Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Watching the Watchmen from a distance

Watchmen US 2009

This is one of those films that is so long-awaited that it became an Event. First published in 12 parts between 1986 and ’87, writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen is a seminal graphic novel – proof, were it needed by then, that comics were not just a juvenile medium.

And then there was the wait for the film. Moore refused to script it, and then refused to have his name anywhere near the final production – just as with V for Vendetta and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, although in the latter case, you can quite understand why.

The story is set in an alternative history. Superheroes – the Watchmen – helped the US win in Vietnam, Watergate was averted and Nixon has been president for some time. But with the Soviets moving in on Afghanistan, nuclear war is edging closer.

Of the superheroes, most are now retired after they were outlawed. A couple still work for the government, including Dr Manhatten, a physicist who was transformed into a superbeing in a nuclear accident some years earlier.

And then, someone murders one of the surviving Watchmen.

Moore’s book is about a number of things, including morality, vigilantism, individualism and the question of who exactly is watching those who enforce law and those who make it.

Director Zack Snyder has made a really good fist of this. Which is even more of a miracle when you consider that his previous effort was 300.

The core plot is intact and it looks superb. The realisation of Dr Manhatten is super – as is Rorschach’s mask. This is CGI doing what it should – serving a movie and not being the reason for that movie.

The use of music is interesting – a leaf out of Tarantino’s book – and works well. The opening titles and first scene are brilliant.

However, while it kept me entertained for two and half hours, it didn’t draw me in. I felt absolutely nothing about any of the characters. Which cannot be said for the film version of V for Vendetta, which moves me in a number of scenes and has done so on several viewings. I really don’t care about any of the characters here, though.

It’s difficult to know why that is. Okay, they’re not all particularly sympathetic – but then again, but it was difficult to be even mildly moved to distaste.

Lack of rehearsal time? A cast that wasn’t strong enough?

I’m not sure. But while there’s much to applaud this, I was ultimately left with a sense of: ‘so what?’

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