Wednesday, July 22, 2009

It's The "Cold" War - Put On Some Underwear: A Review of The Watchmen

Last night, we had a tacos and movie night. Steve picked up The Watchmen on Blu-Ray, and we watched (I watched, he re-watched) it during and after dinner. While I'm always excited about a new Blu-Ray to test the limits of our HD television and rocking surround sound, I must admit that I was less excited about this film than I might have been about others. For one thing, Steve had warned me that it was quite long, and for some reason that will remain a mystery, this "director's cut" version was significantly longer. I tried to keep an open mind, however, and we settled in for some extended movie watching.

The Watchmen is based on a comic book/graphic novel of the same name. It follows several unorthodox and slightly unsavory superheroes as they try to maintain peace and order in an America gone wrong. The story is set in 1985 (mostly) and follows an American history slightly different from what we all read in high school. Nixon has been re-elected multiple times. We won the Vietnam War (thanks to superhero assistance.) But the Cold War still rages on, and people live in constant fear of nuclear holocaust.

As a writer, I am always intrigued by alternative structures for a story. I love it when someone finds a way to top "Once Upon A Time..." followed by a chronological telling. Perhaps, I should rephrase. I am always intrigued by effective alternative structures for a story. The Watchmen was a harrowing hash of flashbacks that kept the story from moving forward for at least an hour.

An hour of flashbacks, you ask? Wondering how there was any room left for the story? Don't worry. There was plenty of room in the 3 hour film. Of course, there are stories that can support 3 three hours of movie. This wasn't one of those. It's one thing for a film to be preachy or heavy-handed. It's quite another when it's preachy and heavy-handed for 3 hours. By the end, I was hoping that Dr. Manhattan (a glowing, blue, naked, know-it-all) would die just so he would shut up.

Then there were the characters. This can't all be blamed on the filmmakers, however. According to my source for all things comic book, Steve, the film characters stuck pretty close to their book counterparts. The problem was, most of them were boring. Dr. Manhattan was a blow-hard, know-it-all. The Night Owl served no purpose in the story whatsoever, and as for the girl, well, her purpose was mostly to run around in latex. Hardly a compelling reason to exist in a story. The only character I found remotely interesting was Rorschach, a no-compromise idealist with a penchant for violence.

I know that I am probably signing off on my own hit by nerd assassins for knocking this film, but I can't endorse such a manipulative, over-wrought piece of drivel. I quickly got tired of the hand-wringing and posturing. Nothing in this movie felt timely for me. Even though V for Vendetta shares a lot of the same warnings against heavy-handed government, this film lacked any believable link to today. The Cold War is over. Perhaps the filmmakers or the writers were hoping to draw a parallel between America's past obsession with Communism and their current focus on Islamic extremism. If that was their aim, however, they missed the mark. Instead, the story felt dated and ridiculous. Nixon as the ultimate evil, re-elected year after year, grinding our country into the ground? I was more frightened by the actor's prosthetic nose.

So if you read The Watchmen and thought it was brilliant (though I'm really having trouble with that idea), go rent/buy/see the movie. From what I've been told by my resident expert, it sticks fairly close to the original (at least for a movie adaptation.) If you're hoping for another V For Vendetta, skip it. Better yet, get out your old copy of V and have a re-watch. Neither film is particularly subtle, but at least V's clever, something that The Watchmen certainly can't claim.

Oh, well, at least the tacos were good.

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