Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Treatise On Blue Dong

Zack Snyder is an artist. His canvas is celluloid. Whatever anyone says about his big screen adaptation of Alan Moore's beloved graphic novel Watchmen, the one thing that no one can deny is the uncompromising beauty of this film. Densely packed with nuances that demand repeat viewings Snyder's film is a paradox in the pantheon of comic book film adaptations. Can an adaptation be too elaborate and yet not enough? Hit the jump to find out.

Watchmen is set in an alternate universe where masked avengers rose to prominence in the 1930s and have since become despised and outlawed. It's 1985, Richard Nixon is still president. The world is on the brink of global nuclear war(though no WOPR in sight) and a Comedian is killed in New York. Ok, not A comedian, THE Comedian. Former masked avenger and current government operative Edward Blake AKA The Comedian is killed in his posh apartment. Who was behind the killing and is it a precursor to something bigger? These are the questions that Watchmen asks.

The story is long and complicated and sadly for viewers who've never read the graphic novel, it's probably totally incoherent.

The major issue that exists in this film is the question I posed above the jump. Can an adaptation include too much and not enough of the source material all at once. Watchmen answers yes. YES! There are things that are left on the cutting room floor that absolutely must exist in order for the story to make sense and most importantly resonate with the viewer, and there are things that are left in the movie that are great to see but could have been trimmed to allow for more important things be included. The film is certainly watchable (no pun intended) but could have been so much more. The rumored extended edition DVD (said to include an extra hour of footage) has the potential to rectify these mistakes, but it's somewhat sad to see this version pushed on audiences now, when I know that better version exists.

Much has been made of the ending being changed, and I won't spoil it here, the ending works fine if you've never read the book. I understand why the changes were made, and aside from some small quibbles I have with the resolution. It's not going to replace the book's ending for me, but it doesn't make me angry.

Every frame of film is densely packed with details from the graphic novel that simply demand repeat viewings, and fans of the book will adore the attention to detail that exists on screen. Snyder should be commended for the fight he won in keeping these details in the film as well as keeping the setting and themes mostly intact. I know that the studio (and original screenplay penned by Metal Gear Solid voice actor David Hayter) wanted the film set in present day NYC. Snyder fought to keep the time period and other details true to the book and I commend him for that.

The acting is truly a mixed bag. Billy Crudup as blue superman Jon "Doc Manhattan" Osterman has a difficult job of making a mostly emotionless naked blue man an empathetic character using only his voice. He does a fairly good job. Crudup has prior voice acting experience from Princess Mononoke, being one of the only actors in that film to not rape my eardrums, he is much appreciated.

Jackie Earle Haley truly owns this film. His portrayal of crazed avenger Rorschach, is one of the finest performances I've seen in a comic book film or any other film. It's not quite Heath Ledger's Joker (You can thank the mask for that), but think of Watchmen and Jackie Earle Haley is going to be the first thing you think of. Unless you are infatuated with blue wiener.

On the other side of the acting spectrum, Malin Akerman, Matthew Goode, and Carla Gugino simply ruin every scene that they are in. The disturbing part is that they have important and necessary character arcs, without them the story simply could not exist. And they are horrible. HORRIBLE. For every battle Snyder won to keep the setting of the film accurate to the source material--any praise I give him for the good he's done, is tarnished by the terrible performances that he coaxes out of these actors.

And don't get me started on the prosthetic makeup, Moloch's strange ears, Nixon's wicked witch-esque nose, and Carla Gugino's age makeup (never thought I would miss Benjamin Button's makeup) are all just pathetically done. I can't help but think that if a director such as Guillermo del Toro, who is passionate about prosthetics, worked with this film it would be so much better.

In the end the makeup is a small gripe, and the film that exists IS good. It's loud, fun, and sad all at the same time. It's no replacement for the graphic novel. Nothing is. But as a companion piece to the book, it works. The story isn't as deep, the emotional core of the book isn't there. It's a blue ghostly circulatory system walking through the kitchen of a government testing facility. With some extra care, that director's cut might just be able to restructure it's intrinsic field into a more complete experience. Right now, it's adequate but slightly disappointing.

3 out of 5
'Till next time!

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