dir Zack Snyder
scr David Hayter, Alex Tse
with Billy Crudup, Malin Akerman, Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley, Matthew Goode, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Carla Gugino, Matt Frewer, Stephen McHattie, Laura Mennell, Rob LaBelle, John Shaw
release US/UK 6.Mar.09
09/US Warner-Paramount 2h43
Nuclear family: Akerman and Crudup

wilson haley goode
See also:


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Watchmen Based on the Holy Grail of graphic novels, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' story can barely be contained in this long, busy film. It's gripping and eye-popping, with terrific characters for the cast to sink their teeth into. But also feels rather overwrought.

In an alternate 1985, Nixon is still president and once-popular costumed vigilantes have been banned from the streets. The Cold War has escalated to the brink of nuclear decimation, and everyone is looking to Dr Manhattan (Crudup) for help. Due to a lab accident, he's a blue-glowing, all-seeing scientist. But someone is killing his former fellow heroes one by one. The shady Rorschach (Haley) is on the case, as are Laurie (Akerman), aka Silk Spectre, and Dan (Wilson), aka Nite Owl, who put their costumes back on and hit the streets.

The film continues the recent tradition of casting proper actors (rather than movie icons), giving the characters a complexity that lets us identify with them as they face up to big issues like truth, morality and mortality. In addition to the central figures, we also meet the nasty Comedian (Morgan), the first Silk Spectre (Gugino) and the cocky Ozymandias (Goode). And in flashbacks we get to see them in their crime-fighting youth, which isn't any less complicated than the present.

That said, there are also some bumps along the way, including dodgy makeup to recreate historical figures (Nixon looks like a Spitting Image puppet) and a couple of wobbly effects among the generally outstanding work there. What's on screen is absolutely amazing, and while the book's fans will probably be concerned with what's missing, nonfans will have the opposite reaction because it's both dense and seemingly endless. It's may be a thoroughly entertaining, deeper-than-most action epic packed with classy flourishes (including a fantastic song score), but at nearly three hours it's a bit much.

We already know that Snyder is an ambitious filmmaker (see 300), but this is assembled on a massive scale that really does take the breath away. He cleverly combines the bleak Doomsday story with snappy dialog, a witty sense of irony and plenty of sexual tension (these former heroes all seem impotent now). And the unpredictable central mystery in the plot is thoroughly gripping as it leads to a twisty, mind-bending final act that's refreshingly difficult and provocative. If you create peace through carnage, is it really peace at all?

cert 18 themes, strong violence, language, sexuality 25.Feb.09

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Watchmen Rabiesbunny, Duluth, MN: 4.5/5 "A stunning movie. Fans of the comic series will find it more easily approachable than those not familiar, but even the un-initiated will find themselves intrigued by the alternate reality set before us. As Dr Manhattan, Crudup conveys a sense of tragic disconnection with humanity. The acting was, all in all, superb." (6.Mar.09)
T I E - I N   D I S C
Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter
with Under the Hood
Tales of the Black Freighter
Daniel DelPurgatorio, Mike Smith
scr Dave Gibbons
voices Gerard Butler, Jared Harris, Salli Saffioti, Siobhan Dlynn
25m 3/5

Under the Hood
Eric Matthies
scr Hans Rodionoff
with Stephen McHattie, Carla Gugino, Matt Frewer, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Niall Matter, Dan Payne, Danny Woodburn
45m 4/5

release US 24.Mar.09 dvd,
UK 6.Apr.09 dvd
09/US Warner-Paramount 1h49
Here they come to save the day: The Minutemen circa 1940

butler gugino morgan
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Tales of the Black Freighter Animated like a manga comic, Tales of the Black Freighter is a high-contrast, super-violent short tells the story of the Mariner (voiced by Butler), the only survivor of an attack on his ship by the demonic Black Freighter. Washed up on an island, his every thought is about his wife and children back home, and he is obsessively determined to get back and save them from the freighter's murderous crew.

The imagery has a remarkable grotesque tone to it, as the Mariner builds his raft from the bloated bodies of his former crew members, using a blood-stained sail to get back to the mainland. A shark attack makes things even worse, and it's all animated in a suggestive, harsh, angular style that looks like a comic book come to life. Although the quality of the animation isn't much more than Saturday morning quality.

By the time Nina Simone's themes song comes up over the closing credits, the story has turned so deranged and disturbing that we've lost any real connection to the material, besides an intriguing take on post-traumatic stress. In the end, it feels a bit slight, a mere glimpse into the mind of a desperate man. And it's frankly the lesser of the two films on the DVD.

Under the Hood Much more entertaining and involving is Under the Hood, an extremely clever mock-documentary. This double-whammy satire is framed as a 1985 episode of the The Culpeper Minute looking back at a 1975 programme in which they profiled the memoirs of a costumed vigilante (McHattie), an ex-cop who called himself Nite Owl and fashioned himself as a Superman-like crimefighter and established a group of friends called the Minutemen. But in 1985, vigilantes have been banned, and the world has changed drastically as a result.

The short plays out exactly as if we were watching it in 1985, complete with commercial breaks, and the doc within the doc includes brilliantly created footage that looks exactly like if comes from the 1920s to the 1970s. Meanwhile, the script examines the issue with wit and a sharply knowing sense of satire, looking at our own society through these inventively designed clips, plus telling interviews with other key characters, including Nite Owl's colleague Silk Spectre (Gugino) and their nemesis Moloch (Frewer), and footage of their mercurial colleague Comedian (Morgan).

Additional (unreviewed) extras on this disc include the shorts Story Within a Story: The Books of Watchman and Watchmen Motion Comics: Chapter 1.

cert 18 themes, violence 25.Feb.09

© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall