21 juillet, 2009

Rorschach’s Journal. July 21st, 2009.:

WATCHMEN - Movie Review

A DVD review? Well, sort of. The thing is I did go and see Watchmen when it first came out in theatres, and because of my… condition, I couldn’t really write about it back then. That was a shame because I really had a lot to say. But hey, it doesn’t really matter anymore because this morning, I rented the Director’s Cut on Blu-Ray. And because I still don’t have a text on it and that I haven’t seen the version before, I thought it would be good to sit down and tell you everything about Watchmen. But enough of the back story here, let’s just get into it.

When moviegoers learned about this graphic novel adaptation and the struggles made for the film, the words that always came out was “The unfilmable movie”. Numerous people tried to develop this amazing story into a movie, on a long time period, but nobody really succeed; until in 2009, when Watchmen was finally released. Sadly, there is a question that was left out by some people about the difficulty factor. In short, why was Watchmen, the graphic novel by Alan Moore, is not an easy book to adapt? I found that the hard way.

You see, there is a great shop in Place Laurier called L’imaginaire. It’s here that you can pretty much find everything geek related in Quebec City. Comic books, movie posters, action figures, manga, racing replica costing 200$, you get the idea. So, months prior to the movie’s release, I went ahead and bought the comic book, to be familiar with the story. Without knowing it, I sealed my own doom. By reading it from start to finish, I saw what was awesome about Watchmen. I saw the complicated connections between everything that happens. I saw the great atmosphere of the setting. I saw why it was unfilmable; it’s just too big. By this point you might think I will never like the movie because, well, Watchmen now has a place in my heart and obviously Zack Snyder’s vision of this universe could never satisfy me. However, you’re kinda wrong on this point. This movie is an “adaptation”; it must adapt its material for the big screen. As long as the feeling is intact, the characters are there and the basic story and message are still here, it might be a pretty good experience… of course, that is where Watchmen falls short.

If you still haven’t read the comic, go buy it. It’s 20 bucks well spent, but I’ll try to do the set-up. Watchmen takes place in an alternative version of 1985, where the world is at the edge of nuclear war, Richard Nixon is still president, and vigilantes are now off the streets due to the Keene Act. Edward Blake, the ex-vigilante known as the Comedian, gets murdered at the very start. Rorschach, the only one still active in these years, decides to do his own investigation of the affair, which ultimately leads to a cataclysmic event. Now the original story will always be the best graphic novel ever made, but the problem is that for the faithful adaptation advertised for so long, there are a lot of plotlines and characters left out. Good examples would be Captain Metropolis only appearing in the opening credits, and the newspaper stand storyline nowhere to be seen. The biggest sin of all is at the end of the film, but we’ll get to that later in the review.

Zack Snyder’s fingerprints are also all over the film. There are a lot of slow-mo shots in the action scenes, and most of all, the violence in this movie is a lot more brutal than it was in the comic book. Bones breaking all over the place, blood everywhere, and gun wounds are seriously disgusting. There is also the sex scene between Nite Owl II and Silk Spectre II that lasts a lot longer than it should. We also got two panels in the original book, but here I can tell it goes on for one minutes and thirty seconds at least. And I wanna make that clear: I believe Watchmen could have been a PG-13 movie. I believe that the violence and the nudity wasn’t that graphic in the Alan Moore version. And even though Dr. Manhattan is a giant naked blue man, you can see in the drawing that his private was more balls than penis.

Can’t believe I actually said that.

But for all the little problems the storytelling suffers from, there is one scene that deserves an honourable mention. The Dr. Manhattan back story, that can also be called Chapter IV, could be taken out of this and actually be considered a great short film. It has a great story, great music and for me, this is Watchmen’s best scene, without a doubt. The atmosphere here is just so powerful compared to the rest of the movie, and that’s why it’s awesome.

Speaking of music, the soundtrack goes both ways. On one hand, the original compositions made specifically for the movie is really good. The arrangements are great and they add more importance to the scene. On the other hand, the licensed soundtrack from different artists like Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan is mostly awkward. Sure, the opening credits with “The Times They Are A-Changing” works very well, and then there are moments like a riot set to “I’m Boogie Man”… it just doesn’t work. I get what Zack Snyder was doing; he wanted to put the audience is the 80s. But it just doesn’t fit a superhero movie in any way. An other thing I should talk about would be the make-up. It might sound surprising, but the aging make-up is terrible. Silk Spectre I, in the present day looks really bad. She doesn’t seem right. And then there’s also- OH MY GOD! Nixon… his nose is freakin’ huge! What’s wrong with him? He’s awful…

The actors are pretty much okay. As we all know Zack Snyder is NOT an actor director. He focuses more on the visual effects, and it clearly shows. Jackie Earle Haley and Jeffrey Dean Morgan are great in the roles of Rorschach and the Comedian, but then we get to Makin Akerman who just doesn’t work. The rest of the cast are doing their job like they should, and I have nothing to complain about in their case.

