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The perils of watching “Watchmen”

Published: March 13, 2009
Section: Arts, Etc.


 

The most difficult part about watching “Watchmen” was facing expectations. Sitting down to a film that one has already read or seen in another form usually causes the viewer to compare that work to its other incarnations. From the moment the movie was announced on the opening weekend, fanboys everywhere were wetting their pants in hopes that “Watchmen” would be the next great comic book movie. To be clear, Zach Snyder’s movie about superheroes in alternate 1980s timeline is entertaining. For fans of the graphic novel, the movie follows the storytelling structure as well as the overall themes that are present in the legendary piece of literature (yes, I said literature). However, undoubtedly, the movie will lose critical favor with those who have never read the Alan Moore penned story.

Watching the film is not like reading the graphic novel. The two stories, while almost exactly the same in content as well as the way they are visually shown, do not create same kind of enjoyment. That is not to say that the movie’s entertainment value is greater than the graphic novel or vice versa (I apologize for using that phrase). The entertainment one can find in the graphic novel as opposed to that of the movie is just simply different. For example, Moore’s story is drenched in originality with regards to narrative and visual appearance. The images pop off the page and plant themselves into readers’ subconscious whether they like it or not. The movie, while still highly enjoyable, seems like a retread of “300” as well as “Sin City.” In all honesty, despite the different story, the movie version is something we have all seen before.

To be candid, none of the performances truly stick out or resonate after the lights have turned on. “Watchmen” unlike “The Dark Knight” does not have a role that allows a member of the cast to truly take over the movie as Heath Ledger did as the Joker. However, this is due in large part to the movie truly being an ensemble piece rather than podium for a singular individual to steal the show.

The movie, like the original story itself, is told in a very dark manner. With bodies and blood flying every which way (including the blood of dogs in a particularly gruesome scene) the movie stays true to the graphic novel’s tone. There are very few moments of humor because the story (despite what the grown people prancing around in costumes with wings may make you infer) is a gloomy tale of a world on the brink of Armageddon. The movie is not meant to be a campy affair (as much as Joel Schumacher probably would have liked it to be). When the blood isn’t spewing, Snyder borrows from noir-styled detective films of the past. This is, of course, taken directly from the panels of the original graphic novel, but nonetheless is an exciting homage to the “who done it” movies of yesteryear.

Let’s get something straight. The hype and undue expectations that the “Watchmen” movie has been met with from the outset of its production will be impossible to match. No movie, unless perfectly executed, can live up to the excitement surrounding a movie adapted from a defining piece of literature (there is that word again) premiering relatively close in release date to what is arguably the best comic-book movie of all time (and I’m not talking about “The Spirit”). However, it is unfair to lambast “Watchmen” with critiques based upon how good the source material is or how much one enjoyed “The Dark Knight.” Those two pieces of pop-culture history are at the apex of their respective genres. Entering the theater with the mindset that “Watchmen would position itself among that category is just crazy.” Take the movie for what it is. Entertaining (and long).