Sunday, March 8, 2009

Watchmen: Pros and Cons

I have very mixed feelings about how this turned out, so I'm going to crib a reviewing style from a certain other blog. Interspersed in my (very long) review are some of the weird viral ads for the film that have appeared online. I'll try to spoil the movie as little as possible.


-The First Act
The opening credits, which trace the alternate history of the world in the Watchmen universe, might just be the best part of the whole movie. The entire first act is so dense with material that the rest of the film is a letdown by comparison.

The film does a nice job of establishing the backstories of each of the main characters. The origin stories for Dr. Manhattan and Rorschach are easy standouts, but I thought the film did an admirable job for establishing the backstories and motivations for most of the characters. It just doesn't seem to know what to do with them from there.

Visually, Watchmen is stunning. The set design and special effects are among the best I've ever seen. The costuming is a bit silly, but that was probably the point.

-Adherence to the source material
The best parts of Watchmen are taken almost verbatim from the comic version. The scenes featuring Dr. Manhattan on Mars and Rorschach in prison especially stand out in my mind. However, smaller scenes such the one featuring the original Night Owl and his successor are also taken directly from the comic.

-Changes from the source material
The excision of the Tales of the Black Freighter parallel narrative allows the film to maintain a sense of cohesiveness. Apparently it'll be included in the DVD release anyways so no big loss there. Other changes, such as the added scenes between Rorschach and Night Owl II helped to add some necessary emotional depth to the events of the third act.


-The Action Scenes
I've talked about this pretty extensively already. The fight scenes throughout the film are heavily choreographed and excessively gory. Don't get me wrong, Watchmen is a violent comic, but the goriness of the fight scenes in the first two acts really lessoned the emotional impact of the violence in the third.

-Malin Akerman
The acting was generally fine throughout the film with both Billy Crudup and Jackie Earle Haley putting in strong performances. I'm still confused as to why anyone thought Malin Akerman would be good to play Silk Specter II. The scenes she is in are supposedly some of the most emotionally complex in the film, but it does not come across at all on the screen.

-The Soundtrack
The soundtrack for Watchmen features a range of musical genres including everything from Mozart's Requiem, to Hendrix's All Along to Watchtower, to My Chemical Romance covering Bob Dylan. In certain sequences it really works. The Philip Glass piece used during Dr. Manhattan's origin added an appropriate sense of eeriness and outerworldlyness to the whole sequence. However, in the majority of cases the soundtrack distracted me from what was happening on screen and pulled me right out of the movie. 99 Luftballoons might have fit thematically given that its about nuclear war... but no... it doesn't actually fit at all. Finally, the less said of My Chemical Romance covering Bob Dylan the better.

-Adherence to the source material
As cool as they are and as influential as they were to changing the way superheroes were written, Rorschach's monologues sound a bit silly when read aloud verbatim from the comic.

-Changes from the source material
Some of my favorite scenes were cut from the film, and the changes made to the ending really hurt the whole thing. The original ending is admittedly kind of silly, but the ending to the film just doesn't work as well.

All and all, despite my mixed feelings about the film, I'm interested in seeing how it holds up on repeated viewings. As an adaptation of the comic it doesn't work as well as a lot of people (including myself) would have liked, but as a stand alone film it works well enough. Zach Snyder's background in music videos and commercials is quite obvious here as individual scenes hold together very well but the overall narrative is somewhat disjointed. Worth seeing for the visuals and the Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan scenes if you can get past the ridiculous soundtrack and some questionable acting.

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