Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 3/7/09.
One of the most celebrated and popular graphic novels in the history of literature, Watchmen about a group of retired vigilantes investigating the murder of one of their former colleagues only to uncover a troubling conspiracy. Written by Alan Moore with illustrations by Dave Gibbons, the novel took a unique spin into the superhero genre while delving into satire and character study. The novel is so acclaimed in giving the graphic novel medium widespread attention that adaptations for the book to become a film became an impossible task. Developing the film proved to be hell since its attempts began just after the novel was released. 20th Century Fox tried to get it started that took years. In 1991, Warner Brothers got involved with project with Terry Gilliam attached but years of development forced Gilliam to drop out and the film project was shelved.
Another attempt in 2001 started but a few years into it became troubling until Paramount Pictures got involved with Darren Aronofsky attached to the project. Aronofsky left to work on The Fountain as Paul Greengrass got involved but the project eventually folded. With Lawrence Gordon, who owned the rights to the film, deciding to go back to Warner Brothers. Nothing seemed sure until 2006 when production finally found got started with a new director in Zack Snyder, who scored a big hit with his adaptation of Frank Miller's 300. Production finally began with Snyder at the helm despite a lawsuit between Warner Brothers and 20th Century Fox that finally got resolved for the long-awaited release of Watchmen.
Directed by Zack Snyder with a script by David Hayter and Alex Tse along with un-credited contributions from Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. Watchmen tells the story of a group of former vigilantes living in 1985 at the peak of the Cold War as the tension between the U.S. and Soviet Union reaching its climax with Richard Nixon still the President of the U.S. When an ex-vigilante is murdered, one of his former comrades investigates to uncover a conspiracy in order to get rid of his other vigilantes as well as a nuclear holocaust. The film is an ambitious tale that takes the superhero genre to darker territory and character study not explored in some of today's superhero films. With an all-star cast that includes Jackie Earle Haley, Patrick Wilson, Malin Akerman, Matthew Goode, Billy Crudup, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Stephen McHattie, Matt Frewer, and Carla Gugino. Watchmen is an excellent, sprawling, and ambitious film from Zack Snyder.
It's October 1985 when an ex-vigilante known as Edward Blake aka the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) has been murdered leaving behind his old smiley face badge on the street as evidence. One of Blake's former colleagues name Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) from the Watchmen vigilante team of the late 1960s-early 1970s group finds the badge. He investigates Blake's murder as he tells his former partner from the group Daniel Dreiberg aka Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson) about the Comedian's death. Dreiberg is now retired due to the Keene Act of 1977 banning vigilantes from work where he spends his time having weekly meeting with the original Nite Owl in Hollis Mason (Stephen McHattie). After Rorschach's visit, Dreiberg tells another of his former colleagues in Adrian Veidt aka Ozymandias (Matthew Goode). Now a billionaire who has revealed his identity while using his old vigilante name to sell products, Veidt hears of Dreiberg's warning about Rorschach's conspiracy that someone is taking out former vigilantes.
Rorschach visits a couple of former Watchmen in Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) and Laurie Juspeczyk aka Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman) about the Comedian's death. Manhattan, who is the only Watchmen with superpowers due to a nuclear accident and is considered the best weapon the U.S. ever has is now more concerned with particles and such than humanity. Manhattan's state of mind has now strained his long-term relationship with Laurie as she decides to have dinner with Dreiberg whom she hadn't seen in years as they talk about the Comedian's death and fear of a possible nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. During Blake's funeral where Veidt, Dreiberg, and Manhattan recall disturbing memories about the Comedian while Laurie visits her mother Sally Jupiter, the original Silk Spectre (Carla Gugino). Attending the funeral in secrecy is a former nemesis of the Comedian in Edgar Jacobi aka Moloch (Matt Frewer).
