Sunday, July 26, 2009

Who Will Watch The Watchmen?

After what seemed like forever, Zach Snyder took the reins and managed to put The Watchmen on film. And thereafter, after much ado, I managed to score a copy of same on Blu-Ray.

I won't bother going into detail about the significance of the original graphic novel upon its release (nor in its continued longevity) nor the plot highlights nor the story nor any of that; nor will I parrot much of the same tidbits on-screen and online movie critics did with respect to the film version of this story. It's neither relevant nor an efficient use of space.

Having said all that, I was mostly impressed at the scope and the magnitude of the film. It was, more or less, engrossing and entertaining, despite its three-hour run time, and the effects and the fact that it very closely mirrored the novel itself -- in some cases, frame by frame -- really blew me away.

I don't remember the last time I saw a film and was so engaged and locked on for so long. It's not only because this film ran far longer -- almost double -- than most films do these days. It's that the story, coupled with the imagery and the far-reaching aspects of the project as a whole -- really captured and commanded my focus, sort of like watching one of the Godfather films for the first time.

It's the antithesis of a simple retelling of a comic book. But the Watchmen story -- a "graphic novel," if you will -- wasn't just another comic book. It dealt with sophisticated, adult themes: nuclear annihilation, rape, kidnapping, pornography, religion, the slow but steady decline of American society, and geopolitical unrest that genuinely threatened the human race as much, if not moreso, since the Cuban Missile Crisis. And those just top the list of this story's general themes.

The fact that the story is set in or around 1984 isn't particularly relevant, nor is the fact that Richard Nixon remained president (five terms, actually) since his initial term following Kennedy's assassination. Essentially, the film is as strongly tied to the novel as is any film you're likely to see.

Essentially, why it took so long to commit this story to film is that no one could accept the responsibility of projecting the entire breadth of the Watchmen story into a film without sacrificing packets of the story, which were critical to understanding it in its proper, massive scale. I'm not really sure how Zach Snyder, the director, managed to do so, but he shoehorned the entire story -- or the majority thereof -- into the three-hour run time. Some of the story, especially in its filmed form, was a bit ridiculous. But because this film features grown adults running around in costume -- replete with capes, masks, etc. -- the suspension of disbelief is a requirement for this film as much as 3D glasses are for a movie filmed in 3D.

Overall, if at all possible, I recommend viewing this film in Blu-Ray only because 90% of it is shot in partial or complete darkness, much as was The Dark Knight. It's not hard to see what's happening on screen but because Zach Snyder celebrates the details as he does, missing a third or more of same due to a poor source -- even a standard DVD -- will detract from the overall experience. Also advisable is viewing the movie in a proper setting with a system that can handle the dynamics of a film source that features whispers and explosions. This film makes extensive use of CGI (as much if not moreso than did his previous film, 300) but a good chunk of the CGI in this film was an ancillary but valuable part of the film nonetheless. In 300, none of the film was shot outdoors -- the skies and the surroundings were all CGI. In this film, there are endless uses of CGI but they're more in keeping with the Watchmen world (eg a New York seemingly ready to feed on itself in the absence of law, order and sanity).

I was and remain very surprised this film was green-lighted; inasmuch as I did enjoy it I could have predicted it would be a relative failure at the box office. How this could compete for dollars with any generic romantic comedy featuring Kate Hudson, Jennifer Garner, Sandra Bullock or Anne Hathaway is rhetorical; it can't and won't. What it is, however, is an epic portrayal of an epic story that spans decades and features an extremely solid cast (Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson, etc.), revolutionary effects, a solid story, and, overall, will likely stay with you long after you've seen it. However, it's the kind of film that requires a commitment from the viewer, and I would advise anyone who hasn't read the novel to either do so prior to viewing or not bother at all. It's an intense retelling of a story that I really enjoyed, but it's not for everyone and while I'll view this film again, it's not the kind of easily-watchable film that will endear it to many.

But to answer the question "Who Will Watch the Watchmen?" count me in.

No comments: