Tuesday, March 03, 2009

I watched the Watchmen

There are certain parallels between comic books and film. It can be a lot of fun to see a story or a character make the move from one medium to another.

But sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. Case in point – “Watchmen.”

Along with “The Dark Knight Returns,” “Watchmen” was considered groundbreaking when it was first published by DC Comics in 1986. With its dark mood and adult themes, it helped show the mainstream world that comics weren’t just kid stuff.

For those unfamiliar with the story, it’s set in alternate 1985 where Richard Nixon is still the president, the United States is on the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union and superheroes have been outlawed. It begins with the murder of an ex-crime fighter called the Comedian who was once part of a superhero team called the Watchmen. His death is investigated by a former teammate – Rorschach, a violent, masked vigilante. Of course, the Comedian’s death is just the first piece of a much bigger puzzle that eventually brings the surviving Watchmen back together.

It’s been a long time since I read “Watchmen.” So my memory of it was a little fuzzy going in. But near as I can tell the film was pretty faithful to the book.

Perhaps a little too faithful. Although “Watchmen” is often branded as a “graphic novel,” in truth it was first published as a 12-issue miniseries – separate storylines strung together to make up an overall plot. As a result, the movie seems a little too segmented. That makes the film’s 161-minute running time feel like it’s dragging at times. In this case, I think the movie would have benefited from a less literal adaptation. They could have mixed the story up a little and tightened it up some. Or maybe a movie isn’t the right medium. Maybe it would have worked better as a cable miniseries.

Also, I think the story carried more weight 20-some years ago. We were still in the midst of the Cold War and still concerned about nukes from Russia. But now that we’re a couple of decades removed from that particular threat it doesn’t seem to have the same level of oomph in the story. It almost seems quaint.

That said, I wouldn’t say the movie was a total bust. It’s a visual feast, with great effects and it is fun to see the characters and certain scenes brought to life (Well, maybe fun isn't right word. It's not exactly a "fun" movie). I also really liked the use of the music in the movie. The “deconstruction of the superhero” (as original writer Alan Moore described it) still makes for a good story. I’m just not sure how well it works in this format.

By the way, “Watchmen” earns every bit of its “R” rating.

If you’re a comic book geek – especially if you’ve already read the book – then “Watchmen” is worth watching, even though you might not be wowed by it. But I think the average moviegoer will want to look elsewhere.


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