Rorschach confronts Moloch about what he knows as he revealed about a strange visit from a distraught, guilt-ridden Blake. Laurie's visit with her mother about Blake's death that featured an old story about Blake raping Sally back in 1949 has Sally saddened about Blake despite what happened. Laurie's relationship with Dr. Manhattan has finally soured as she leaves him to be with Dreiberg as Manhattan prepares for a big TV interview. During the interview, Manhattan talks about nuclear holocaust when a journalist presses Manhattan on about accusations that he gave a few former colleagues including his ex-girlfriend Janey Slater (Laura Mennell) cancer as she makes a surprising appearance. Now a threat, Manhattan exiles himself to Mars as he thinks about the time he used to be a man named Jon Osterman and how he became Dr. Manhattan as he's now detached of humanity as well as Earth.
When Rorschach continues his investigation into Blake's death, he uncovers a big conspiracy which involved an assassination attempt on Adrian Veidt. What happens is a set-up in which he's captured and sent to prison following an interrogation with a psychoanalyst. With Dreiberg and Laurie becoming closer and deciding to renew their vigilante status, they also decide to break Rorschach from prison as they uncover a much larger conspiracy involving the end of the world. With nuclear holocaust closing in and Manhattan unconvinced that he can do anything, it's up to the Watchmen to uncover the truth only to find out something even more horrifying.
Watchmen is truly one of the greatest novels in the history of literature and for years, to make a film version of it seemed impossible. Yet, what Zack Snyder and screenwriters David Hayter and Alex Tse did the impossible and succeeded, for the most part. The story is truly complex and psychological as it unveils harsh realities and truths to the world. Yet, like most adaptations, things had to be cut from the book as well as some alterations. Still, Hayter and Tse does manage to craft a faithful script to the book though minor characters like the magazine stand owner and the kid who hangs out reading The Tales of the Black Freighter are merely cameos. The sub-story of The Tales of the Black Freighter isn't featured in the film but is still being told as an animated feature in a straight-to-DVD release.
Still, the faithfulness of the story from book to script is excellent in presenting smaller characters like Janey Slater and the story of the original Minutemen vigilante group is told in the opening credits. Though not much is revealed since the original graphic novel is more in detail of how the Minutemen was formed and disbanded. Part of the script's flaws is some lack of detail, back story on some of the characters, and the fact that some audiences might find the story to be too dense. It's not a proto-typical kind of superhero, comic-book action film but far more darker and more adult. It's really about a group of individuals dealing with retirement, their own humanity or lack thereof, and ambitions amidst the troubled state of the world. The writers do take credit in creating something that is entertaining but also faithful to what Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons wanted in the book.
Director Zack Snyder, who had done a brilliant job with his take on Frank Miller's 300 manages to succeed with the look and visual palette of Watchmen. With help from the novel's illustrator Dave Gibbons, Snyder does faithfully use images from the comics for its compositions of the film as if the novel came to life. Snyder's faithfulness is honorable though there's a few moments he doesn't get right. There's a few anachronisms in the film in its appliances and famous people seen throughout that might baffle a few people. Snyder does get the story going in giving people a break from the action for the drama where it doesn't drag nor its two-hour, forty-three minute running time feel very slow.
Snyder's direction is very stylish where he does the slow-fast edits like he did in 300 but not overtly while not lightening things up in terms of the sex and violence. The sex is though playful and sexy in its scenes involving Laurie Juspeczyk and Daniel Dreiberg which includes a comical moment from the book. At the same time, Snyder does make sure that audiences get to see Dr. Manhattan's scrotum since he's naked throughout though it's really all CGI. Then there's violence which is quite graphic as broken bones are heard, lots of blood, and such that goes on. There's things that are quite shocking but it's true to what Alan Moore wanted as well as the nature of its characters, notably the Comedian who is the kind of gung-ho American at its worst and distasteful. The film's ending is altered in a major way though its intentions in relation to the original ending in the novel is still intact. Overall, despite the flaws the film has, Zack Snyder does create a faithful version of the book with its colorful images and dark tone.
