There has been a lot of hype and the wait is almost over: Watchmen arrives in theaters this Friday. After experiencing years of “development hell” the comic book mini-series, often regarded as being ‘un-filmable,’ has finally been brought to the silver-screen courtesy of director, Zack Snyder (300). Set in an alternate 1985 where Nixon is President, the comic is often praised for its crisp storytelling and decomposition of the superhero archetypes. The main through-line of the story is a murder-mystery embarked upon by the masked vigilante, Rorschach.
Rorschach, a pastiche of all masked detective crime-fighters along the lines of the Shadow and Batman (without the gadgets), is a member of the superhero team The Minutemen. The crime-fighting team includes the nihilistic anti-hero, The Comedian; Ozymandias, a physically perfect human being who is also the most handsome, smartest and richest man on the planet; second generation heroes Silk Spectre and Nite Owl; and the only superhero on the planet with special powers, Dr. Manhattan. The murder-mystery brings the heroes out of a forced retirement and the story unfolds from there as they seek to find the villain behind it all. This brief synopsis truly does nothing to demonstrate the greatness that the story of The Watchmen is.
While it is said that no idea is original, writer Alan Moore deftly turns the superhero genre on its head, truly, Watchmen is a character study with superhero trappings. Moore examines the nature of humanity while simultaneously delving into the philosophy and psychology behind those that decide to dress in outlandish costumes, wear masks, and take to the streets to fight criminals. It even examines the nature of what is right and what is wrong, every panel offering a clue to a greater overarching tapestry. The depth of the story is amazing as it weaves in prose material that fills in the background of the various characters and adds layers to every interaction. There is also a story-within-a-story weaved throughout, “The Tale of the Black Freighter,” soon to be made available as an animated DVD.
The word is that the ending of the movie has deviated from that of the comic, the role of Hollis Mason has been substantially downplayed, and the average movie-goer will not be made privy to the significance of the newspaper stand. Snyder has stated that several versions of the film will be made available on DVD with the Black Freighter storyline edited into its proper place within the storyline as well as the addition of scenes that had be cut for this initial theatrical release. I have no doubt the studio will make a director’s cut version for the hardcore movie watchers in order to milk a few more dollars from fans after they have experienced the movie for the first time.
I would strongly recommend that anyone who ventures out to see the movie take the time to seek out and read the graphic novel upon which it is based.