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Watchmen - director's cut (2009)
Director: Zack Snyder

review by J.C. Hartley

"You're driftin' outta touch, Doc. You're turnin' into a flake. God help us all." Imagine this as a TV series, imagine it on HBO; Terry Gilliam, whom God preserve, who was going to have a go at the movie, said that this was the only way to do it justice. You can just see the Emmys piling up like the corpses in Times Square. Now they're planning a movie of Y: The Last Man, that was a 60-issue maxi-series for heaven's sake, how the hell are they going to do justice to that?

I would imagine for anyone who knows the book this was a weird dreamlike experience. Quite what those who didn't know the book felt like I cannot possibly imagine. I've aired my doubts about Alan Moore's work in reviewing Watchmen: The Motion Comic and those doubts remain, but this was a brave attempt and deserves credit. The criticisms that follow largely derive from a knowledge of the book and consequently may be discounted by those able to view the film as a unique creative translation, although there are certain anachronisms that remain.

The film opens with a murderous attack that had me thinking 'oh dear, oh dear, oh dear'. Unnecessarily protracted, the killing of Edward Blake (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), by his eventual despatch through the window of his apartment building, is turned into a superhero battle with fists smashing through plasterboard and skulls breaking work surfaces. The opening credits relive the formation and demise of superhero teams, against a backdrop of an alternative 20th century USA.

Outlaw vigilante Rorschach (Jack Earle Haley) investigates the death of Blake, the crime-fighter and government enforcer known as the Comedian. His investigations bring him into contact with the world's only genuine super-being the gamma irradiated Doctor Manhattan (Billy Crudup), his girlfriend and former crime-fighter Silk Spectre, Rorschach's former partner Dan Dreiberg known as Nite Owl, and Ozymandias, Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode), who successfully made the transition from superhero to public life. Layered with flashbacks, the story reveals a conspiracy to commit an horrendous crime justified by the notion of the greater good.

The film looks great, except that Doctor Manhattan seems shorter than I remembered him. The effects, other than rendering a glowing blue naked man as lifelike, are seamless. This is a faithful transfer of the comic book but the necessity to edit inevitably loses much of the complexity of the original.

I have criticised the protracted fight at the beginning; the scene where Dreiberg and Laurie, the Silk Spectre, are attacked in an alleyway by muggers is unnecessarily violent too. Thankfully, Blake's attempted rape of Sally Jupiter (the excellent Carla Gugino, American Gangster), Laurie's mother and the original Silk Spectre; while horrific enough seems less violent, or at least briefer, than the version in the book. Rorschach is less repulsive in his screen version but consequently less fascinating. None of the characters in the comic provoke our sympathy or identification, while here Laurie and Dan are easy to like in their portrayals by a superb Malin Ackerman and Patrick Wilson.

The nihilism of Blake and the godlike disinterest of Doctor Manhattan, Rorschach's overdeveloped sense of right and wrong, Veidt's intellectual detachment, are counterpointed by the physical and emotional needs of Laurie and Dan. Even minor characters in the comic are shown responding to the threat of annihilation by reaching out to those around them. Inevitably, much of this is lost here. The irony introduced that Laurie and Dan, good people, will accept Veidt's scheme for the greater good, while Rorschach, a driven psychopath sees only the crime is much diluted as well.

The complicated scheme to realise Veidt's dream of world peace is simplified in this version, which is fair enough, but why then leave in Moore's acknowledgement to The Outer Limits which is rendered meaningless by the changes to the story? Also, the character's former 'team' in the movie is referred to as the Watchmen, there never was such a beast, the term obviously originating in Juvenal's philosophical question.

I'm clearly drifting out of touch, watch the film, read the book, or do either singularly. If unfamiliar with the comic I would advise seeing the film first. Thank God James Cameron's 3D technology wasn't available before this was made.

Watchmen poster

Watchmen director's cut on blu-ray



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