a critiQal film review Watchmen (2009)

Plot: In an alternate 1985 America, costumed superheroes are part of everyday society and the “Doomsday Clock” – which charts the USA’s tension with the Soviet Union – is permanently set at five minutes to midnight. When one of his former colleagues is murdered, masked vigilante Rorschach (Haley) sets out to uncover a plot to kill and discredit all past and present superheroes.

616 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 4s)
  • ...this adaptation of the acclaimed graphic novel loses it's heart in the translation to the big screen.

While deciding what movie we go to see for my birthday film is usually rather difficult, this year is what easy, thanks to the highly buzzed about film Watchmen. With a rather decent track record over the years that has included Resident Evil (2002), Sin City (2005) and 300 (2006), I was hoping I would be able to add in Watchmen as another good birthday film.

But, this year, there were delays, and we ended up not being able to make it to the movies on my actual birthday. Exactly a week later, however, the timing was much better, and we ventured forth to check out Watchmen. Would the film live up to the hype, or would this flawed superhero story be a complete disappointment?

While some of the cast may have familiar names (Billy Crudup, Carla Gugino, Jeffrey Dean Morgan), most of them are largely unrecognizable, giving each character a clean slate in the viewer’s mind. With no previous role stuck in the viewer’s mind, this leaves the actors ample room to make these characters all their own. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen, as most of the actors seem to be doing nothing more than just going through the motions. They faithfully bring the characters of the celebrated graphic novel to life, but without any of the passion and enthusiasm viewers are hoping for.

The same can be said for director Zack Snyder’s approach. Rather than involve the viewer in the film, Zack seems to be aiming more at delivering as faithful a re-telling as possible – and without any of the passion he infused into every scene of his previous film 300 (2006). Unfortunately, this creates a film that – while it may in fact be true to the graphic novel – is rather dispassionate, and never really involves the viewer at all.

While the special effects of 300 (2006) helped to create a beauty among the violence of the film – and helped make the film even more memorable – Watchmen‘s effects seem to be nothing more than distractions. Whether it’s Rorshach’s constantly changing ink-blot of a mask, or the frequent nudity and violence, they seem to be there mainly to distract the viewer from the amazing lack of passion in the film. None of it really helps the film at all, but instead seems put in just to give some of the uber-geek fans of the novel a few cheap thrills.

All in all, while Zack Snyder may have brought as much of the graphic novel to the screen word by word as he possibly could, his film seems to have lost something important in the translation. While the fans of the novel may enjoy seeing the characters come to life, the film will most likely be nothing more than a disappointment. While the words and scenes may look familiar to fans of the graphic novel, the heart of the story seems to have been left on the page, leaving the big screen translation lacking.

While the storyline shows us a side to superheroes that most comics (DC and Marvel alike) tend to gloss over – super powers does not a good person make – this translation of the acclaimed graphic novel falls far short of most expectations. While it is faithful to the novel in a scene-by-scene, word-by-word kind of way, most viewers will come away rather disappointed, not to mention slightly bored.

While this may be worth a rental for fans, most will do better to skip this big-screen translation and pick up the graphic novel instead. See the story the way it was meant to be seen (in print) – and hope Zack Snyder’s passion for movie-making returns with his next film.

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