic novel - practically an exercise in minimalism compared the narrative and illustrative richness of Watchmen), isnít nearly as successful this time.  Thereís simply no life in the celluloid and no inspiration onscreen.  If I wanted to see the exact same frames going by, I could order Watchmen for Kindle.  Being an adaptation of this particular graphic novel, I can forgive it for many things, but I cannot forgive a film version of Watchmen for being boring.  Overlong (- at 2 hours, 43 minutes) and overstuffed, this film felt like an endurance test with no highs to speak of.  The dialog that was so wonderful in the comic sounds flat and droning when acted, and in some cases, acted badly.  The opening scene of The Comedianís fight for his life held a lot of promise; brutal, ugly and bloody - this wasnít going to be a pretty film.  Sadly, thereís never another scene that well done or vital in the precious few action moments.  I know Watchmen isnít meant to rely on action like Batman or Spider-Man, but when the rest of the proceedings are so exhaustingly dull, the film needed some kind of adrenalin.  Snyder uses a similar fight set up to his own 300 during Nite Owl and Silk Spectreís entry into a prison riot, a long shot down a corridor with the heroes having to bust their way through an onslaught of bad guys to get past.  Unlike 300, there was no feeling of impact or danger, and it simply wasnít choreographed as well.  I felt like I was watching an outtake from Leonidasí playbook.   Maybe itís also I donít care a thing about any of the characters except for Rorschach or The Comedian?  We donít get enough of a read on Ozymandias (- with his fluctuating accent and despite his Nick Rhodes-perfect purple silk suit), Billy Crudupís mind-numbingly flat delivery of the omniscient former human, Dr. Manhattan just made me wish Iíd opted for root canal rather than sit through his excruciatingly long flashback. The nebbishy Nite Owl held none of my interest; I donít know how Patrick Wilson could have made anything out of him, but it might have been nice of him to try.  I have to admit my least favourite hero in the comic was Silk Spectre, and in Malin Akerman, they found an actress who met the challenge of being as irritating and limited as the character.  The three standout performances are Jackie Earle Haley, utterly perfect as the snarling misanthrope, Rorschach (- the ever-swirling inkblots on his mask is one of the filmís truly cool things); Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the power drunk, morally corrupt Comedian chews his scenes with gusto and is more sympathetic than the comic allows, and Dr. Manhattanís giant blue CGI penis, possibly the most inspired work in the film.

How do you dumb down a movie based on the one of the most intelligent, sophisticated comics ever written?  Snyder practically leads the audience by the hand by use of lowest common denominator effects, the soundtrack being one of the most egregious instances.  To have actually played Bob Dylanís The Times They Are A-Changiní over the history of the Watchmen flashback, another scene in Vietnam has Janis Joplinís Me and Bobby McGee blaring in a bar, a Muzak version of Tears for Fearsí Everybody Wants to Rule the World underscores a meeting of corporate heads and possible bad guys, and worst, Leonard Cohenís Hallelujah during a Nite Owl/Silk Specter sex scene was corny to the point of insulting.

How this film could have benefited from an editor and some tough decisions.  So much could have been cut out, scenes that went on for days; the afore-mentioned Dr. Manhattan origin, the fire rescue by Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, along with their subsequent painfully drawn-out, desperately unsexy nookie inside Archie, the Owl-mobile, or whatever that cute ship was.  There must have been a lot of fear and fretting over which precious, iconic moments to cut that resulted the tedious bloat that Watchmen inflates to.  Instead of the film having any sort of signature or voice, itís a colour-by-numbers job.  I think Snyder was truly afraid not to throw in the baby, the bathwater and the kitchen sink for fear of his film becoming the target of hate for legions of Watchmen fans.  He should have risked it.

According to Dave Gibbons, who drew and collaborated on the original comic, Watchmenís creator, writer Alan Moore, has made a firm policy of having no part of the Hollywood game as far as his works are concerned.  I blame Mr. Moore less and less.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

March 4th, 2009

 

 

 

 

 

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(Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures)

 

 

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