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Monday, March 9, 2009

Watchmen ****

Since it's initial publication in 1987, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen has become quite possibly the most revered graphic novel of all time. And ever since it hit shelves more than twenty years ago, filmmakers have been courted by major movie studios from Paramount to 20th Century Fox to Warner Bros., to try their best to distill such an epic story down into a feature film. Now, finally, at the hands of Zach Snyder--a director no short of "visionary" with his remarkably faithful adaptation of Frank Miller's 300--the Watchmen movie has arrived.

So what do fans think? Well, as would be expected, the majority seem to hate it. For some it strays too far away from the original material, for others it is far too close. Some argue it should never have even been attempted. Even Alan Moore has said that, claiming that no one would ever be able to capture his book on celluloid. But this blog isn't about all of those fanboys that would have been pissed off no matter how the movie was made--it's my opinions here. And my opinion is that the movie was phenomenal.

If there is anything to fault it for (besides the horrible facial prosthetics the guy playing Richard Nixon was wearing), I would have to agree that it did feel a bit tightly cinched to the book--but only because of the cap Warner Bros. put on the film's duration, at 162 minutes. The movie flew by, not at all feeling its two and a half hours long, and I could have easily spent another hour at the least with the characters, giving them a chance to breathe. But to actually complain about how closely Snyder stuck to Moore's original intentions is complete crazy-talk.

Just like in 300, Snyder reportedly used the book itself as his storyboard, working directly from the images Dave Gibbons produced, with annotations jotted in the empty space between frames. So the faults of the film are only the faults of the book itself. Yes, the pacing is a bit off-kilter at time, rushing through one scene to hover lazily over the next. At times the imminent doom that the characters are being thrown into with the threat of nuclear war doesn't feel all that imminent--but to have re-paced the story completely would have been to destroy entire narrative arcs.

Which brings me to the other most common complaint I've heard: about the film's ending. For the uninitiated reader's sake, I will not say anything much about the climax of either the film or the book, but simply mention that the ending of the movie is arguably even better than the ending of the book. It makes perfect sense, rather than coming out of left field to strike upon a meta-fictional construct that Moore obviously used to make a social comment on the power of comic books. The only people who can possibly be angry about such a sensible change are the orthodox readers of the book who were also probably pissing their pants about how Nite Owl didn't look goofy enough. They certainly were getting their knickers all in a twist about Ozymandias' Batman & Robin-esque superhero get-up (complete with molded muscles and nipples), even after Snyder explicitly explained to the press that it was a purposeful riff on Ozy's personality to make him look like Joel Schumacher's notoriously misguided attempt at Batman.

But as I said, the ending works just fine. If Snyder had attempted to piece together something like the book's ending, he would have needed at least another half hour just to work in the Tales of the Black Freighter side-plot, and then the end would have made no sense anyway because the end of the book is completely insane to begin with. Fucking octopus.

It won't win any Oscars, I've got no doubt about that (though it should win every single casting direction award up for grabs this year, because every single character was spot on--Jackie Earle Haley looked like he was plucked straight off the pages to play Rorschach), but it is another notch on Zach Snyder's already impressive belt. Not everyone might like what he's been doing with his adaptations, but he has to know when he goes to sleep every night that he's doing a damn good job, staying truer to the books than anyone else would even have tried. Certainly more than the Wachowski Brothers could say. I hope Alan Moore can at least respect that.

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