Thursday, 16 April 2009

No. 101 : Watchmen

Due to an unprecedented one request the ‘W’ quest is resurrected for one final fling (well unless I manage to track down ‘White Dog’) with the once promised ‘Watchmen’ getting the final bow as originally promised. I should apologise for my tardiness as un-updated blogs are a bug bear of mine - ‘The Stink’ I’m looking at you!

Anyway the ‘W’ quest came and went with consummate ease and frankly it was a bit too easy to keep my interest. I had visions of scouring car boot sales for ancient VHS’s of long forgotten films to complete the challenge but even with hastily invented ‘no definite article’ and ‘no sequel' rules the ton was passed without a blip.

The Challenge revealed, somewhat predictably, that having a ‘W’ first initial is no guarantee of quality and indeed the misses outweighed the hits by several to a few. I did think of starting other challenges such as ‘Films with numbers in the title (no sequel numbers)’ and ‘Films where the lead character is called Steve or Stephen’ but sadly neither has yet to gain the necessary lottery funding.

I have kept busy in the interim by watching all of the Daily Mail’s war film collection and the latest additions to the IMDb 250 including the 1936 classic ‘My Man Godfrey’. Seeking suggestions from my brother was a poor choice however with the risible and downright nasty ‘Mum & Dad’ the best of a poor bunch.

Anyway on with the highly anticipated ‘Watchmen’ which I saw at the cinema a week after release to coincide with my 38th birthday celebrations. The film was viewed from the premium seats (supplement unpaid) at the Odeon Glasgow Quay in a select audience of six. The film has seemingly under performed with the $100 million mark just squeezed by in the States and screenings here falling off after a fortnight. The reviews were largely lukewarm which probably cost it an audience beyond the comic fans, together with its bum numbing 3 hour running time.

I’m sure you are all aware of the plot and if not check out the Wikipedia as I’ll assume a basic knowledge of the book and characters lest I bore my few regulars by churning up old ground.

The book is a stone cold classic that still turns up gems at the twentieth time of reading (‘raw shark’ indeed!) and it was always going to be a fool’s errand to try and distil its essence onto the big screen. The initial word was good however, with the characters surviving more or less intact as were the 1980’s setting and quirky details like the Gunga Diner and Hollis Mason’s body shop sign. Questions about an altered ending were raised early on and the wholesale removal of ‘The Black Freighter’ was also a concern.

The film opens well with a clever titles montage that showed the genesis of the superhero in America with plenty of nods to the book such as Dollar Bill lying dead in a bank’s revolving door just as Bob Dylan sang of being stuck in the doorway. From there not much altered from the book and that was a bit of a problem for me. With many scenes lifted intact I found myself getting a bit impatient waiting for the next bit to come along. In the opening scene of The Comedians demise, which was beautifully and faithfully realised, I was subconsciously willing the film along as I knew what was going to happen. I felt a similar urge to ‘fast forward’ throughout the film during several scenes such as Laurie and Dan in the basement (although not in the Owl ship!) and the Mars section, not because they were badly done just because the subject matter was so familiar.It's fine and well being reverential to the original work but a bit of insight and interpreation wouldn't have gone amiss.

During the film’s long gestation an animated comic of the original book was done in twelve chapters and I felt that the film was really just a more expensive version of that. I wouldn’t call the film a failure, and if I’d went in cold with no knowledge of the book I’d have loved it, but instead it just seemed a pretty soulless exercise in assisting the illiterate.

Of the actors Jackie Earl Haley was the pick of the litter with his note perfect Rorschach and I also liked Malin Akerman as the free spirited Laurie who matched her earlier showing in ‘Harold and Kumar Get the Munchies’.

As a spectacle and technical achievement ‘Watchmen’ is an unqualified success but for this reviewer the lack of insight and innovation made the whole experience somewhat empty and a definite disappointment.

I won’t end the quest on a down note however and would say that for the production values alone the film is well worth £6 of your cash and the cast are excellent to a man - that man being Matthew Goode whose Adrian Viedt lacked any charisma, malevolence, style - well just about anything really. I also disliked his CGI Bustabus which just looked like an invading Looney Tune, so at least they were well matched!

The long road to the Watchmen has been littered with crappy films, the odd nugget of goodness and the occasional surprise. If you are on medication and have time to kill I’d certainly recommend a quest such as this to focus your viewing and perhaps take you out of your usual comfort zone of choices. ‘Watchmen’ isn’t the best film on the list and I enjoyed it less than I anticipated I would when this quest was started all those months ago. Still, it’s about the journey not the arrival. Well the journey and a shit load of pick and mix!

Best Bit : Dan gets fired up
'W' Score 17/23

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