Every single frame is an immaculate postcard painting ripped directly from the pages of Gibbons and Moore’s award winning comic book. Though it falters on its way to a rousing climax, it is an eye gouging specticle to behold.
As it stands, a big fat book could be written about Watchmen: The Movie. Earnest individuals eager enough to traipse through at least three different press screenings have already dissected every single bit of it. So what? The question remains: Is the film entertaining? Sure, it’s nearly as important as the graphic novel in terms of its stated clause. Zack Snyder has built a flawless treaty on the depth of being a masked vigilante. This is a keen reinvention and much needed disemboweling of the super hero genre. But guess what folks? We’re still talking about Super Heroes, here! Fairy stories. Myths. Legends. Poo-Poo-Doo. Why is everybody taking this juggernaught so seriously? Reading all these sprouting essays on the topic, it’s clear that Watchmen has become our modern day bible. An important text involving life and death, and everything in-between. Will it be hidden in the sand, only to be rediscovered and worshipped by a future generation? Maybe. Will all of its reviews and criticisms be plucked out of the digitally chocked atmosphere and devoured with as much conviction? Heck, anything is possible. Editing notes once discovered inside the Old Testament fetched a pretty penny. But that’s a moot point. The really pertinent question is: Will folks enjoy Watchmen on a Friday night, free from the praise and bloated paragraphs pointing out its ability to achieve the sky? Yes. And no. It’s little more than half a great movie. It’s too long. It made me want to pee my pants. At the same time, it’s a fascinating and ethereal watch. Essential for film lovers and comic book aficionados alike.
Overlooking its stated thesis, fans and students of cinematography will get the most out of this erstwhile project. Each and every frame of film has been immaculately constructed and rendered with a touch of greatness. Each shot is a living, breathing entity that has been beautifully built from the blueprint that is the twelve-issue comic. People get queasy when I mention Mel Gibson’s The Passion of The Christ. For any reason. But cinematographer Caleb (yes, Zooey and Emily’s dad) Deschanel brought a similar sense of style to Gibson’s heralded passion play. Every onscreen moment is rendered like an antique oil painting. Push pause at any given time, and you are left with a still image that could be reprinted and sold as high art. The same goes for Watchmen. If you are at all interested in the process that goes into producing something of this magnitude, you will want to get the DVD and go through it one second at a time, studying each cell as a microcosm held within its own stated framework. Equal praise goes out to both Zack Snyder and director of photography Larry Fong. Working together, they have created the greatest looking film of the last ten years. It’s not just the angle of the dangle, or their combined framing techniques that sell the piece as worship worthy. There is an intimate layer of detail weaved throughout the entire hardship of their tale. Snyder has gone through each page of Dave Gibbon’s book and wrung out every last little detail. It’s this minutia that builds a towering temple of electrifying gloom and doom. The film opens with the Comedian (Jeffery Dean Morgan) getting ambushed and tossed out a window. It is a gorgeous death, followed by a prologue that could stand on its own as the coolest looking short film ever produced. Within ten minutes, we realize two things. This is an almost exacting replica of the printed page from wince it sprang. And that we probably won’t see another film this beautiful for a very long time.
So what? Again, this begs the question: Is it entertaining? I could talk about the film’s photography for at least three more paragraphs. Just because an image looks good extracted from any form of structuring doesn’t mean it’s achieved its intended purpose. Not when sewn into the context of a story. With dialogue and music added to the mix, it becomes a completely different beast. Its like any shmoe discussing the inherent layers of metaphorical analogies as whipped through the core stock of it. We are all but a snowflake in the avalanche of criticism this film is currently receiving. And I don’t feel justified in grafting on about its singular, mythos changing ways. Why? Because frankly, I don’t see it being that important. It’s a story with impactful imagination driven deep into its starchy generic structuring. Too me, Watchmen is the comic book equivalent of a Weird Al song, and the same goes for the filmed adaptation of it. Though I grew up in the 80s, and I bought the odd comic here or there, Watchmen was something that escaped me entirely. Being nine when it was initially released, the entire rearranging of the vigilante archetype would have flown over my head like a bird heading south for the winter. At that point, I was becoming versed in Superfriends on Saturday morning. I didn’t need a lecture discrediting my youthful tastes. Sure, it changed the game as far as illustrated works of fiction go. But I, like most of America, remained ignorant of that fact. Watchmen didn’t cure cancer. It didn’t become the first black president. It simply threw a wrench into a hobby sport. So get over it, already.
