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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Film
Jack Clarkson and Russ Thomas debate the adaptation of Watchmen

Directed by Zack Snyder.
Distributed by Paramount.
Jack Clarkson

So I got back from my trip to London to go see the premiere of Watchmen, an adaptation of one of, if not the greatest graphic novel of all time. This movie has been in the pipelines for almost twenty years, this film is almost older than I am! Almost every fan of the original comic thought a faithful film adaptation would be impossible. The original text was so complex, and the back story so deep that two hours of film time wouldn’t even begin to scratch the surface.

Well, they said pretty much the same thing about Lord of the Rings didn’t they?
In a horrifically crushed nutshell, the story follows through the lives of several superheroes trying to come to terms with the fact that their profession has now been outlawed and suddenly it appears that a serial killer is hunting down all the former crime-fighters. The story’s way bigger than that, but I only have six hundred words so you’ll just have to make do with that.

The film opens with an old man trying to fight off a mystery assailant who breaks into his apartment, who then proceeds to beat the crap out of him before throwing him out the window. We are then treated to a montage of this movie’s alternate version of 1985 set to Bob Dylan’s "The times they are a changing." By now you know you’re not here to see your regular run of the mill movie… The next three hours doesn’t disappoint either. You heard me, three hours!

Those of you who read the comic and know the old man is "The Comedian" and who the mystery attacker is, the first thing you will notice is how uncharacteristically awesome the fight is. In the original, the fight lasted six panels at most. Here on the big screen, the fists fly around like they’ve got free Air Miles! This gives you a whole new perspective upon the comic, what used to be a single picture of Nite-Owl punching a thug becomes a huge sprawling action sequence involving some of the most brutal beat-downs I’ve ever seen in a superhero flick since I saw the newest "Punisher" movie. Before you start worrying, let me assuage your fears by telling you, the story is still there. It’s still intact, it’s still Watchmen. If he wasn’t too busy trying to catch magical pixies with his eyeballs, Alan Moore would actually approve! Dave Gibbons certainly did. Zack Snyder is good at fight scenes, 300 certainly helped with that, and so he did what he does best for this film. This movie compliments the narrative heavy, character driven work of art that is the comic by reminding you exactly why you should never, ever mess with Rorschach while not forgetting to tell you all the original reasons from the book!

This movie is pretty much the Anti-Cliff-Notes to the comic; it’s like someone enthusiastically taking you by the hand through the story and telling you how AWESOME the whole thing is! From Dreiberg and Laurie beating the ever living crap out of a gang of muggers to Doctor Manhattan singlehandedly winning the Vietnam War to Ride of the Valkyries now exhilarates you with an energy that would make Michael Bay soil himself! Zack Snyder loves this comic, and it shows!

Watchmen the movie compliments the book perfectly, like milk and cookies, or beer and pizza, or cocaine and hookers!! If you’ve read the book, go watch the movie, you owe it to yourself, and frankly, they deserve the price of admission! If you don’t know of it, go see the movie and then read the comic, you won’t be disappointed… Confused, maybe a little at first, but not disappointed.

Plus, come on, this film has Jimi Hendrix in the soundtrack! What’s not to like?

© Jack Clarkson March 2009
When Jack Clarkson isn’t smuggling himself past security into film premieres, he is in his final year of English and Creative Writing at Portsmouth University.


Watchmen (2009)
Directed by Zak Snyder

Watchmen, like a lot of films, started off as a comic (or a "graphic novel" if you want to be picky). Having read this a good four years ago, I never thought it would, or even could be turned into a film – especially since it was recommended by my Philosophy teacher at the time. It is a relatively complicated plot with ultra-philosophical grounding, so this just cemented my feeling as it being a well-coloured utilitarian tract. I never looked at it in a filmic way. Now... well, I’m sitting here talking about a film based on a comic which I never thought would be delivered on screen. You can imagine the predicament. And I’m not over-exaggerating – it is a predicament. As much as I want to love Watchmen, I just can’t.

Why? It’s a good question. It is the most faithful film adaptation of a comic I have ever seen.The set is fabulous, evoking the near-apocalyptic alternate 1985 with fantastic bleakness – epic camerawork, greenscreens and special effects making this an almost-good-enough-to-eat affair. The costumes are superb. Perfect. For purists, and even for virgin Watchmen spectators, and for those who occupy the halfway house between the two (me), the spectacle is enough alone to fend off doubt that it may not be a perfect film. The visuals are so good, in fact, that they have been released in an expensive book that acts as a companion to everything you see on screen – concept art, sketches, poster ideas, sets, costume designs, and the final products: all glorious. But after this it is hard not to stumble over the trickier bits. These come in a tri-form obstacle, namely, casting, plot, and sound.

The casting was wobbly and I will be blunt about it. But, let’s have pudding first: Dr. Manhattan was brilliantly done, complex, layered; Rorschach was gruesomely likeable; The Comedian – notably fine – and other principles did a great job. On the other hand, Malin Akerman (who plays Silk Spectre II) was stiff and delivered lines with the tinny quality of a high pitched teen-comedy star. Not a great choice. Nor, I think, was the actor who played Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias (Matthew Goode). He was gaunt and weedy-looking. In the comic he is a blonde-haired picture of Aryan-esque perfection. I didn’t understand, but I now put it down to the plot change.Yes, the plot change. I won’t ruin it, but let’s just say that Adrian Veidt is more culpable in the film than he is in the comic. There is something missed out of the film as well, which would ordinarily explain the massive void that Veidt abruptly fills, which is a brilliant part of the comic. It’s called Tales of the Black Freighter, and is essentially a story-within-a-story, which is used as a narrative device. It is coming out on DVD-release, independent of the film itself. The lack of this in the actual film is a big, fat thumbs-down for me – this makes it more confusing, more contrived and convoluted than the comic (which is all of those things to a major degree in the first place). My answer would have been to make two films, as Tales of the Black Freighter comes more or less mid-story, and would have made a lovely beginning for the second film. But, as it happens, it is relatively short and a little disappointing. Couple this in with a soundtrack which I thought, frankly, was awful – an attempt to gain credibility by using Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan, and even ripping-off "Flight of the Valkyries" from Apocalypse Now – and you have a film that has knocked on Perfection’s door, but failed to get in.

Russ Thomas, 19th March 2009
Russ is also completing his Creative Writing Degree at Portsmouth University.

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