Thursday, March 12, 2009

Watchmen: Not Everybody Wants To Rule The World

Who’s watching the Watchmen is one of its themes. Apparently lots of people are, if early box office is any indication.

Others can buy into the disputes between the filmmakers and purists of DC Comics about this story of comic book heroes. The graphic novel hasn’t been my preferred genre since the 1950s but I have enjoyed some of the film adaptations of the less well known super heroes and villains such as Sin City, V for Vendatta and Iron Man. Perhaps the best of the recent ones was Hell Boy.

There have been high expectations for this epic and not just because of its technical brilliance or its length (160 minutes). It doesn’t meet all of them. It’s too long. Catering for a mass audience unfamiliar with the scenarios of the original comics would have been a factor. This movie has a number of love stories, betrayals, and an Armageddon climax. All set against a political background of Richard Nixon as continuing President in 1987. Tricky Dicky just won’t keep way from the cinema lately. Wikipedia has a comprehensive entry that is bound to be regularly re-written by enthusiasts.

It would also been caused by trying to write a screenplay that does justice to its galaxy of super heroes: Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), Silk Spectre (Carla Gugino) and her daughter Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman), Doctor Manhattan (Billy Crudup), The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), and Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley). It’s hard to fault any of the cast.

Fittingly the costumes are first class. Rorschach’s mask, with its morphing ink blots, is superb. Makeup is also very well done.

The sets and props have an eighties feel despite a few anachronisms. The Owl craft tickled some old memories of Buck Rogers and other fifties matinee serials. Buck once superfluously remarked in the 1979-80 TV series that everything that had happened so far was in the past. We knew that it was in a 25th Century future. Watchmen takes place in a parallel 1980s universe. Watergate journalists Woodward and Bernstein have been neutralised. The Oscar winning adaptation of their story All the President's Men would never have been made. A U.S. victory in Vietnam War is secured by the intervention of super heroes. Pure fantasy!

If you’re not into the sight of blood, this isn’t for you. As well as extreme violence, the explicit sex means that it’s not a young kids’ movie. Dr. Manhattan has rather kinky tendencies. The young love birds only get it off after some action in costume to the strains of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’.

The themes are probably of little interest to many action fans. This is a meta-hero film that explores the ethics of intervention in human affairs and of appropriate means to an end. It’s the kind of philosophical discussion that the Greek gods might have had on Mount Olympus. The ancient world permeates the whole production. As well as the Greeks we have Egyptians and Persians. Very much the stuff of modern sci-fi.

Watchmen has a dramatic impact when seen on a large screen with the audio turned right up. Migraine territory. Director Zack Snyder has given us a sensual delight otherwise. The computer graphics have the usual high glitz despite working in an old-look context. Tyler Bates’ very effective score owes a debt to many previous films. The ubiquitous Bob Dylan lends The Times They Are a-Changin' to our ears. The compilation of old hots includes: Jimi Hendrix's version of ‘All Along the Watchtower’, Simon & Garfunkel's ‘The Sounds of Silence’, Jimi Hendrix's 'All Along the Watchtower’ and a version of Tears For Fears' ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’.

The old cliché of the journal, narrated by its author and dropped at a newspaper, is used to give coherence to the convoluted plot. This added film noir element shouldn’t be necessary. As the director’s cut of Blade Runner showed, it’s usually better without the voice over.

If you’re tired of Batman and Spiderman retreads, then this could be the movie for you. If you’re a fan of the comics, then you might want to wait for an extended director’s cut due later in the year. Too much is obviously not enough for some people!

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