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Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Watchmen: A Book and Movie Review

Book: The Watchmen
Author: Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Type: Graphic Novel
Rating: 4.7/5

Movie Director: Zack Snyder
Rating: 4.5/5

Reading The Watchmen is a commitment. I don't mean that you have to stop everything on the spot to read it, but it definitely is a novel that you can't be watching TV or listening to music while reading. Its characters are flawed. The situations they are in are very specific and daunting. You have to read past the asshole-ishness of the characters to enjoy the book, and that takes commitment. It is what makes this book and movie a great philosophical study.

The year is 1985 and Richard Nixon has been reelected to the Presidential seat for the 5th time.

The novel opens up with Rorschach (played by Jackie Earle Haley) documenting the death of the Comedian (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a man who is hard to sympathize with. The Comedian was a bastard by everyone's standard: he killed pregnant women, he torched villages, he attempted rape on one of his fellow "superhero". So his shocking death was one Rorschach found disturbing. As he documented the deaths of his comrades, he found it his duty to warn the last of the living: Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), Dr Manhattan (Billy Crudup), his girlfriend Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman), and former buddy, Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson).

Rorsach contacts Oz, and tells him the troubling news. Panic stricken, Oz promises to look into the case. Rorsach, on his own, tries to find the Comedian's nemesis, Moloch the Mystic (Matt Frewer), to see if he has any connection to the former superhero's death.

Along the way, we find out that Jon Manhattan and Laurie are not getting along well as Jon becomes more separated from the human race after his plasmic change, and Laurie was wanting human bonding that Dr Manhattan cannot provide. Silk Spectre II finally takes off and seeks middle aged and balding friend, Nite Owl II.

As Laurie and Dan meet, Dr Manhattan heads to a TV studio where he gets interviewed. He finds out that his former friend, and girlfriend, and a few people he associated with have cancer and that their conditions were linked to him and his change of state.

Its story, as individual characters, and as a group, shows that everyone, with the exception of Manhattan, has a fear of aging, death, and leaving a legacy. Will that legacy be about birth? Or friendship? Or a trademark of peace? Or revealing that the peace that was formed was a farce?

Alan Moore has layers upon layers of anger, grief, and disillusion written in the story that makes you wonder why at this current day and age, we still suffer from the same ill fate these characters suffer.

The movie was well directed by Zack Snyder. Almost frame by frame, line by line (with a few switches here and there for continuity's sake, and I guess a change of script lines to avoid complete plagarism or offending people who would be offended by the word-- sperm), it was an homage to the novel.

The gore in the movie was akin to that of 300. It was essential, but comic-bookish enough not to make you squirm. I could have done with less shots of the anatomically correct Dr Manhattan as he swings in the breeze, but I like the fact that Snyder had the cojones to keep it in (heehee) the movie to silence the purists. The V-shaped codpiece when he's in his gigantic form was enough tasteful... I was relieved.

I am glad that "Tales of the Black Freighter" and "Under the Hood" are separate from the almost 3-hour movie. Although they are essential (and a great read in the novel itself), it would have made the movie more of a bloaty piece of work rather than a sturdy film. Later to be released as a separate DVD, it definitely would be a great companion to The Watchmen DVD.

If there was one thing I wasn't too thrilled about the movie was the person who played President Nixon. The make-up was horrendous, and the character was very hard to understand. Was he supposed to really represent a former skeleton of himself? Or was that the best the casting crew can do since Frank Langella was already taken?

Overall, you really can't say anything bad about the movie or the book. However, it would be wise to read the novel first before visiting the theater. It surely will take out the Church giggle you'd want to squeak out the moment you see Manhattan, or the rage when you see the Comedian, or the, "Oh dear" statement when you see Nite Owl II or other "why" questions you may have if you decide to see the movie without the book.

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