Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Big Honking Nerd Review: Watchmen (Snyder, 2009)


If you continued reading comics past the age of 17 one of two things likely happened: 1) you have deep suited emotional problems rooted in some kind of abuse and deep-seated anger that resolves itself in some kind of vicarious vigilantism, or 2) you read Alan Moore’s groundbreaking 1987 deconstruction of the superhero genre Watchmen. Possibly both. Anyway, Watchmen is the reason why Alan Moore is given license to be such a gigantic prick, because it is one of the best comics, quite possibly ever.


I’m definitely more a Marvel Zombie than a DC Drone, but many of my favorite comics do happen to come out of the Hallowed House of Superman and Batman than the Mighty House of Ideas (especially considering current editorial decisions, long story short, Joe Quesada sucks.) Watchmen is an incredible graphic novel, and if you liked the movie, definitely go and read the graphic novel.

Watchmen has been in development hell for 27 years (Terry Gilliam famously called it “unfilmable,”) and finally saw the light of day thanks to 300 director Zach Snyder. This is where I say how this movie is madness and we type in all capital letters about how this is not madness, and is in fact Sparta. Pretend that just happened.


So, for those uninitiated, Watchmen centers on a murder mystery, a conspiracy caper centering on the murder of G. Gordon Liddy stand-in and psychopath superhero The Comedian. Along the way, barring a few minor changes here and there and subplot or two dropped, it follows the general trajectory of the miniseries. How they managed to fit in the sheer amount they did was, in and of itself, rather impressive.

However, a couple of telling changes. The first involves the non-presence of cigarettes. I understand Hollywood’s intent here, trying to keep suggestible kids from thinking that smoking is cool or glamorous. But for a movie that has full frontal nudity and bone-splitting gore, preventing the representation of smoking on the off chance that someone will be influenced into thinking it’s cool somehow seems almost laughable. For that matter, the two scenes that come to mind are worse off because of it. In one, a character searching for a cigarette lighter on a high-tech ship accidentally activates the flamethrower, which, without her smoking, is just ridiculous and makes her character suffer because of it. The other, where in the comic a young Rorschach sticks a cigarette into another kid’s eye and proceeds to beat him mercilessly now ends with him ripping a huge bloody chunk out of his cheek.

If that last sentence didn’t warn you, this movie is gory. I recently reread the comic, and although it is certainly bloody and violent, I feel as though in this it gets amped up to a degree that is almost grotesque. I got the sneaking sensation that, given the sheer volume of Doctor Manhattan’s blue wang, we get more than a few hints of female nudity, an as-graphic-as-you-can-get-in-an-R-rating sex scene that drags on for ever, and excessive gore to try and have the movie convince us its not gay.

Which brings me to another point, very closely related to the last two paragraphs: DO NOT bring your children to this movie. No matter how they plead or beg, do not take them. Anyone under the age of 16 watching this movie is really, most likely, a bad idea. It’s an R-rated movie, and a hard R at that, and I don’t care how much they whine or what a cool parent you’d seem like for dong it, it is an awful idea.

And barring the ending (for the sake of those who haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil it, but needless to say it’s slightly different,) I actually rather liked this movie. The casting and acting were great, good production design, good costumes, great music (even discounting the completely unnecessary MCR cover of Desolation Row,) generally this was a well-crafted film. It was fun, and I generally liked it, although it could have been better, and the main flaws were in the story changes and the adaptation. That wouldn’t keep me from discouraging this for anyone. And, at almost 3 hours, if you have to pay 10 dollars to go see it, at least you’ll get your money’s worth.


Overall, I give Watchmen a B+. Fun, decently made, but way too long, and is most likely the wrong medium to be made in. Had the deal gone through for a 12-episode animated hour-long miniseries (which is, in my opinion, probably the perfect medium for it outside of the comics themselves,) that would probably be A+ material, even with the story changes.

But, on the bright side, it was not this.


Ricky said...

I enjoyed the movie as well, but like so many paper to film adaptations, things weren't perfect. A B+ is a fair score.

scodav said...

Thanks a lot for clearly warning kids via parents away from the movie. We saw a parent come in with three boys under 12 years old, and couldn't help double-cringing on their behalf with every splash of blood.