- Rated R
- Buy the Blu-ray
All photos © Warner Bros.
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
or all the hubbub surrounding Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s 1988 graphic novel, “Watchmen,” it’s really not as great as you might think. There are a lot of things to admire about the 12-issue miniseries (from its multilayered narrative to its psychologically complex characters), but the Holy Bible of comic books it is not, and that only makes reviewing the film adaptation even more difficult. One part social commentary and one part superhero satire, “Watchmen” straddles a thin line of making fun of the very genre it represents and being the punch line to the joke. This is a story where the villain not only comes out on top, but might actually be the hero in the end. It’s thematically deep, mature and, under the guidance of Zack Snyder, very violent, and though it might not be the cinematic revolution everyone hoped it would be, it’s still the best version of the movie that could have been made.
The film takes place in 1985 in an alternate universe where Richard Nixon is in his fifth term as president, the U.S. and Soviet Union are one push of the button away from a nuclear holocaust, and costumed superheroes have been outlawed. That is, except for the sadistic mercenary known as The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and the god-like Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), both of whom now work for the government. When The Comedian is murdered, however, masked vigilante Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) begins investigating, fearing that this is only the first in a series of killings targeted towards ex-superheroes. But after teaming up with former partner, Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), and second-generation crime fighter Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman), to further explore his theory, Rorschach discovers that it’s something much bigger.
As anyone who has read the graphic novel can tell you, there’s a lot more to the story than that, and Snyder does his best to cram as much into the film's massive 163-minute runtime as he possibly can. In fact, with the exception of the brilliant opening detailing The Comedian’s murder, the first hour is dedicated almost exclusively to backstory, with more flashbacks than an episode of “Lost.” (It shouldn’t surprise you that executive producer Damon Lindelof has listed “Watchmen” as a major influence on the show). Snyder actually juggles the flashbacks remarkably well, and what might normally seem monotonous to the non-fan only helps to draw them in.
For diehard fans, the film is as faithful to the source material as you’re likely to get, with some scenes even playing out word-for-word and shot-for-shot. That doesn’t mean that cuts haven’t been made, though. There are events that have been moved around and subplots axed, but in the long run, the script feels more economic. Perhaps the biggest change is that the Silk Spectre’s hatred for The Comedian has been downplayed considerably, and as a result, we get even fewer scenes with Jeffrey Dean Morgan in the role. It’s a damn shame too, because Morgan, whose charisma goes a long way in his limited screen time, is deeply missed the minute he serves his purpose to the story.
Fortunately, the rest of cast is just as good, with Jackie Earle Haley stealing the show as the inkblot mask-wearing Rorschach. Virtually unrecognizable as his alter ego, Walter Kovacs, Haley quickly proves that his return to acting in 2006’s “Little Children” wasn’t a fluke. Patrick Wilson is also solid as the Batman-esque yin to Rorschach’s yang, while Malin Akerman turns in her best performance to date. Matthew Goode also manages to give Ozymandias (perhaps the most undeveloped of the characters in the comic) some much needed depth, and Billy Crudup, who has the impossible task of making Dr. Manhattan likeable, does a fine job underneath all the special effects.
And then there’s the ending – the topic of most debate amongst fanboys ever since news leaked that the movie wouldn’t be using the original conclusion involving a giant squid. But here’s the thing: it actually benefits from the new direction. In fact, the only detail that might catch the audience by surprise is Snyder’s insistence on making the fight scenes so violent. “Watchmen” was always a mature book, and though it’s nice to see that they've ramped up the action with some really stylish sequences, the amount of blood spilled is completely unnecessary. Nevertheless, all those crazy fans can go ahead and scratch “Kill Zack Snyder” off their to-do lists, because he has crafted an incredibly faithful adaptation that retains the spirit of its source material. It might not live up to the reputation of the graphic novel, but then again, neither does the book itself.
Director's Cut Blu-ray Review:
The Blu-ray release of “Watchmen” has been the subject of attention since before the movie even arrived in theaters, but that’s what happens when you adapt something as popular as Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ groundbreaking graphic novel. The good news is that after all the legal issues with 20th Century Fox and the film’s less-than-stellar box office performance, Warner Bros. has still come through with one of the coolest Blu-rays of the year. Not only does it feature a director’s cut with over 20 minutes of additional footage, but the three-disc set also introduces the much-publicized Maximum Movie Mode, which is kind of like Universal’s U-Control feature on steroids.
Quite simply, this is the future of Blu-ray, with Zack Snyder hosting an in-depth look at key sequences (often pausing the movie to discuss certain details), while other extras – like picture-in-picture interviews with the cast and crew, a timeline comparing historical events from Our World to Their World, and comic book comparisons – supplement the experience. Also included are a series of video diaries that you can hop over to while watching the film, as well as a second disc packed with featurettes on the graphic novel, the psychology of vigilantes, and the science of “Watchmen.” If there’s any one release that should convince consumers why Blu-ray is better than DVD, this is it.