Cinematographer Larry Fong does a fantastic job with the film's look in relation to the novel. With the look being close to the graphic novel, Fong's cinematography is not filled with a lot of heavy lights as it relies on dark colors and lots of shading. It's a film that is meant to look bleak yet colorful as it also moves along with the action and apocalyptical tone. Editor William Hoy does great work with the editing as it's stylized with fast cuts for the action along with slow-motion moments that later becomes fast for some of the fight scenes. At the same time, the cutting doesn't move very slow for its long running time as it does a serviceable job for its pacing and feel.
Production designer Alex McDowell along with set decorator Jim Erickson and supervising art director Francois Audouy is superb in its look of New York City, though shot in Vancouver, along with its interior sets and places. Particularly the building of Adrian Veidt that he works along with his Antarctica base and the homes of Dreiberg and his basement filled with gadgets and such. Notably the Owlship he has called Archie that's filled with gadgets and such. Costume designer Michael Wilkinson does a great job with the costumes with the latex look of Silk Spectre II that is sexy along with Nite Owl II's costumes that looks a bit like Batman. The suit of Ozymandias is kind of ridiculous since it has nipples which is meant to look silly while Rorschach and the Comedian are more gritty. Yet, the look of the Minutemen are spectacular in its 1940s design and such.
Makeup artist Emanuela Daus along with her team do an excellent job with the fake hair that Jackie Earle Haley wears as his true identity along with the look of Adrian Veidt and Laurie Juspeczyk. Yet, the look of Richard Nixon (Robert Wisden) does look a bit ridiculous while the make-up on Carla Gugino as her older version of Sally Jupiter is sub-par at best. The visual effects by supervisors Dennis Jones and Peter G. Travers is phenomenal with the look of Dr. Manhattan, the blot-movements of Rorschach's mask, and Dr. Manhattan's home at Mars. The visual effects are the real technical highlight of the film. The sound by sound editor Scott Hecker and designers Rick Hromadka and Jeremy Pierson are excellent in the way broken bones are heard. The atmosphere that goes on in the city and the way the Owlship moves and sounds. Hecker's work in the editing of Rorschach's narration is great along with its mixing to give the film a noir-like feel as the sound is masterfully brilliant.
The music score by Tyler Bates is very good in melodic-driven piece of keyboards and guitars for its drama and action. Yet, its soundtrack is mostly dominated by several music pieces that features Bob Dylan's The Times They Are A-Changin' in the opening credits plus stuff from Jimi Hendrix, Nena, Tears for Fears, Janis Joplin, Simon & Garfunkel, KC & the Sunshine Band, and a comical use of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah in one of the film's funny moments. Played in the closing credits is another Dylan song Desolation Row that's performed in a punk-style by My Chemical Romance yet the greatest piece of music played on film is from Phillip Glass in the Jon Osterman-Dr. Manhattan sequence from Glass' score of 1983 Godfrey Reggio cult film Koyanniqatsi.
The casting by Kristy Carlson is excellent with appearances from people playing celebrities and political figures like David Bowie, Mick Jagger, photographer Annie Lebovitz, Lee Iacocca, Fidel Castro, and as Henry Kissinger, Frank Novak. Other memorable appearances as famous people are Ron Fassler as Ted Koppel and Robert Wisden as Richard Nixon who is good though why didn't anyone ask Dan Hedaya to play the role since he was the best Richard Nixon in the 1999 comedy Dick. Small appearances from Zack Snyder's son Eli as the young Rorschach while appearing as the original minute men are Apollonia Vanova as Silhouette, Daryll Scheelar as Captain Metropolis, Dan Payne as Dollar Bill, Niall Matter as Mothman, Glenn Ennis as Hooded Justice, and Clint Carelton as the young Hollis Mason/Nite Owl.
