Thursday, March 12, 2009

Movie Review: The Watchmen

I went out to see The Watchmen last night. I'm a big fan of superhero movies, so I've been looking forward to this for a while. Back in mid-February, I bought and read a copy of the original graphic novel in preparation. I'm not sure now if that was a good idea, because my impressions of the movie are certainly colored by the fact that I already knew what was going on. I have the sneaking suspicion that the movie was a bit harder to follow by those who weren't already familiar with the story.

Rather than thumbing up or down the total movie, I'll just touch on a few things that stuck in my mind (or my craw) while trying to keep the spoilers to a minimum.

The best place to start is, of course, the ending. There were some grumblings by die-hard fans when they learned that the screenwriters had changed the ending from what appears in the original graphic novel. Personally, I was dissatisfied with the original ending anyway. It came from too far out of left field. In both cases, we're left with an ethical conundrum, but I think that the changes in the movie actually strengthen the conundrum, though many may feel it rides too close to The Dark Knight.

The movie comes in at a bladder-unfriendly 2 hours and 45 minutes, and the writers had to make a number of cuts, for better or for worse, to get it down to that. The things that were left out probably made this more confusing to those who didn't know the story. And here I will tread lightly through possible spoilers:

  • Gone is the constant return to the newsstand, its know-it-all owner, and the comic-book-reading mooch, though all three do make understated appearances. The lesbian couple is completely gone.
  • Gone then, too, are the numerous references to The Frontiersman and the sign-wielding apocalyptician (you know who he is) who picks up his daily copies. The Frontiersman shows up in the last five minutes of the movie, just to give us that "uh-oh" at the end.
  • The maskless Rorschach was too sidelined in the beginning of the movie. When he was unmasked by the police (does that count as a spoiler?), I didn't feel like the audience got the joy of that a-ha moment of "That guy is Rorschach?!" It is amazing, though, how they got the actor to look so much like the Rorschach in the graphic novel.
  • Speaking of how the actors look, the special effects makeup on Richard Nixon is, in my opinion, the worst part of this movie. It just wasn't realistic. But maybe that's just my age (Nixon was in office when I was born.) Was his nose really that big? Carla Gugino's makeup, on the other hand, was great — I could really believe that she was a martini-sipping senior spinster.
  • Not enough was made about Rorschach's other, uh, characteristics. Only once do we hear someone complain about his odor. No one says anything about how god-awful ugly he is.
  • Some things in the movie just weren't explained well. Why, for instance, was Dr. Manhattan naked for most of the movie? What was Bombasto, and where did he come from? (He didn't show up until the action moved to Antarctica.)

Now, a word about the overall content. This movie is rated R for a reason. There was a small family in the theater, the youngest a girl maybe 10 or 11 years old. She should not have been there. Some things to look out for:

  • Blue penises. Lots of blue penises.
  • After a certain inferno rescue, there's a sex scene that's twice as long as it needed to be, to the gratitude of lonely, basement-dwelling comic-book collectors everywhere. For me, it was worth the cost of admission; to a pre-teen girl, not so much.
  • A meat cleaver to the skull. A splash of blood. Then three more whacks with the meat cleaver.
  • Fat boy gets his arms cut off — on screen — with an angle grinder.
  • Lots and lots of blue penises. We're not talking sketched-in Vitruvian Man junk here. Dr. Manhattan's man-parts were, well, impressive. For a glow-in-the-dark blue guy. And honestly, it was obvious that the filmmakers were seeing how much they could get away with. Numerous times — and pay attention to this when you see the movie — they cut away from a scene just after a big cerulean schlong makes its appearance, when there's no reason they couldn't have cut away just before.

The majority of the dialogue is taken directly from the source, so the huge fans (who've already seen the movie a dozen times) can mouthe along with parts of the movie at first viewing. ("But doctor, I'm Pagliacci!") And you can also identify specific illustrated frames from the graphic novel that were reproduced almost exactly on-screen.

One final thing: The opening sequence of this movie is absolutely brilliant. It covers well the entire history of America to 1985 since the first masked heroes made an appearance. This opening sequence should be held up as a prime example of coherently packing a lot of information into a tiny space.

I'll definitely buy this when it comes out on DVD. I'm hoping they'll put out an extended director's cut that puts back in all the stuff that was taken out to bring down the length.

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