Saturday, March 7, 2009

Watchmen a Review

***Note that I will indicate at what point this article becomes a spoiler. Here is a preview of the plotline for those who have not seen it (no spoilers)***
Non Graphic Novel Readers: 7 out of 10
Graphic Novel Readers: 6 out of 10

It’s now 1985 and Nixon has been elected to a 5th term. The Vietnam War still lingers on everyone’s mind and tensions between Russia and the US are at an all time high. During the last 40 years ordinary men have stepped up as masked vigilantes in an effort to protect the common man. Since the Keene Act of 1977 essentially banned these vigilantes, the age of the superhero is now seemingly over as most have retired and even a few have revealed their identities. One of these masked heroes (the comedian) has recently been murdered. Are masked heroes being hunted?
The Review (no spoilers until indicated)

I think that the individual who has not read the book will probably enjoy the movie. Overall it’s well done, and different enough to be enjoyable. That said at times it’s cartoony, but overall carries the plot well. If you liked V for Vendetta, or 300, or Sin City, then you will like this movie. In my opinion the acting of the main characters is spot on. The way the characters talk, carry themselves, etc is just how you would imagine while reading the graphic novel. The movie was shot extremely well and often times I thought “Wow they handled that part from the book extremely well.” When looking at the movie independently apart from the book I think it’s definitely one of the better movies adapted from a comic book/graphic novel (Though if you are expecting the next Superman/Spiderman you would be severely disappointed).

I’m going to comment from the perspective of one who has read the book, because that is what I did prior to watching the movie and it gives the best basis for where the movie was lacking. As a reader I was appalled originally after the ending plot alteration, but see why the director did it and after 12 hours to sit on it realize that the change wasn’t too terrible.

The Good:
Most of what I feel was right about the movie I noted above. I thought the overall attitude and demeanor of the characters was captured extremely well. Each one acted as I felt that they would on a film screen. The only character done poorly was Richard Nixon (thankfully he isn’t a large part of the movie). Think of an over the top comedic persona of Nixon. This was the character to a “T”. The weight of the situation (seemingly impending nuclear war) gets lost because we can’t help, but laugh at the ridiculousness of the character.
Another great thing done by the director was the homage to the reader of the series. Many little items and set pieces were maintained from the graphic novel even though they weren’t fully explained in the movie (Keene Act Riots, knot tops, the paperman and comic book reader, Hollis Mason’s book, Hollis Mason’s trophy, the maintenance sign, etc.). You felt inside the book at times and much of the great dialogue was maintained. For the most part scenes that were taken out were done so tactfully and didn’t leave me upset (save instance noted below). The special effects were excellent and done even better than I would have imagined. Archie, Jon’s abilities/look, Mars castle, Rorschach, and the explosion were all done extremely well. I don’t think that it could have been done better.

The Bad:
The character depth was poorly done and I think the biggest tragedy from novel to screenplay. The GREAT thing about this book and the reason why it landed on Time Magazine’s top 100 list is the constant battle within the characters to define justice, what’s right and wrong, and see how the pursuit of their motives or the vision of the world through their flaws creates a marred sense of reality. The movie set to identify heroes and villians without leaving us with the muddied Moore masterpiece of perceived right and wrong through each character’s eyes. The Rorschach scene early in the graphic novel where he is gleaning information from the city’s underbelly is a great moment for seeing the animalistic Utilitarianism that defines the character. In the book, we see that his moral compass is essentially really a compass that points towards vengeance and retribution and almost feel sorry for his view of the world, because deep down he can never be happy and never find true peace. We also in this moment learn why the population at large fears him. He has no rules just objectives. Constantly on a search for “justice”. The other big let down character wise was that of Adrian Viedt. We don’t see his public perception or realize just how deep his influence is. It’s merely mentioned, and the strong value and respect given him by the public and the “heroes” is not conveyed well. His personality is one of constant self improvement and achieving the best for himself, society and those around him. He is an idol and hero to the general populace. Viedt comes off in the film as a smart dork with some money who goes a little crazy.
The next biggest let down semi-related to the above is several of the interrelationships that occur through the movie. Most notably the triangle between Jon ‘Dr. Manhattan’, Mrs. Jupiter, and the Nite Owl. In the novel, the relationship of Jon and Laurie0 is much more developed. We see a man perfect in every way except completely devoid of emotion. He can literally give Laurie everything she wants and yet ultimately he can give her nothing, for all she wants is love that feeling of vulnerability that two people share. Dreiberg is her outlet to humanity. She literally falls into him because she hasn’t known true intimate contact with anyone in the last twenty years. Dreiberg is emotionally relevant and understanding and for that she loves him, and yet she leaves him to go with Jon because in every other way Dreiberg is lacking and Jon can save the world. Great interaction that I felt was ‘watered down’ to the point of obscurity and lust.
Obviously the straying of Viedt’s ultimate plot from the “monster from outer space” to Dr. Manhattan will piss off a lot of purist Watchmen fans. I feel that the greatest disappointment from the change is the great interplay between Viedt and Jon in the novel. In the novel, we see that Jon (an ultimate representation of logic) is the first supporter of Viedt’s plot. Jon understands Veidt and almost respects Veidt as surpassing his humanity for the greater good. Jon leaves the planet because his one connection (and his shred of humanity) no longer exists as Laurie has now fallen in love with Dreiberg.

As I said before, if you like this genre of movie you will love this film. It’s a great film on its own and deals with some great surface level conflict leaving the viewer to ultimately think about their place in the world. If you are a fan of the book you will find the movie adequate and overall impressive, but feel that the film lost some of the magic and greatness of Moore’s graphic novel (though is that not always the case).

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