Other small roles like Ron LaBelle as Osterman's former colleague Wally Weaver and Nhi Do as a Vietnamese girl who fights the Comedian are memorable while it's Laura Mennell who is good as Janey Slater. Stephen McHattie, who previously appeared in 300 is very good as Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl who retires only to have conversations with Daniel Dreiberg. Matt Frewer is excellent as Moloch, a retired villain who reveals to Rorschach of what he knows about the Comedian's state of mind. Carla Gugino is excellent as Sally Jupiter, the original Silk Spectre who is now retired as she talks about Edward Blake while dealing with Laurie's anger towards her.
Malin Akerman is pretty good as Laurie Juspeczyk aka Silk Spectre II. Though Akerman has the look and body of Silk Spectre, her acting isn't entirely great though serviceable for her character. Akerman does embody the angst and sweetness of Laurie as she's dealing with her mother and Dr. Manhattan while finding solace and comfort in Daniel Dreiberg. Patrick Wilson is also good as Daniel Dreiberg aka Nite Owl II as he plays this somewhat bland, mild-mannered guy who is afraid of being the Nite Owl yet can't escape from it. Wilson does bring a nice-guy complexity while also proving he can be tough as he has wonderful chemistry with Akerman. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is great as Edward Blake aka the Comedian, an immoral, violent, and unpredictable man who'll kill anything for the government only to have his violent past caught up to him. Morgan sells the character with great bravado and charisma while bringing depth to the character as he deals with guilt and regret.
Matthew Goode is excellent as Adrian Veidt aka Ozymandias, a former vigilante turned billionaire who is more concerned about his own image while finding ways to save the world with the help of Dr. Manhattan. Goode's performance is definitely the least charismatic and most restrained of the cast as he stands out for being the one in control. Billy Crudup is amazing as Dr. Manhattan, an ordinary man turned into a superhuman of sorts only to become detached in his state as he is mostly devoid of emotion. Crudup rarely has scenes where he's emotional as his character is definitely very interesting as someone who lost interest in humanity while focused on dealing with logic.
The film's best performance is Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach, the masked vigilante who refuses to quit his job as he investigates the Comedian's death. Haley, though mostly masked in the film is the most interesting as he has this raspy voice in his character while being the film's narrator throughout the film. Haley's face when he's unmasked is truly devoid of emotion mostly as he's just stoned-face and plays it cool. Haley is really the heart of the film as he brings more than enough into why Rorschach is the most beloved character of Watchmen, novel or film.
While it's not the famed novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, the film version of Watchmen is still an excellent film from Zack Snyder. With an excellent cast led by Jackie Earle Haley, the film is very faithful to the famed graphic novel while providing new territory for the superhero film genre. Fans of the book will be happy that it's faithful while will understandably be upset of what got cut from the transition from book to film. Audiences of superhero films will be entertained though its complex story might be too much for some as well as its two-hour, forty-three minute time length. This is definitely not a film for kids, especially for its adult themes, graphic violence, and sexual content. In the end, though it's not a perfect film, Watchmen is still an entertaining, provocative, and ambitious film from Zack Snyder and company.
Zack Snyder Films: (Dawn of the Dead (2004)) - 300 - (Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole) - Sucker Punch - Man of Steel - Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - Justice League - Zack Snyder's Justice League - (Army of the Dead)
(C) thevoid99 2011
Synder has achieved what many said was impossible; he has in-fact filmed the unfilmable, and arguably done so as well as anyone could have. Good Review Steve!
Well Dan, he did succeed in telling the story though it does have some flaws. I recently saw some of an expanded director's cut of the film and thought it flowed a bit better.
Still, I think he could've done a lot more to separate the film from the graphic novel. You just can't be a masterpiece like Watchmen is as a graphic novel. It's like no other.
Snyder can create dazzling visuals but after what happened with Sucker Punch, he needs to restrain all of that and create something cohesive.
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