By Blake Penfield, Student Reporter
The vindication of the comic book nerd continues. While the common folk were piling on the 300 bandwagon and The Dark Knight was smashing every conceivable commercial and critical record, the comic book nerds quietly were blowing a collective raspberry and touting, “I told you so!” to a world that had once mocked them for enjoying the sources of this new wave of entertainment. Despite its flaws, Watchmen continues the revenge of the nerds admirably.
Before I begin this review, you need to know I am a huge fan of the 1986 Watchmen comic book series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. I have read the book more than a dozen times since my introduction to it seven years ago. Because of my intimate knowledge of the book, the culture that surrounds it, its authors and the esteemed place it has etched out for itself within the history of the comic book medium, I cannot really review this film for people walking into the theater with no idea about the story or the way it was conveyed in the comic book. While I can judge its merits as an adaptation of a book that I love, any attempt to critique the story or characters would be a review of the book and not the film.
With the major exception of the ending, this is an extremely faithful adaptation of the comic book masterpiece. Nearly every character in the film looks exactly like its illustrated counterpart, and those familiar with the book can almost quote the film’s lines before they are uttered because of how closely the script sticks to the book’s dialogue. The movie goes so far as to mimic the structure of the book almost perfectly. This is where many of the film’s problems arise.
Watchmen has long been called “the unfilmable work.” It turns out there is some truth to this. The story and ideas the graphic novel convey are so dense, so utterly colossal, that trying to thin it out to make it digestible for the screen is like trying to thin out a black hole with Drano. The final act of the film suffers most from this; it becomes a lumbering titan that cannot support its own weight. Even at two hours and 45 minutes, the movie just does not have enough space to allow the tension to escalate or the ideas to sink in for the audience. The final revelations are sapped of their shock and impact because the audience is racing to catch up with events they have not yet had time to properly assimilate.
The look of the film is incredible. Like his previous comic book movie 300, director Zack Snyder absolutely nailed the translation of the look of the graphic novel onto the screen. Dr. Manhattan alone is probably the most faithful visual translation of a comic book character that moviegoers have ever seen. Everything from the look of the New York City streets to the Martian glass castle is superb.
The songs the film uses to augment scenes are undeniably fascinating. Some of them work so well you would swear Snyder got music tips from Quentin Tarantino, while others are jarring and seem terribly out of place; it is really a mixed bag. Bob Dylan’s brilliant The Times They Are A-Changin’ is adeptly placed into one of the greatest opening credit sequences I have ever seen. However, right when the film ends and all the audience wants to do is sit and think about what it has seen, Snyder blasts a loud and wild new song by My Chemical Romance. It makes no sense.
The performances range from excellent to mediocre. Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Comedian, Jackie Earle Haley’s Rorschach and Billy Crudup’s Dr. Manhattan are all fantastic interpretations of their comic book counterparts. Matthew Goode’s Ozymandias and Malin Akerman’s Silk Spectre do not fare as well. None of the lesser performances do anything to really distract from the film, but when they share the screen with the aforementioned excellent performances, the disparities become apparent.
Most everyone intimately familiar with the graphic novel will understand the difficulties that arise when trying to adapt the book to film. Zack Snyder is good, but he is not a miracle worker. What he has accomplished with this film is incredible- he has come closer to directly translating this behemoth than almost anyone else. He took the studio goodwill that he had built with the success of 300 and chose to tackle a project that everyone knew could never be 100 percent accomplished. He is like a man who chose to spend all his money trying to count every grain of sand in the Atlantic coast: it could never be done, but he got all the way to Maine.
Fans of the book who are willing to forgive these inevitable problems will find a lot to love in an incredibly faithful adaptation of one of the best comic books ever written. People who walk into the theater without any prior knowledge of the book may find a confusing, hulking mess of a movie that they really have to work at in order to understand. If you are a Watchmen fan and are trying to share your love of the story with others, give them the book. After they have read the book, show them the movie and let them marvel at just how close Zack Snyder got.