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Friday, March 13, 2009

WATCHMEN

By D.E.Levine

Director: Zach Snyder
Screenplay: David Hayter, Alex Tse
Based On: the graphic novel co-created and illustrated by Dave Gibbons and published by DC Comics
Producers: Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin, Deborah Snyder
Co-producer: Wesley Coller
Executive Producers: Herbert W. Gains, Thomas Tull, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Carla Gugino, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson
Cast: Malin Akerman
Running Time: 161 minutes
Genre: Adventure

Initially published in single issues by DC Comics from 1986-1987, only Dave Gibbons is credited onscreen with authorship of the 12-part novel.

I brought no baggage with me to the screening for Watchmen because I've never read the graphic novel. Since I'm not part of the cult that grew up around the novel I thought I could be totally objective in reviewing the movie. Of course, I have friends who are part of the cult, are totally hooked, and tried to indoctrinate me regarding the characters and story beforehand.

From everything I've heard director Zack Snyder has been totally faithful to the novel in transferring the story to the big screen. Initially I thought it bore a resemblance in set design and overall look to Sin City (which I loved) but I must admit by the end of the film I was tired, confused and felt something was lacking.

In an alternate world of 1985, Richard Nixon is still in office, ostensibly enjoying a fifth term and the United States is facing an imminent nuclear war with the Soviet Union. President Nixon appears repeatedly and each time his nose is longer and more prominent. Reminiscent of Pinocchio, whose nose grows longer each time he lies, I interpreted the growing nose as an editorial comment on Tricky Dick's repeated public statements about his honesty (later proven to be lies).

When we join the film President Nixon has outlawed the masked and costumed superheroes that this story revolves around. In addition to being banned, a group known as the Watchmen are disillusioned because the world they dedicated their lives to saving doesn't seem to be worth the effort.

We only learn about the crime fighters because of the initial scene which is the murder of one of their own. Edward Blake, a former vigilante crime fighter known as the Comedian, is attacked in his luxurious Manhattan apartment and hurled to his death (shown in slow motion). His murder triggers a reunion of the remaining members of the Watchmen. The investigation by the other crime fighters to try to find out who killed the Comedian draws us into their lives in the present and their back stories.

The Watchmen are a strange and diverse bunch. Dan Driberg was the birdlike Nite Owl, a gadget expert. Equipped with a flying owl ship, he likes to cruise across the night sky and conduct rescues whenever he can. Walter Kovacs, known as Rorschach, his ex-partner, is a raspy-voiced tough guy sociopath who likes to play rough with criminals and wears a face mask bearing an inkblot that changes patterns. Depressed but pragmatic, Rorschach becomes increasingly paranoid, but as the film unfolds we see he has good reason for his paranoia . He urges the Watchmen back into vigilante action in essence for self preservation.

Adrian Veidt, the crime fighter known as Ozymandias "the smartest man in the world" is a genius at marketing and has successfully licensed and merchandised his persona accruing a massive fortune. But his money and brilliance don't appear to be enough to protect him from murder attempts. Are those attempts somehow related to the Comedian's murder? Are the other members of the Watchmen being targeted?

Sally Jupiter was the female superhero Silk Spectre, very sexy and effective. Did she mix business and pleasure? Sally is bitter and as her story unfolds we see she has plenty of secrets in her back story that made her that way. Having retired, she forces her identity and a redesigned more current costume on her equally sexy daughter Laurie Jupiter. Does she suspect her former friends and crime fighters of the Comedian murder? If she knows something, is it safe for her daughter Laurie to be the new Silk Spectre?

Laurie has a crime fighter lover, Jon Osterman, who is known as Dr. Manhattan. A former Pentagon egghead who has served time behind bars. A government accident destroyed his physical body and turned him a morose glowing cerulean blue, but the accident also gave him regenerative powers. Bald and hairless all over, the glowing blue man has a fantastic bodybuilder-like physique, and can do some amazing things with that body including clone himself. He's lost faith in his country, the human race and his friends and prefers to streak across the universe. When he goes into self-imposed exile on Mars because of a media disaster, the glass palace that he conjures up accompanied by music by Philip Glass, leaves the viewer breathless.

Rorschach is sufficiently depressed and paranoid to suspect a link between the Comedian's death and the threat from the Soviet's of nuclear annihilation. He's the only one that suspects a link. Meanwhile, since he's being cleverly framed for another murder, the viewer has to wonder if perhaps there might be something real behind his paranoia. In which case, if it was true he wouldn't be paranoid.

The different threads of the crime fighters, their lives and their current story lines are played out against a series of flashback vignettes that explain each superhero's background, origins and specific worldviews. Underlying it all is the question "Who killed Edward Blake, the Comedian?"

With Dr. Manhattan in self-imposed exile on Mars, Laurie gets romantically involved with the Nite Owl, flying in his owl machine and crime fighting along side him. Is this true love or a match made on the rebound for convenience? Do they trust each other or are they acting?

I really tried to like this film but when the 161 minutes were over, it seemed like I'd been watching it for much longer. Mr. Snyder may have been true to the graphic novel's dialogue but I was confused and overloaded with too many characters that were crammed in and insufficiently developed. Crammed with confusing back stories and constant jumping from present to flashbacks, the dialogue seemed stilted and unnecessarily long so I didn't appreciate its authenticity.

I did like the soundtrack which was an eclectic mix of Bob Dylan, Billie Holiday, Simon and Garfunkel and others. The soundtrack blared throughout the film at decibels so loud that everyone in the audience was deaf at the end. Requests to lower the volume didn't effect a result and frankly the excessive decibels on top of everything else made the picture such an unpleasant experience that I wouldn't recommend it to even the most ardent Watchmen followers