It’s not often that Hollywood caters to subculture. It’s an even rarer event for a studio to either throw serious money at such a project or to in any way keep to the original intent of the piece. So when it does, there’s more than ample motivation for getting down to the cinema and experiencing it in all its glory.
‘Watchmen’ is the big screen adaptation of Alan Moore’s seminal graphic novel released in 1986. It was instantly hailed as a classic and is the only graphic novel in Time magazine’s top 100 novels of the 20th Century. If you only ever read three comics in your life, then this is -without any shadow of doubt- one of them.
All that said, I haven’t actually read ‘Watchmen’, despite being told how brilliant it is for the last twenty years, and reading numerous reviews. For a very long time my only awareness of Alan Moore was via a PWEI lyric. My almost total ignorance of the man and his printed work certainly wasn’t a handicap with this film though: So don’t feel that you need to be a comic fan to enjoy this movie. After all: 99% of the audience won’t be, either! Although at least I knew what I was getting into when I nestled down for nearly three hours with my exorbitantly priced popcorn: A tale that Terry Gillingham said was unfilmable, and a masterpiece of storytelling. ‘Watchmen’ is certainly not your average super-hero action movie.
‘Watchmen’ is essentially about a murder of a retired costumed vigilante (I certainly won’t use the word ‘hero’) in the shadow of looming nuclear war, and the characters’ tangled web of emotions and worn-out ambitions, tainted by the past. This is not a film about heroes. It’s not even really an action film. It’s a story about a bunch of highly dysfunctional individuals, living on society’s sidelines, trying to solve the twin mysteries of their colleague’s death and their own feelings towards each other and humanity as a whole.
The film starts with the murder, and is essentially an almost film noire mystery which not only unravels in the present, but also features numerous flash-backs, revealing the often sordid past-lives of those portrayed. The title sequence –accompanied to the strains of Bob Dylan– instantly makes the audience familiar with an America where costumed vigilantes and a single super-being have shaped history, yet at the same time portrays them as fallible human beings.
From an introduction smattered with questions, you are drawn into the lives of the characters and their struggles. A few action scenes are scattered throughout to keep Joe Public satisfied that they’re watching a comic adaptation, but the interaction between the characters and to a lesser extent the society in which they live in is always the main focus of the film.
I’ll have to avoid saying more about the plot, except to say that it’s excellent and truly worthy of classic status. Casting and acting are spot-on; as are costumes, choreography and effects. Special mention goes to the sound track: Is it possible for any film featuring ‘all along the watchtower’ to be bad? The musak cover of ‘Everybody wants to rule the world’ is subtle and amusing, and it was great to hear Leonard Cohen’s ‘Halleluiah’ (Screw you, X-factor!) in the score, too. This might be a long film, with a relatively slow pacing, but it draws you into a timeless space. I never felt the need to look at my watch and –unlike most movies which approach the three hour mark- there are never any dull interludes, as the plot twists and turns constantly.
Cinematically, I won’t go as far as calling this film un-missable, but I will say that the storyline is one that it’s worth experiencing, in much the same way that any literary classic needs to be experienced. And if –like me- you don’t want to spend twelve or more hours trawling through a graphic novel to experiencing it, then this film is the way to go. Or you might just want to go and watch it for the fight choreography, cool wardrobes and fine acting. Either way, the film’s a winner.
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