Reviews

Watchmen

3

Zack’s adap is at its best when it’s blue rather than red…

First things first: buyer beware. One-disc, two-disc or Blu-ray, the UK release of Watchmen is only the theatrical cut. If you want a bonus 25 minutes of Zack Snyder’s Alan Moore adap, you’ll have to log on to an R1 emporium… For now.

So, juicy extras to ease the wait for a More Special Edition? There’s 110 minutes worth on the R2 double-platter, though a lot’s already pitched up online (11-part video journal, four virals).

No commentary, while single-disc consumers are fobbed off with lone featurette ‘Mechanics: Technologies Of An Fantastic World’, an almost anti-puff- piece that nitpicks the super-science and barfs jargon: “In essence, Dr Manhattan has control of his quantum mechanical wave function,” drones our boffin anchor, though he does insightfully observe, “The filmmakers were probably more worried about upsetting legions of fans rather than a physics professor from Minnesota…”

“Zack Snyder clearly loves comics,” says the more relevant Dave Gibbons (Moore’s artist collaborator) in his own webisode. “He’s stuck as closely as he can to what we put in the original comic, rather than taking a bunch of characters and making a generic movie.”

True, in terms of setting, colour palette (purples, greens, oranges), plot (well, mostly…) and song choices, the 300 man is as faithful as a family dog to Moore and Gibbons’ alt-’80s vision. But you do wonder at times if he really gets it.

Often, Snyder’s definition of an ‘adult’ superhero movie seems to be: amp the sex and violence. Every few scenes there’s a splurge of savagery: The Comedian’s ( Jeffrey Dean Morgan) no-means-yes assault on Silk Spectre I (Carla Gugino); Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson) and Silk Spectre II’s (Malin Akerman) gang-splatting streetfight; Rorschach’s ( Jackie Earle Haley) hot-fat-flinging prison capers… Sure, Snyder’s just following the text, but there’s a shift in tone. Gibbons’ panels were ultra-detailed but eschewed the exaggeration and ostentation of conventional caped crusades.

The brutal bits felt disturbing. By contrast, Snyder’s “stylised realism” (as producer wife Deborah tags it) fattens and heightens the violence to, well, comic book levels (Rorschach meat-cleaving a kid-fiddler’s skull). The impact’s visceral but there’s no emotional aftershock.

As for all the slow-mo… Bit of a no-no. Snyder’s trademark tic made a good fit for 300’s posturing homoeroticism; for one thing, it helped spin out a thin story. Here, if he’d eased off he might have found space for some of that trimmed footage – like the sorry fate of Nite Owl I (Stephen McHattie). It also draws attention to the powered-up action, as characters punch through walls like Hulk and bound into burning buildings à la Spider-Man. It’s moments like these where the movie is most at odds with the graphic novel. Where Moore was all about deconstructing superhero myths, Snyder seems to want to hold them together.

Still… It’s a big ask, but bracket off Moore’s original and Watchmen stands up as one of the most ambitious and creatively cuckoo movies to come from a major studio this decade. It’s another neurotic, noirish comic-book flick, but painted in its own shade of black, as much Dr Strangelove as Dark Knight. Newbies may get tangled in the time-twisty structure – frequently digressing from the central hunt for a crime-fighter-killer – but they’ll also be immersed in its cheese-dream dystopia, where ‘masks’ are political footballs and Nixon still sweats in the hot seat.

Sure, the casting is uneven: even with added flab, Patrick Wilson’s not sadsack enough for Nite Owl, while Matthew Goode is too young and too fey for über-intellectual Ozymandias, the pivotal piece of the grand puzzle. But when the drama stammers, the backdrops (thick with gadgets, cameos and counter-historical tweaks) are ritzy enough to animate the foreground.

And there are times when celluloid and source are uncannily in sync. The measured but confident pace, for example. Better still, take away the Christian-Bale growl (shouldn’t he sound reedier, more runtish?) and it’s Rorschach as you remember him. Pitiless or pitiful, Jackie Earle Haley has the little psycho down pat, unhindered by the (discreetly pixellated) ink-blot disguise.

And best of all? A blue-hued, obliviously bullocknaked demi-god. Potentially the movie’s biggest, campest mistake, Dr Manhattan is instead its quietly conflicted soul. Bringing him to life was a “leap of faith”, the filmmakers admit in webisode ‘Blue Monday’. Yet it’s easy to believe in Billy Crudup’s mo-capped performance, all cool contemplation, tender intonation and telltale facial twitches. There are times when his luminous lady-pleaser is too distracting, but tears are likelier than sniggers in his origin-montage.

Exquisitely shot, chopped, scored (Philip Glass’ ‘Prophecies’ and ‘Pruitt Igoe’) and voice-overed, it vies with the freeze-frameable title sequence for standout status. Subtle and imposing, Big Blue emerges as man and superman.

And did you know he has control of his quantum mechanical wave function? What a dude.

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