Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Watchmen (2009)

Tonight, a Comedian died in New York.

I hadn't read the novel before I saw the film, but when I finally did, I appreciated what a massive undertaking it was to try and bring it to the silver screen. I did have misgivings about Zak Snyder after 300, because I just don't get on with it for various reasons, but he completely redeemed himself with Watchmen. I wont go into the plot here as it is far too complicated. If you want a summary then for goodness sake see here!

Right from the beginning it is great. The Comedian being beaten while Nat King Cole's Unforgettable is playing is just brilliant. Then the credits play along with The Times They are a Changing, while we see lots of old photographs, nicely animated (not in a Harry Potter kind of way!), giving a lot of background info into the origins of The Minute Men and the Watchmen. Not only does this look great, but it manages to tell a lot of back story in a short time; though I guess it is perhaps too fast if you don't already know the story.

The cast all fit their characters perfectly. To me they were all unknowns, but they all perform with aplomb making the characters leap off the pages of the novel. Dr Manhattan (Billy Crudup) is suitably detached from everyone; Dan (Patrick Wilson) is a slightly nervous, trustworthy average Joe, Rorschach (Jackie Earl Haley) is brilliantly unforgiving and gritty, and Adrian Weidt (Matthew Goode) is confident and suave without being cringeworthy. To name just a few. I'm not sure a better cast could have been found, and casting a huge named actor/actress would definitely have been a no no, as that would have risked not believing that character is from the novel

Obviously the design of the film was taken from the book, there are so many shots in the film that are exactly as they appear in the graphic novel. Even when there are several pictures from the novel that progressively move out or into a scene, these are translated as panning/zooming shots, which all looks fantastic. There are also many little references to the graphic novel (Dan is getting new locks on his door: Gordion Knot reference; posters advertising The Black Frieghter, The (Gunga?) cafe) which means there is plenty of detail to keep fans of the novel interested, without getting bogged-down, and all the while not losing site of the main plot. This all allows for a thoroughly entertaining story with a very rich-environment.

Having spent time telling you how accurate the film is to the book, there is one major deviation: the end. However, I don't really have an issue with it. In the book, huge aliens are zapped to various locations over the globe using Dr Manhattan-type technology developed by Adrian Weidt. This seeming "invasion" brings the world together and prevents nuclear war. I think that this would be hard to realise (not taking anything away from the ability of the director), and would run the risk of looking a bit silly. So the decision to go with nuclear blasts with the characteristics of Dr Manhattan allows the pitfall of potential sillyness to be circumnavigated, without taking anything away from Adrian's end game. The use of the nuclear detonations also ties in with the rest of the nuclear arms race theme of the story.

I could probably go on for ages about how great this movie looks (real credit should go to Zak Snyder and director of photography Larry Fong), and about the nice touches (eg Dan always doing a bit of a double-take every time he sees Rorschach on the street without his mask on, and the Rorschach image left in the snow in Rorschach's blood after Dr Manhattan has killed him), but I really shouldn't. Suffice to say that I think this is a great film, though at 2 hours 20 min, not a short one, but justice had to be done for the source material. All of the music is also perfect, though a lot of it is mentioned in the book; it's really as if Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons were expecting this to be made into a film one day! I think this is a great film (in case you hadn't got that by now!), one that becomes more enjoyable each time you watch it.

One last thing I would like to draw attention to is the shot at the Comedian's funeral in the rain. A very mute, almost grey palette is used in the shot, and as the camera pulls away from the graveyard under the wrought iron gate we see the legend "Cemetery". A very similar shot can be seen in the Sucker Punch trailer see here as the car approaches Lennox House. Is there a similar shot in 300? Maybe I'm being silly, thinking it as a trademark shot!