Sunday, March 08, 2009

Movie Review: Watchmen

"George, you can write this shit, but you can't say it." - Harrison Ford to George Lucas

The quote above pretty much embodies a lot of my feelings towards the movie adaptation of Alan Moore & Dave Gibbon's graphic novel Watchmen. I absolutely love the book,but when comic book dialogue is taken off of the page and put on screen, coming out of the mouths of real people, it just sounds stupid.

But let's back track. I did think the movie as a whole was pretty good, Zack Snyder took what I thought to be an un-filmable book and managed to tame it into a pretty brisk 2 hour 45 minute movie. Some of the performances were excellent, some (one in particular) were not so good. So we'll start with the good. The movie really begins excellently right off with a credits sequence set to Bob Dylan's "The Times, They Are A-Changin'" illustrating the "golden age" of the movie's world to the present with key scenes, including the formation of the Minutemen, the assassination of JFK, and the sad end of the Silhouette. It really sucks you into the world that Moore & Gibbons created and serves as a great Cliff's Notes to the new viewer to understand what 1985 of the Watchmen's world is like. From there we get the first two issues of the series pretty much word-for-word, and done well. Jackie Earl Haley is very good as Rorschach , managing to pull off his voice very well and give his journal readings some heft. Though Jeffrey Dean Morgan gives it a good try, The Comedian's dialogue is the most ridiculous, when not given a brush-up for the screen. This is most obvious during his scene with the Nite Owl while quelling the pre-Keene Act riots. I love how it reads off the page, but when it comes out of his mouth, it just doesn't work. It's in this instance that the filmmakers' slavish devotion to the source material hamstrings them. I'm sure they could have pulled this off much better if they'd rewritten some of it.

The movie proceeds pretty much along the lines of the book, excising some characters (the News Vendor, the boy reading the comic book) and combining some scenes (the psychiatrist now has just one scene with Rorschach). The biggest change is the tweak to the ending, which really didn't bother me, though the idea that Dan & Laurie continued on as superheroes after the end did, as it kind of misses the point. I always thought was one of the ideas of the book was that dressing up in these idiotic costumes was damaging to the individual, for them to continue to be costumed adventurers, to me, shows that they haven't changed despite the events of the story.

Easily the worst part of the film was Malin Ackerman's (Laurie Jupiter/Silk Spectre II) acting. It was as if she was reading cue-cards just out of scene. When I read Michael Phillip's review for the Chicago Tribune and he referred to her as "possibly the worst actress in Hollywood at the moment", I thought he was just being an asshole (because the rest of his review is pretty asshole-ish too), but I do have to agree, she's really bad, distractingly so.

Other issues were Zack Snyders' use of his fast-slooooowww-fast style of action scenes, a style that was old before 300 was over. It's odd, because that's the only way he asserts any directorial style into the picture, other than that it's purely what's on the page, put up on the screen. I would much rather have seen a different director put his own stamp on the material ad take chances with it. While Watchmen is not as bad as 300 or Sin City in my mind, both of those movies to me were so slavishly devoted to their source-material that they ceased to be anything more to me than technical exercises in taking pictured from the page and adapting them exactly for the screen; the equivalent of taking a photo of a girl and photoshopping it so that it looks exactly like the Mona Lisa, that's not art, just good photoshopping.

Anyway, I may sound like I'm coming down on the movie, but I did enjoy myself and may even see it another time (I'll certainly see it on video). At no point was I looking at my watch thinking, "get on with it!" I do wish that I could have come into this movie cold, without the weight of having known this story so well for the past 20 years, I think that's why Roger Ebert's review is so laudatory, he had not read the book, so all of this was new to him, as this was just a re-telling of one of my favorites. Overall, they took a great book and made a pretty good movie out of it.

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