Mar 27, 2009

[Movies] Watchmen (2009)

WatchmenLonger-term readers of this blog should already be familiar with my stand on reviews of adaptations. Whether it's about books turned into movies or movies turned into plays, I always do my best to separate the original source material from the adaptation in order to evaluate things fairly. So far, it's generally worked for me and I do hope you folks enjoy my take on things.

Then again, what do you do with the adaptation is blatantly trying to relate itself to the source material for the most part? I'm not just talking about the branding related to the original work, but to really try to recreate scenes and to try and capture the feel of the original? Now there's the real conundrum since it becomes next to impossible to separate the original from the adaptation. Given that, is it still wrong to relate to two to one another?

Jack Snyder's Watchmen movie, an adaptation of the original comic book created by Alan Moore, is one such case of an adaptation trying to make it very clear that it's an homage to the original work. Snyder's previous work on 300 made it very clear that this director had a feel for trying to recapture the imagery associated with the original comic book and he made sure to apply that same level of skill to this somewhat monumental project.

Many people have said that this is one of the comic books that everyone wanted to see as a movie and yet at the same time admitted it couldn't be done well given the nature of the series. Let's face it, Hollywood struggles with bringing to life individual novels as movie adaptations, what more a 12-book comic of this nature?

The cast of Watchmen; Clockwise from top: Doct...Image via Wikipedia

For the uninformed, Watchmen has always been positioned as one of (if not the) greatest graphic novels of all time (although we should probably call it a comic book, hehe). Set in an alternative 1985, the world of Watchmen is a world with "super" heroes of the costumed variety and little else. The Cold War and with it the threat of nuclear war dominates everyone's thinking and Nixon is still president. The story revolves around the death of a "hero" once known as the Comedian. He was once part of a team of fellow heroes called the Watchmen and it seems the death of the Comedian is just the beginning of a larger, more sinister plot against them all.

First, this movie is NOT a typical Hollywood superhero movie. Don't expect the classic three act structure of (1) Origin, (2) Discovery / Mastery of Powers and (3) Confrontation with the Villain. You start well past the initial "happily ever after" in a very dark world that has no more need for superheroes. It's a murder-mystery. It's a political commentary. It's an homage to classic comic book themes and archetypes. It's a non-superhero superhero story. It's all this and more, depending on how you interpret it.

As far as adaptations go, this was a stellar work. Snyder pulled out all the stops this time around and made sure that many of the film sequences captured the same look and feel as the comic, going as far as recreating many key scenes and slowing things down with the "bullet-time" school of special effects in order for audiences to appreciate things more. This movie was beyond visually stimulating, whether or not you read the original title. Of course the highly graphic nature of the movie in terms of the violence, the sex and everything else, it clearly merits the R rating it's been getting across the globe. Still, the movie makes you feel like you're right there in the comic book action, somehow managing to squeeze oneself into the pages in order to experience the story like no other.

What was also very well done was trying to recapture the feeling of the time. I'm talking well beyond just the use of eclectic 80's music in order to remind us it was 1985 - the folks behind the film did a great job of recapturing the feelings of paranoia and eternal vigilance that came with the Cold War. That's no small feat considering the current generation no longer has a clear understanding of Cold War tensions - these days it's all about terrorism given the current post-9/11 environment.

The interpretation and to some degree the updating of the Watchmen themselves was pretty interesting, too. The costumes alone were a lot better, but that's an easy fix considering the time the original comic book was created. At least we didn't get an X-Men style update where the movie folks totally abandoned the original designs and went for some neutral obsession with black leather. There was a clear attempt at still following the original designs while making sure they weren't too tacky considering modern audiences. The actors were largely unknown, which helped avoid potential distractions that comes with the use of bigger name stars.

That leaves us with the story itself, and that's the heaviest piece of all. I mean let's face it, Watchmen is not something for the bored or for those just looking for a rock'em, sock'em action movie. Despite Snyder embellishing things a bit by adding in a few fight scenes not in the original comic books, it's still a heavy, heavy film. It's a movie that requires you to think. Moreso, it requires you to think outside your comfort zone and question things a lot more. It requires you reevaluate many concepts that you've become comfortable with and really consider what defines good and evil? What separates a freedom fighter from a terrorist? Do the ends justify the means in the grander scheme of things?

Watchmen is not for the faint of heart or the weak of mind. Enter the film expecting a smart film, one that requires you to suspend judgment until you get to the end and have all the cards in your hand. The visuals help you survive the nearly three hours that the movie runs for, but that doesn't mean your mind will be allowed to rest. This is a film that's worth seeing even if you didn't read the original comic book or if you're not into superheroes in general. Just be sure not to lump it together with the other films of its genre.

Like the original comic book it was based on, this was a movie that did a lot to break away from similar films in order to blaze a path of its own.

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