Mar 06, 2009

Last night after work I grabbed a couple of hours of sleep before Lyssa, Mika, Hasufin, Joe, Kash, and I threw our circadian rhythms for a permanant loop by driving to Tyson's Corner to catch the 12:01am premiere of Watchmen at the theatre.

If you're not familiar with the story, it is the masterpiece of writer Alan Moore and artist David Gibbons, a cold war tale set in an alternate world in which costumed vigilantes once ran around the night wearing domino masks and funny armored outfits, criminals still wore bandit masks and carried tommy guns, Richard Nixon was into his fifth term in office as the President of the United States (due to the repeal of the twenty-second amendment), and the Vietnam War was won in seven days by a pair of superheroes on the payroll of the United States government, a cheerfully homocidial gunman going by the moniker of the Comedian, and the Cerenkov radiation-blue demigod, Doctor Manhattan. Following the passage of the Keene Act in the mid-1970's, all costumed vigilantes were declared outlaws; most retired, though a few remained active. A nifty bit of viral marketing for this movie included a short cartoon done in the style of a late 70's-early 80's public service announcement called The Keene Act And You. Take a few minutes to watch it, it's well worth your time.

Under the cut are mild spoilers. Parents, do NOT take your kids to see this movie. It's rated R for a reason - it's fucking brutal. I'm not kidding.

One of the themes explored in Watchmen is why someone would put on a costume and go out fighting crime. To varying degrees, the answer is "They're a little nuts." Or a lot nuts, as the case may be. In the comic, the battles are largely hinted at due to their two dimensional representation, but in the movie the FX teams went wild, and it shows just what could go into the efforts of someone taking the law into their own hands. Some of the scenes are disturbing in the extreme, and I strongly advise you to think twice before taking your kids to see this movie. You aren't going to find the noble Superman or Batman. Instead, you'll find the aging inventor Nite Owl, whose conscience still bothers him after retiring due to the Keene Act; Silk Spectre, who still lives in the shadow of her mother's career as a costumed hero in the 1940's; Ozymandias, the smartest man on Earth, whose mind and body were trained to perfection simply to prove that it could be done; and downright terrifying Rorschach, who never forgave, never forgot, and never stopped fighting his personal war on crime.

Throw into the mix the Doomsday Clock steadily ticking toward midnight and someone assassinating all the old heroes, and you have a setting that can easily suck you in.

Director Zack Snyder changed a few things from the comic - you'd almost have to for the story to be feasible as a motion picture. All of the backstory material from the graphic novel (such as excerpts from the fictitious tell-all book Under the Hood and the Tales of the Black Freighter vignettes) were omitted to make the story flow better, though it's said that they'll be back in other forms later on, probably as special features. The characters' backstories were edited slightly for screen time, especially Rorschach's, though I think that they give you the same insight into the characters. The costumes were updated slightly, I think more to make them reflect the laws of physics than anything else. A couple of scenes were altered in such a way to make them more believable (assuming the temporary suspension of the viewer's disbelief), and a few others for length. As for the rest of the movie (about 94% I'd guesstimate), it was done practically panel-for-panel from the graphic novel, and word for word.

Oh, and the Comedian doesn't wear that gimp mask in the movie.

I feel I should warn you about the ending without giving too much away: it's very different from the original ending written by Alan Moore, but it unfolds in a similiar manner, and I think it gives the same effect. Hardcore fans of Watchmen are probably going to hate it. The rest of us will probably like it, but not everyone (as usual for movies). People who've never read the graphic novel will have to take it as it comes, and probably like it for the action scenes if nothing else.

On the whole, I was very pleased with how Watchmen translated to the silver screen, and I'd happily go see it again. I love the soundtrack (being a child of the 80's), I love how it was translated practically panel for panel, and I greatly enjoyed seeing a good story unfold as a live action movie.