Watchmen worth it!

“Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” That old adage comes to mind when considering “Watchmen”, a movie that has been 22 years in the making, and gone through every variant of ‘Development Hell’ ever conceived.  One of the creators removed his name from any version of the ‘format as celluloid’ many years ago.  And now we wonder whether the mainstream will embrace this movie in the same way that the iconic graphic novel has been by comics aficionados since its first appearance in 1986.

A complex, multi-layered mystery adventure, “Watchmen” is set in an alternate 1985 America in which costumed superheroes are part of the fabric of everyday society. The "Doomsday Clock" - which charts the USA's tension with the Soviet Union - is set at five minutes to midnight. When one of his former colleagues is murdered, the determined and disturbed masked vigilante Rorschach sets out to uncover a plot to kill and discredit all past and present superheroes.

Watchmen CinemaAs he reconnects with his former crime-fighting legion - a dysfunctional group of retired superheroes, only one of whom has true powers - Rorschach glimpses a wide-ranging and disturbing conspiracy with links to their shared past, and catastrophic consequences for the future. Their mission is to watch over humanity ... but who is watching the Watchmen?

Those familiar with the graphic novel will be amazed as to how much of the original source material is included here, not only in terms of whole blocks of speech bubbles lifted directly, but also in terms of some of the camera angle set-ups to duplicate what was on the page.  Very little is missing, although some historical references have been removed (e.g., Dachau), and occasionally there is a little more exposition included than is actually needed.  The only real chunk of the original comic book missing is the pages that featured extracts from a version of “Treasure Island”.

The casting features no big names, although Cult TV fans will spot Max Headroom himself, Matt Frewer, featuring in a cameo as Edgar Jacobi/ Moloch the Mystic.  Jackie Earle Haley brings Rorschach to life, and it’s interesting to note that he was actually a fan forum suggestion (he even put together his own audition film to attract the attention of the producers!). Also of note is usually blonde Malin Akerman as Silk Spectre II, who you can guarantee will be rocketing up the FHM and Maximum Hot 100 lists this year!

This is a long film – at 161 minutes it’s bigger that “The Dark Knight”, and you’ll find yourself checking your watch, not because you’re bored, but to see how time has flown while you’ve been engrossed in the plot and action.

A warning, though, to those of a squeamish disposition.  This movie is graphic.  Literally.  The violence is of the Hong Kong action school mode – squirting blood, noises of breaking bones.  There are sex scenes, and male and female nudity.  There’s swearing.  So, one wonders, how many dim-witted parents out there will allow their kids to watch the DVD when it’s released?  This is a mature superhero movie – that’s why it’s an ‘18’ certificate.  Its themes revolve around the ‘real world’ fuzzy line between good and evil.  It asks who are the heroes, and who are the villains, and do the ends always justify the means?

The film has near its beginning a newsreel-style summary of how the alternate 1985 came into being, showing where their world diverged from ours.  It also provides another solution to the JFK assassination – blink and you’ll miss it (and it’s only alluded to in the original source).  Both these aspects allow the universe to become better established than what we had in the original.  Some critics have deemed that the movie is a slavish adaption – this is not true.  Where a greater emphasis is needed, changes have been instigated.  Where the source material speaks for itself, it remains intact in its translation to the big screen.

The alternate 1985 of the “Watchmen” universe is a World where Bernstein and Woodward never got to blow the whistle on Nixon and his Presidency.  The American Constitution has been torn up, and Nixon stands for a third term (the cap in our real world is two terms). Nixon and Kissinger were seen in the shadows in the comic book, in the movie you’re in no doubt who they are.  The prosthetics of these characters are probably one of the weakest parts of the movie – they are nearer to “Spitting Image” cast members than the real people they are based upon.

It says something that the studio were begging for the story to be moved to the present day and to be retooled to tackle the ‘war on terror’.  Kudos to the production that they did not do this, as the allegory is actually stronger when you see it played out against its original backdrop.

The movie demonstrates how an external force can be used to unite a divided planet into a one-world government.  Its final scene also provides the hope that in the end, one way or another, truth will come out.  Be suspicious of anyone that suggests sacrifice is the route to a ‘better world’.  The sacrifices being made are rarely from those setting up such a route – it’s always others who have to suffer to make what is described as ‘progress’. 

It also leaves you in no doubt that if you ever believe that those in power will not carry out the grossest of evil deeds, you need a ‘wake-up call’.  History shows that the most carnal of sins will be committed by those with the power for ‘the greater good’. “Watchmen” provides you with that food for thought, and I hope it will shine a big floodlight, for its audience, on what is currently going on around us right now with perpetual wars, ‘credit crunches’ and global solutions to local problems.

Thought provoking, intense and breath-taking, “Watchmen” is directed by Zack Snyder, who got to do things his way, after the success he had with previous movie project “300”. The screenplay is by David Hayter, based upon the graphic novel co-created by Alan Moore (whose name should not now be spoken in the same breath as the film’s title) and Dave Gibbons.  Don’t believe the critics who are already trying to ensure this movie quickly turns into a flop – they want to flex their muscles - showing how they can bring films down if they choose to.  Do not let these shills succeed – this film deserves to be one of the films of the year, if not the decade.

“Watchmen: The IMAX Experience” opens at the BFI IMAX in London on 6 March. As of Thursday 26 February, they already had 13,000 advanced bookings for the film – and there is certainly no better way to see it.  Indeed, it is replacing “The Dark Knight”, which has been a phenomenal success for IMAX, with box office takings of over £1.5 Million – you have just a few days left to experience “Knight” before “Watchmen” starts its run.

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