I Watched The WATCHMEN (Movie, That Is)

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So I saw the Watchmen movie over the weekend (all but five or so minutes of the more violent/yucky parts, that is).

The movie was, in my opinion, "[coital-synonym-gerund-used-as-a-positive-comparative-modifier deleted ] incredible."  Arguably the best movie version of a comic book that I can think of.  It was as good as I'd hoped for.  It was a good movie, and seemed like it would make sense even to someone who had not read the comics now was a comic book reader.

The source for the WATCHMEN movie was the 12-issue comic book limited series from DC Comics published in 1986-1987 (and collected into booklike trade and hardcover book versions readily available from book stores, comic stores, the Science Fiction Book Club, or your local library).

When Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's ground-breaking WATCHMEN comic book series came out in 1985 and 1986, I had the good fortune to not only be buying and reading comic books again (I'd had a few few-year hiati), but was also reading/participating in comic book discussions online, through the Usenet rec.arts.comics.* Newsgroups.)  Aside from the too-rare feeling of sharing the experience of reading a great comic, eagle-eyed fans spotted easy-to-miss clues, speculated on what was going on (not as spoilers, just great guessing), providing a form of as-you-go commentary/annotation.  It was a great way to be reading great comics.

The premise/setting/plot of WATCHMEN, in brief, is that it's 1985 in an alternate-history where Nixon is still (thank to term limits being changed) president, and the Cold War with Russia is intense, with the "Doomsday Clock" -- likelihood of nuclear war -- at five minutes to twelve.  This world's first generation masked/costumed crimefighters, including those banded together as the Minutemen, have retired; the newer generation, the Watchmen, are out of action (or working for the government) because the government has outlawed costumed vigilanteism.

There is only one "superhero" -- meaning extraordinary powers, rather than physical skills and/or weapons and gimmickry: Dr. Manhattan, created by accident in a nuclear test facility.  As the WikiPedia entry notes, "Moore used the story as a means to reflect contemporary anxieties and to deconstruct the superhero concept."

Other of Moore's comic book work has been made into movies, including V FOR VENDETTA and THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN.  For reasons outside the scope of my review, Moore didn't want his name associated with this film -- which is sad, in my opinion, as this is the best and most authenticate movie version of his stuff to date.

Based on the trailers, and articles and interviews I'd read, I had no doubt that the movie would deliver an amazingly satisfactory look-and-feel of the comics, as if one had fallen asleep while reading it, and shifted into a dream version.  This is a lot harder to do for a comic than a book, I'd argue; for all that, say, Phillip Pullman's GOLDEN COMPASS (see my review) or Tolkein's LORD OF THE RINGS posed major challenges, we didn't really know what most of these looked like, we just had our mental images.  (Which the movies of both of these captured brilliantly, IMHO.)

And it delivered.  WATCHMEN, the movie, looked like the comic brought to life.  It included key scenes, dialogue, events, and images from the comic, while also adding or expanding to make sense.  The use of period music -- Bob Dylan singing "The Times They Are A-Changing" in the opening credits, notably -- was powerful beyond words.

The other question was, could and would a movie of WATCHMEN make sense -- could the plot, sub-plots, and other aspects of the comics be condensed into movie length?  Or would it only make sense -- correct sense -- to those of us who'd read the original comics?

I believe the movie made enough, and correct, sense, even if you hadn't/haven't read the original comics.  There were some omissions, and some changes, including aspects of the ending, but nothing I would request changing.
 
It was an incredible well-done movie. 

It was also, in many places, explicitly violent and gruesome enough that I avoided watching several scenes once it became clear what was about to happen -- all taken accurately from the original comic.  (Ditto several scenes with frontal male (CGI) nudity and explicit sex.)  This is NOT A MOVIE FOR CHILDREN, any more than the original graphic novel was. 

Arguably the hardest challenge was making a movie that meant something, when it couldn't mean what the comic meant in the mid-1980s (ignoring what the comic meant as a statement about superheros and superhero comics per se), because, of course, it's not the mid-1980's anymore, with the spectre of the Cold War hovering near.
Ditto, much of the audience is a new generation, not alive for the events or cultural references of a movie happening in an alternate-1986 (and many moviegoers not even alive when the WATCHMEN comics were first appearing).

I have no idea what someone between the ages of 15 and 30 would think of this movie, or what it would make them think.

But I feel that director Zach Snyder, the actors, and the myriads of other people involved in the making of this film kept it true to the spirit of being about something... and preserving the poetry of Alan Moore's writing, plotting and pacing, and of Dave Gibbons' artwork, as they made a movie.

So if you haven't already seen WATCHMEN, and can tolerate some moments of uber-violence (or are good at shutting your eyes quickly), go see WATCHMEN. 

Even if you don't go see WATCHMEN, at least watch the opening credits, with Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A Changin'" in the bckground, if they're still online somewhere.  (As I write this, copies are being cease-and-desisted off... search for "watchmen opening credits").  Here's the link I just found them at.

Like I said, expletive-deleted brilliant.

And whether you see/saw the movie or not, check out the fake trailer for Saturday Morning Watchmen, found by a friend:


 

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This page contains a single entry by Daniel P. Dern published on March 18, 2009 4:55 AM.

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