Review of Watchmen
Saturday, August 28, 2010 • 8:52am
I must confess that I have never read Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' original graphic novel Watchmen. But movies and graphic novels are two entirely different mediums. The film critic's ultimate responsibility is to judge Watchmen's merits as a movie per se. Therefore, can it be appreciated by people who have never read the graphic novel?
For the most part, I fear that Watchmen will be confusing and unwatchable to the uninitiated. I'm not sure that fans of the graphic novel will be satisfied with the movie either; I've already read complaints that it hasn't done justice to the source. It's a bad omen when the opening montage is more entertaining and comprehensible than almost everything else in the movie.
Watchmen takes place in an alternate 1985 world, where Richard Nixon is serving his fifth term as President and the United States and the Soviet Union are on the brink of a nuclear war. The Watchmen are a retired group of costumed crimefighters deemed irrelevant by the outlawing of masked vigilantism.
When one of the former members, Edward Blake, a.k.a. The Comedian, is murdered, another ex-Watchman, using the alias of Rorschach, suspects a plot to discredit and kill all superheroes. Rorschach tries to contact his former partners to expose and foil whoever's responsible for the conspiracy in order to save humanity.
It reads like a simple scenario that's easy to follow, doesn't it? But David Hayter and Alex Tse's screenplay is burdened with a glut of characters and storylines and none of them are sufficiently developed to engage the viewers.
It seems to me that the original graphic novel was densely plotted. If this was the case, Watchmen might have been more effectively adapted as a TV miniseries, with more time allowed to flesh out the characters.
Director Zack Snyder provides Watchmen with an appropriate noirish and comic book atmosphere. Most of the scenes are either rain soaked or darkly lit, emphasizing the film's noirish aspect. The comic book aspect is particularly stressed in the crimefighters' colorful costumes, especially Rorschach's mask- constantly shifting black blotches on a white background. Unfortunately, Snyder overindulges in quick cuts and slow motion and these gimmicks fail to compensate for the insubstantial scenario. Even worse, he dwells on gratuitous violence, such as two dogs devouring the leg bone of a child and Rorschach repeatedly striking a criminal's skull with a meat cleaver. What's the point of such graphic gore, except for cheap titillation?
On the whole, the actors are defeated by the material. As the ruthless, rigidly moralistic Rorschach, Jackie Earle Haley's face is concealed much of the time but his gruff voice imbues the role with a palpable menace. Regrettably, despite a very short backstory, his character is mostly a one-dimensional Dirty Harry imitation.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan conveys a nihilistic joie de vivre as the Comedian, a sociopath who shoots innocents with the same lack of hesitation as he shoots evildoers. He provides a hint of vulnerability in a brief scene when he tearfully confides to someone. But Snyder and the screenwriters offer the viewers nothing but a hint; one never really understands what makes the Comedian tick.
Unless you've read the graphic novel and are curious about how the filmmakers have tried to adapt it to film, my advice is to wait until Watchmen comes out on DVD. This way, you can enjoy the opening montage, wittily depicting the Watchmen in various historical reenactments like the John F. Kennedy assassination, and skip the rest of the movie.
Playing at Clearview's Beacon Hill Cinema 5 in Summit, Watchmen is rated R for strong graphic violence, nudity, sexuality, and strong language.
Raymond Valinoti, Jr. is a librarian, freelance writer and researcher. He writes movie reviews for TheAlternativePress.com
The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TheAlternativePress.com or anyone who works for TheAlternativePress.com. TheAlternativePress.com is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.