Review: Watchmen – a movie true to its source…

watchmen2The Filminator has offered his thoughts on Watchmen.

There are those who say that you can make a good movie from a book, but you have to change some things. And there are those who say that you can never have a movie as good as the book. Zack Snyder and David Hayter, I am proud to say, have proven all of them wrong.

Watchmen the movie is a triumph across all dimensions. Pacing, cinematography, dialogue, acting, casting, set design, atmosphere, editing. This movie literally had no flaws. Not everyone will love it; one might prefer a Cabernet, but Watchmen is nonetheless a perfect Pinot Noir.

Where to start? For me one of the most important parts of a movie is the pacing. Does it bog down, do I get bored? That’s death in a movie. And good news for all of us. It didn’t happen. More than 2 _ hours and this movie cruises along at perfect speed the whole time. No slow spots, no wasted dialogue, just an intensity that grabs you and never lets you go.

Let me also add here that the opening montage that gave us the flavor of the history of the book (Graphic Novel, really) was brilliantly done, absolutely brilliant. It encapsulated the detail of hour’s worth of reading time in minutes. By the end of it you are firmly grounded in this fantastic alternate reality, and ready to move forward with the story. You had to pay attention, but isn’t that why you went to a movie instead of turning on the radio?

The special effects were top notch. You were awed by wonders, repulsed by bloodshed, but mostly you believed you were seeing reality. The CGI was excellent, and the costumes were particularly well done. It is very hard to put people in tights and make them imposing rather than ridiculous. Regretfully, Superman still hasn’t pulled that one off. But these were excellent. They truly looked cool on screen, especially Rorschach and Ozymandias. The clockwork palace on Mars, Dr. Manhattan in gargantuan form, the genetically redesigned lynx Bubastis, all were beautifully done.

One of the most striking things with Watchmen the movie was the creators wisdom in sticking with the great dialogue already provided in the book. Almost every major scene kept some or even most of the original wordplay, and it worked beautifully! It established the characters as intensely true to the book while being totally believable and charismatic on screen. It made them live.

And in the same vein, but even more important was the viewpoint of the camera. Most of the film was done with almost precisely the same scenes as the graphic novel. And it again it worked! From Rorschach’s being cornered in Moloch’s apartment, to Dr. Manhattan striding across the Vietnamese landscape tall as a skyscraper raining death upon the land, to Comedian and Night Owl confronting a recalcitrant mob, most of the movie recalls the same visual angles, same characters, same locations, same lighting.  And does so with complete and utter success.

Let me also say that this is without a doubt the finest casting I have ever seen.  It’s hard enough to find actors who can pull off any roll, which all of these did. But to find actors who can look like the characters so closely is a phenomenally rare achievement. Rorschach, Comedian, Night Owl, Silk Specter, Ozymandias, all of these strongly evoked the look of the original characters.

And of the acting was top notch as well. Again Rorschach stands out, as does Comedian and Dr. Manhattan, but really all were well done. Watchmen delivers Oscar level acting across its entire breath. Each of these stars will see their resumes and asking prices massively increase due to their achievement in this film.

I was also pleased with the choreography. The combat scenes are very well done, fluid and powerful, and brutal as well. None of the heroes but Dr. Manhattan are truly superhuman; all are essentially Olympic-level athletes with close combat capabilities the functional equivalent of Seal Team Six. Each has their special focus: Night Owl relies more on gimmicks, Ozymandias is supposedly the smartest man on earth, and the fastest. Rorschach has a brutal efficiency that finds the weak point at exactly the right time, with the will to use it to the extreme.

In fact, all of the heroes have a touch of brutality to them: theirs is a harsher world than ours, and one attacks these heroes at their peril. Not merely a headache be the reward for that folly. Broken limbs, nay, broken necks, are the order of the day here. And I appreciate that reality, that lack of squeamishness. That willingness to move the story elements to their logical conclusion instead of whitewashing them to the PG standard we merely wish were our own reality.

Some have complained you must read the book to understand the movie, but that’s a copout. It’s all there if you look, listen, and think. And while I confess I exaggerated slightly when I said the movie was perfect, it’s the difference between 100% and 99.99%.

What were the flaws? Well, first of all that’s too strong a word. There were a couple of very minor changes to the story, namely the antagonists final plan is slightly different, but truly that is both inconsequential, and more importantly, an improvement.

I did think that Nixon’s role was played up perhaps slightly more than necessary. And Dr. Manhattan was unnecessarily buff, in more ways than one. If his character was truly losing his connection to humanity, then manifesting himself as a blue Mr. Universe is a vanity that is out of character, if only slightly. And was it really necessary to show his anatomical correctness so often? Nudity has a place but this seemed, again only slightly, excessive.

Let me sum up. Not only is Watchmen an enormously well done and entertaining movie, but it’s a shining accomplishment to the somewhat novel concept that you can indeed make a great movie from great source material, being true to both and sacrificing neither. How many of us have cringed to see our favorite books massacred in the translation to film, the original achievement sacrificed not to the needs of the film medium, but to the egos of the film industry’s prima donnas?

Peter Jackson with The Lord of the Rings proved you could do a film worthy of even the hardest great book, but even he was forced to make some substantial changes, that while effective, were still different. Zack Snyder has one-upped him. He has proven that sometimes the original material is already the best material, and the best movie can only be made by staying true to the book.

–nvc–

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