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Archive for March 9th, 2009

watch1In 2005 Time Magazine compiled a list of the 100 Best Novels.  They have two basic criteria the books mush be written in English and published after 1923 (the year Time was first published).  The list is full of the usual suspects: Catcher in the Rye, On the Road, The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird and 1984 but there is one surprise.  Watchmen is a graphic novel or as they describe it “a book-length comic book” and like many of the other novels on the list it has now been made into a film.  Alan Moore the author is reported to have said “I’m never going to watch this fucking thing” not a good start for a movie that has been in and out of development for over 20 years.  I can understand his distaste for film adaptations of his work following the shocking League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  But then there have been some very good based on comic book movies recently including 300 and Sin City as well as last years The Dark Knight.  I actually think Alan Moore would enjoy the film of Watchmen, not that he is ever likely to admit it!

 

wat1Set in an alternate 1980’s: America have won the Vietnam War and is moving towards a seemingly inevitable nuclear war with Russia. A symbolic doomsday clock is set just before 12 and the end of the world as we know it. Glasnost is not a word used in this film. So more than twenty years on is the story relevant? Fossil fuels and world finance are mentioned keeping the film up to date but it is relevant for a far simpler reason.  The film is not about world politics, it is about people.  More specifically it is about heroes and villains. That is the geniuses of the film or more to the point the graphic novel it is based on. Who is a hero and who is a villain? That is easy, Batman and Superman are heroes and The Joker and Lex Luthor are villains. In Watchmen it isn’t that simple.

 

ror1Rorschach is an unforgiving violent vigilantly who kills and tortures criminals without a second thought. The brutality of the character is best explained when he is in prison surrounded by inmates he has put there, when his life is threatened he despatches a would-be assassin and reminds the other inmates “None of you understand; I’m not locked up in here with you! You’re locked up in here with me!”. To describe his views as extremely conservative would be an understatement but he is possibly the most heroic character in the film!

 

com1We see The Comedian murdering innocent people including a woman pregnant with his child. He attempts to rape a fellow masked hero and he works for Nixon. What he did to Woodward and Bernstein is only hinted at, his involvement in JFK’s assassination is more clearly shown. But his character is funny and sometimes engaging.  He is also the most important character in the film his death as much as his life is pivotal to the plot.

 

drm2Dr Manhattan is the only true superhero of the film, his abilities gained following an accident at a government research facility where he worked. The problem with Dr Manhattan is that as he lost his own humanity to his God like status he has gradually lost touch with humanity and wonders if life on earth in general not just human life is worth saving.

 

And these are the good guys! The best people are horribly flawed and the worst show moments of good. These costumed masked heroes/villains represent people in general; is anyone completely good or evil?  When the villain is finally revealed it is no great surprise who he is but what he is doing and why is not what you expect.

minuteThen we come on to the music. A film that starts with Bob Dylan and ends with Leonard Cohen can not be bad!  It’s not just a case of using great songs; it is how they fit the mood of the scene.  The Dylan number is Times They Are a-Changing this is used in a breathtaking scene that tells the back story of costumed heroes.  Also used to great effect is Janis Joplin’s cover of the Kris Kristofferson song Me and Bobby McGee.  The song that features the lyrics “Freedoms just another word for nothing left to lose” is used at a point of the film where The Comedian tells Dr Manhattan how detached he has become.  Then we have the Leonard Cohen song Hallelujah over the sex scene that starts looking like a soft core porn scene and ends with pure comedy and a cheesy metaphor reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s use of fireworks in To Catch a Thief.  As a Dylan fan I didn’t like the cover version of Desolation Row over the credits but must admit it works well within the film.

 

silk2The film isn’t perfect, in an attempt to cram in all the source material it feels rushed even at two and three quarter hours long.  Some of the dialogue works better on the page than it does when actually spoken but these are small complaints about a film that was a monumental project to take on where so many others have failed in the past.  Finally Who Watches the Watchmen?  A question asked in graffiti in the film but also a question for the real world.  There are two types of people who will watch the film:  Those who have read the Comic Book and have been anticipating the arrival of the film version for years (some to enjoy it others in the hope of trashing it) and there are the people who have not read the book and are coming to it fresh.I think on the whole opinion will be divide in both groups, some will love it some will hate it. I personally loved it but am I a fan of the book or just another cinema goer? After years of people telling me how good the book was I finally got around to reading it two weeks before seeing the film and was equally as impressed with the graphic novel as I was with the film.

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