Ed reviews "Watchmen" 

You should know that I'm a hard-core fan of Watchmen. Back in the '80s, I waited anxiously each month for the next issue of the 12-part comic book series. When the series was released as a graphic novel, I snapped that up and I've purchased several additional copies over the years. I can't even guess how many times I've read the book, but I can assure you I got something new out of it every time. I saw the highly anticipated film version yesterday. I wish I had seen it a second time before writing this so that I could assess the movie without my expectations and anxieties about the production getting in the way. But I can't, so get ready for some first impressions from a biased party.

Watchmen is two hours and 40-some minutes long and the time flew by, despite some deliberately-paced sections. I was completely caught up in the story and thoroughly enjoyed myself, but the "Wow!" factor that you expect from an epic film was muted. Scenes from the comic that took my breath away didn't have the same effect here. The visuals were there, but they seemed a bit more pedestrian. After the screening, I sat through the closing credits thinking, "Why don't I feel bowled over?"

I've shared this because, with an adaptation of an epic, the reader should know the writer's relationship to the source material. If you're unfamiliar with Watchmen you won't be getting a detailed synopsis here. It's set in an alternate version of the '80s, where masked crime-fighters have long been a part of daily life. The story begins during a period when costumed vigilantes have fallen out of favor and most have been forced to retire. One of the retired crime-fighters, The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), gets murdered and another vigilante, Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), becomes convinced that someone has set out to kill the masked crime-fighters. And so the trippy, violent, dark mystery begins.

If you're new and you found that intriguing, I strongly suggest you buy the graphic novel and read it before seeing the movie. Alan Moore wrote the original Watchmen and Dave Gibbons illustrated it. Moore, who refuses to let his name be attached to any adaptation of his work, has stressed that Watchmen was designed as a comic book/graphic novel, period. It's the best graphic novel I've ever read and you should experience in its pure form.

The film version of Watchmen represents a noble effort by Zack Snyder (300) to do justice to the novel. He states the primary reason he accepted the job was so the book wouldn't be mangled by whoever was next on the list. Despite a few changes, including the ending, Snyder has crafted a remarkably faithful adaptation packed with details from the book. The many philosophical questions raised by the original are touched on, but not in depth.

Most of the characters look younger than they appear in the novel, but the casting generally works. Particularly good is Jackie Earle Haley as the deeply damaged Rorschach, Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian, Patrick Wilson as the chronically tentative Nite Owl and Billy Crudup as the mesmerizing, cosmic-minded Dr. Manhattan, the only character with super-human powers. On the down side, Matthew Goode lacks gravitas as master manipulator Ozymandias and Malin Akerman is unimpressive as Silk Spectre II (to be fair, the character was thinly written in the comic as well). Oh, and wait until you get a load of the film's version of Richard Nixon. He's more disturbing to behold than the scenes of intense violence.

Fans will have a field day studying the movie and arguing over what worked and what didn't. There's so much in this film, so much. I can't imagine what newcomers will make of it. Certain lines that read beautifully in the comic come off cheesy here. The plot and the back-stories may prove baffling. I don't know. All I can tell you is that I liked it a lot, just not as much as I hoped. That and, if you haven't read Watchmen, go get a copy and savor the real thing before you watch the adaptation.

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