By Michael Kaye
Welcome to part 2 of my DC/Zack Snyder retrospective. In 1985, writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons proposed a story to DC comics featuring characters from the recently acquired Charlton Comics, which included The Question, Blue Beatle, Peacemaker, Captain Atom, Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt and Nightshade. However, at managing editor Dick Giordano's request, Moore created original characters instead, resulting in Watchmen, arguably the greatest comic series of all time. Zack Snyder would later direct the film adaptation in 2009, and that's what we'll be discussing today.
Here's the story. In a gritty and alternate 1985 the glory days of costumed vigilantes have been brought to a close by a government crackdown, but after one of the masked veterans is brutally murdered an investigation into the killer is initiated. The reunited heroes set out to prevent their own destruction, but in doing so uncover a sinister plot that puts all of humanity in grave danger.
Much like Blade Runner, there are three versions of this movie that have been released: the theatrical version, the Director's Cut, and The Ultimate Cut, which is by far the most superior version of the film! This movie is so good it gives The Dark Knight a run for its money. With a runtime of 3 and 1/2 hours, there are so many things to talk about, but I just wanna cover a few major highlights.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
First off, here's a mini-review of the story within a story Tales of the Black Freighter. In this comic, a mariner survives an attack from the dreaded pirates of the Black Freighter, but his struggle to return home to warn it has a horrific cost. Gerard Butler voices the captain of the ship, and he honestly does an incredible job! This was one of my favorite parts of the comic, and I'm really impressed not only with the quality of the animation, but how well it weaved into the Ultimate Cut of the film. It's too bad Disney's essentially cornered the market of pirate adventures, otherwise I'd have loved to see this short spun off into a live action feature film.
This is easily Zack Snyder's best directorial effort! He has literally brought the comic book to life, even more so in the Ultimate Cut. I know a lot of people aren't really a fan of his overuse of slow motion, but in this movie it works, as it allows you some room to breathe. For a story packed with this much dramatic weight, that levity is very important. Also, given his background as a music video director, scenes like the opening credits montage and the Comedian's funeral really stand out, as do all the action scenes!
The cast could not be more perfect! Jackie Earle Haley is the obvious standout as Rorschach, who looks and acts like a healthy blend of The Question, Batman and The Punisher. Personally I think he's right up there with Robert Downey Jr. and Hugh Jackman as the best actor in a comic book movie! Same could be said, to a lesser degree, about Patrick Wilson's Nite-Owl, Billy Crudup's Doctor Manhattan, Malin Akerman's Silk Spectre, Jeffrey Dean Morgan's The Comedian, and Matthew Goode's Ozymandias! At the time, I don't think any of these actor's were household names, meaning they could really make the characters their own!
When people talk about great cinematographers, usually it's names like Roger Deakins and Emmanuel Lubezki that get brought up the most, but everyone always underestimates the epic work of Larry Fong! Fong is the reason this movie looks as pitch perfect as it does. He really knew how to take the pages from the comic and translate them seamlessly into live action.
Michael Wilkinson, who designed the costumes, deserves some major props! I never thought they'd be able to translate so well on the big screen, but somehow he pulled it off. And I'm so glad to hear that Wilkinson will continue to work with Snyder on the rest of the DC films, or at least Justice League Part 1.
Finally, I suppose I should get around to talking about the screenplay, written by David Hayter and Alex Tse. If you've read the graphic novel, or at least are vaguely familiar with it simply by its reputation, then I don't need to explain why it's awesome. However, I should at least give my two cents to the ending, which is a departure from the source material. Personally, I like the ending in the movie better than in the graphic novel. Does it play it a bit too safe? Sort of, but I can totally understand the motivation behind it, tying the events of the film closer to its main characters (and one less hideous CGI monstrosity to animate).
I understand that Watchmen can be a VERY polarizing film, especially when it comes to the theatrical version. However, I highly recommend checking out the Ultimate Cut if you ever get the chance! It's about as close of an adaptation you can get to the original source material, arguably more so than The Lord of the Rings. Now I wanna hear from you! Have you seen Watchmen, and if so, which version of the film do you prefer? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and stay tuned for my next review, a film that's arguably the most divisive film of the past decade, Man of Steel!