But what really divides people on Watchmen is the famous ending. Oh god. I’m pretty sure a lot of people will hate for this, but before we start let’s take a look on both ending. Warning though, I must bring the SPOILER ALERT on this review so if you haven’t seen the movie, go to the last paragraph right away. In the graphic novel, Adrian Veidt decides to stop World War III by making a fake threat. What he does is teleporting a giant squib in the middle of New York. The thing is that since the teleportation device isn’t ready, it makes a giant explosion killing both the squib and 2 millions. At first glance, the heroes want to reveal the plot behind this catastrophe but they are stopped by Dr. Manhattan who tells them that all of the nations in the world are now united and that if the told them what actually happened, it would only bring more destruction. Everyone agrees to say nothing except Rorschach, of course, which goes out to reveal the plan. Outside, Dr. Manhattan is waiting for him saying he just can’t let him do that. Angry, Rorshach demands to get killed and he rightfully does so. Both Nite Owl II and Silk Spectre II are in need of humanity after seeing the death of 2 million people, and so they go at the pool to sleep with each other. Adrian Veidt is waiting for Manhattan in his office for a conversation, in which the latter tells him that what he did will not last. Eventually, nations will fight again just like always. Also, he decides to leave Earth since the only link he had to this planet, Silk Spectre II, is now with another man…

Now the movie has a totally different ending. What happens is that Veidt decided to kill more people by puting explosions all over the world; New York, Paris, Moscow, London, Los Angeles, I think there were 7 cities. But here we don’t have a giant squib. Oh no, here, we get the results of the device Dr. Manhattan built for Adrian. In fact, he gets automatically blamed for that. Just like in the original version, they don’t wanna say anything about it, and Rorschach gets killed. Only here, Nite Owl II is watching this screaming “NOOOOOOOOO!”. Manhattan has to leave because he has no choice, and then Nite Owl II comes up and beats up Veidt, saying he deformed human nature. Both lovers then return home and Veidt is left alone in his base. Oh and there’s also that scene after that where Silk Spectre II tells Nite Owl II something his old lover used to say “Nothing ends. Nothing ever ends.” Yeah… you know, that same phrase was used in the original, but in the graphic novel Dr. Manhattan used it to say to Veidt his plan would fails in the end!

So what’s wrong with this new ending? It completely changes the message. It makes Rorschach look more like a hero while he’s not, and it makes Adrian Veidt look more like an evil british dude while he’s not. And don’t tell me that they had to change the ending, because I already knew they had to change the ending. I heard this story for months that the TV show Heroes totally rip-off Watchmen in that department, so the writers had to think about how to finish this movie. I knew that, but I said to myself that as long as the basic message is still here, there won’t be any problem. And it even that disappointed me.

Before concluding this review, I think a lot of you want to know what’s different on the new Director’s Cut, which is now 3 hours long. I sadly have to tell you that the additional scenes are for the most part pointless. They just kind of confirm stuff we already knew. In fact, only two new scenes actually took place in the graphic novel: the first one is where the first Nite Owl gets beaten to death by a gang. The biggest problem I had with this was that the introduction is just lazy. It’s just some gang members leaving the metro, and then they say something like “Hey, some vigilantes stopped the riot at the prison yesterday. I think it’s the guy that wrote the book. You know what? He’s living right here, let’s kill him.» It’s really bad. Of course the second scene from the book is when Nite Owl II learns about the murder and he beats up one gang member. But since the first one was not good at all, I can understand why they didn’t show it.

The last thing I want to mention would be that while it may have the name Watchmen and it might look like Watchmen, it doesn’t feel like Watchmen. It doesn’t have the same feeling, the same atmosphere as the original comic book. And when you get to the end, you can’t really associate the two. I do not hate this movie at all but when I first left the cinema, I was disappointed. When I saw it on Blu-Ray, I was also disappointed. It’s sad that a lot of people that like this movie associate the great parts about it with the director Zack Snyder. And while he’s not bad at all, he shouldn’t really work with too complicated stuff. The book will always be better and I still recommend you go buy it. It will always be remembered as the greatest graphic novel of all-time.

Sorry, Alan Moore.


(Vincent Émond)

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