64. Watchmen: The IMAX Experience (Zack Snyder, 2009) #193 in IMDB top 250
I’ve been waiting. Waiting and worrying, pensive and excited, wondering whether or not it could be done. Can it really be filmed? Can Zack Snyder, maker of the adrenalised action heavy machismo festival 300 and the brilliantly brainless Dawn of the Dead, really be the man to do it?
Well, yes. It turns out he is. Watchmen is a slavishy determined adaptation of one of the best books written in the last century. The production design is absolutely top notch and it is a commendation to the artwork of Dave Gibbons that the film sticks to the articles he put in the frame all those years ago. This is the ultimate fanboy film filled to the brim with references that many (me included) thought would never make it to the screen. The story is retained almost wholesale despite notable changes to the final ‘event’. Snyder has very carefully altered minor details which have only had the effect of making the vision of the narrative more cinematic – including the denouement. Immense credit goes to Snyder keeping the edit as simple as possible by using only one camera for most of the action. It lends a sense of reverence to the film, allows the events to unfold without confusing the viewer. I’m very impressed Mr Snyder.
The performances are pretty solid throughout with three standouts. Billy Crudup’s delivery as the tenuously human Dr Manhattan is heart-breaking as he describes the events that lead him to his present condition. Jackie Earl Healey channels the most fascist of Clint Eastwood into his focused and disturbed Rorschach and Jeffrey Dean Morgan is superbly sociopathic as The Comedian the character whose death in the opening sequence provides the catalyst for the events of the film. Following that stupendous opening scene you are treated to a stunning credit montage depicting the history of the Minutemen, the superhero team that begat the Watchmen. It’s jaw-dropping in its brilliance and set to the perfect sound of Bob Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are A’Changin’. The music is a strong feature of the film, with the exception of one scene it is well judged and utilised. It’s heavily layered and far from subtle but effective and in the end – that matters the most.
It may have been the last chance for us to see an adaptation as faithful as this. The films setting in an alternative 1980s ruled by Richard Nixon in an unprecedented third term would have been increasingly difficult to portray as we moved further away from the period. Given this, and the remarkable faithfulness that has been shown to the source material then I can’t fail to be anything other than pleased and impressed with the final result. I’ve been unable to stifle a grin at the news that the film has suffered a tremendous second week drop in revenue in the US. The actors have sequel clauses in their contracts but there is no scope for a sequel. None. It does sadden me slightly that the business boys in Hollywood might swerve this kind of film in the future given the terrible word-of-mouth it has generated. I expect that it will slowly slide off the IMDB top 250 and that the majority of audiences mightn’t quite understand why it is so special and so different but it felt to me as if Zack Snyder made a film just for us, for the people who love this book. He’s even gone to the length of animating The Tales of the Black Freighter section and hopefully we’ll be getting a special sexy DVD release containing everything.