Friday, March 6, 2009

Top 5 Things that Worked in Watchmen

Part One of a Two-Part Review

As a fan of the graphic novel for years, I was once among those who insisted that a film adaptation of Watchmen could not, or should not be done. Director Zack Snyder used to be in this camp, too. How things have changed! At last night's midnight showing, Zack Snyder proved he could do the impossible - craft the 12-issue miniseries into a watchable, enjoyable two-and-a-half feature film. While it's certainly not a perfect work, Watchmen succeeds in many areas that fans of the book least expected. Here's my countdown of the 5 ways Watchmen most excels.

5. The Fight Scenes - All of the combat in Watchmen seemed distinctive and original to me. The reason for this, I think, was the R rating. While the fighting in most superhero films is somewhat sanitized for PG-13, Watchmen did no such thing. No punches were pulled. Bones shattered, necks snapped and blood splattered all over the place. It was different, and although it made me cringe from time to time, in the end it was kind of refreshing.

4. Pacing & Sequence - The sequence of events, with the exception of a few changes in Adrian's storyline which do not appear in the book, are in almost the exact same sequence as they appear in the book. And while this makes the pacing of the film unusual, it certainly works. The film's fidelity to its source material is extremely admirable, even if it doesn't work all the time. (More on that in Part Two.)

3. The New Ending - Many fans were angered by the news that there would be no giant alien squid in this film. Read that last sentence again, this time aloud and try not to chuckle. Seriously, one of the weakest plot twists in the original Watchmen graphic novel is the sudden appearance of a telepathic genetically-engineered squid monster in New York as the instrument of Adrian's master plan to end war. It requires about five pages of exposition to understand what's happened and it all kind of comes out of nowhere. The new ending is also somewhat rushed (I expect this to be better paced in July's director's cut) but is more poignant, more believable and less jarring.

2. Comic Relief - The book is pretty stiff, for the most part, though there are moments when a dark, sickly sense of humor peeks through. The movie, however, extends Moore and Gibbons's concept of a real world with superheroes by acknowledging that sometimes that would just be ridiculous. In the dark, in a fight sequence, of course costumed heroes are going to look badass and awesome. But what about in broad daylight, or just having a conversation? Sometimes, that's going to be silly. Watchmen does not deny this, nor does it avoid these situations. If this were done in a Batman movie, I would probably shake my fist and scream bloody murder, but in Watchmen it really works.

1. Patrick Wilson as Dan Dreiberg - Jackie Earl Haley and Jeffery Dean Morgan have been getting a lot of press for their portrayal of Watchmen's lovable sociopaths, but what about Nite Owl II, the soul of the graphic novel and the film? Dan Dreiberg, our everyman and one of the few truly heroic characters in the story, is a more difficult part than it seems. Nite Owl has to be intense, but also insecure. Patrick Wilson is not only a spitting image of the comic book Dan, but he seems to have a perfect understanding of who Dreiberg is. There's nothing stereotypical about Nite Owl as a superhero, at least not in Wilson's portrayal. His body language is extremely natural, and he sometimes seems totally out of place in his costume. To me, this is exactly right, and solidified the believability of the film for me.

Next time: a parallel list of Watchman's biggest missteps.


rrrrrreooow! said...

Want to hear something I just realized? Nite Owl is Patrick Wilson is Raoul in Phantom of the Opera. Crazy stuff. And he has an excellent voice. And I never would have picked those two chracters to be acted by the same guy. They don't look alike at all...

Speaking of Parallel lists... bring it: a list of things that they did in V for Vendetta movie that they also did in Watchmen movie.

Not many missteps in my opinion. I'm sure I will have more fun tomorrow, tearing down your missteps list. Because, my opinion is rather unbiased, treating the book and the movie as equals, only seeing it/reading it once each. Some might say that the more attached you are, the more biased you become.

Dan said...

GREAT list, Dylan. I was upset with the movie until I came to understand what a monumental accomplishment they made bringing this film to life. Everything they did (acting, special effects, attention to detail, [most of the] music, the choreography) was just spectacular. I don't have too much to complain about.

I'm looking forward to seeing how well your list of missteps matches up with mine.