Watchmen is an origin obliterating work of art, both as a book and a film. But over the course of the last twenty years, and the last twenty really good comic book movies, it looks and feels like nothing more than a great piece of pulp fiction. Maybe it served as a game changer for the illustrious comic book empire, which was made mostly of caped crusaders doling out good deeds. But as it waxes itself across the screen today, it doesn’t feel all that special. Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore’s ideas have been cannibalized in various different forms throughout the years, thus rendering their flesh-ridden counterpart inconsequential. Having never once flipped through the original graphic novel before viewing the film, I can’t see what makes its a classic contender for that masterpiece title. Like I said, the film looks great. But the richness of its plotting is stultified by the cinematic superhero renderings that have come before it. Does watching the movie compel me to pick up the book? Sort of. (I opted for the Watchmen Motion Comic DVD instead.) Did I enjoy watching the Watchmen more than any other comic book film to date? No.
The first part of the film is genuinely interesting. Most of the plotting centers on Rorschach as he tries to solve the mystery of the Comedian’s death. Through his paper trail, we come to learn more about these other so-called superheroes that inhabit this world. And about their current ban from practicing heroic deeds in the States. The world is on the verge of war. And everyone else is having an identity problem of some sort. It’s a neat sleuth whodunit made more interesting with superheroes at the heart of its core investigation. It’s a weird sort of Clue-Meets-The Dark Knight mash-up that is brought to life with enough odd energy and brutal gore to keep it floating above the rest of the dreck out there. I don’t feel I need too go much more into the plot. I’m sure you’re well versed in that by now, anyway. If you’re not, why should I spoil it? The first ninety minutes is grandiose and unique. Then a strange thing occurs. This so-called reinvention of the caped crusader archetype drips down into the floorboards and mutates into the very thing its making fun of. It becomes a masked hero movie with the good guys going after the evil villian. If you’ve read the novel, you know the motivation behind the climatic conclusion to this Cold War tale. Here, they have removed the giant squid for thematic purposes. Everyone agrees it would have been helladumb. Still, the main push for impetus has remained the same. The prolonged narrative comes to the same conclusion as its forefather. It’s an idea that resonates, but it comes with a lot of Technicolor “Pow!” and “Bam!” fight sequencing usually reserved for episodes of the 1960s Batman television show.
I don’t need to revisit this film again anytime soon. When compared to some of the more recent genre altering comic book films, I’d say I enjoyed it about as much as Iron Man or Batman. I didn’t earn a theologian degree on the dogma of Watchmen. And I’ve already read way too much material on the breaking apart of its beloved manuscript. It doesn’t interest me enough to keep stabbing away at its allegoric achievements. Watchmen is essentially a bully, picking on the less studied yet far more entertaining members of its stated class. The class clown doesn’t get picnic awards for manipulating the retarded kid. Even if he does it in a smart, intellectual way. So why should Watchmen? The book was great at what it did. It had a purpose. That purpose gets lost in the flicker of its own projected light. All I, a self stated member of the funcore film movement, see is another superhero film. One that’s partially entertaining and sometimes boring. One that is too long. But has great action, gore, and cinematography. If you know and care about Watchmen and all it stands for, good for you. You’ll probably dig it. For the rest of us? Eh, we won’t die if we miss it. But if we do wander into the theater, we’ll be seeing a pretty great movie for twelve bucks. Even if we know every single thing about it before buying that coveted golden ticket.
Watchmen? Whoop-doo! I guess. I don’t really care one way or the other. It’s just a movie.
(All of B. Alan Orange’s reviews are based on the Boo! or Whoop-doo! evaluation system.)