Watchmen was a comic book series first released in 1986 and it was later compiled into a graphic novel. It has proven to be perhaps the most widely loved example of the art form ever produced. Written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons it was a complex work of real depth with an explosive story line, engaging characters and a whole new spin on the superhero genre. The film version has lingered in development hell for years but now it has finally hit our cinema screens and the news is good. This is a gorgeous production, a faithful adaptation and a captivating cinematic experience.
The original comic book series was massively popular and so talk of a film version was quick to follow. The first director rumoured to be involved was Terry Gilliam but Alan Moore refused to write the screenplay and they drafted in Sam Hamm who made several changes. Gilliam had it rewritten again but came to the conclusion that it was un-filmable and could not be reduced to a two and a half hour film. Several other plans followed and director Darren Aronofsky was attached to direct a script written by David Hayter. In the end another studio argument ensued and when it was finally cleared up they hired Zack Snyder (300) to direct and had Alex Tse rework Hayter's script. They put together a budget of $120 million and started filming in 2007.
The end result is stunning. As a big fan of the original material it was hard to shake the worry that they would ruin it but this adaptation captures the spirit brilliantly. The opening credit sequence is simply amazing and by the time we were into the action proper I was completely sold. The artistic design is perfect; the casting is superb and with minimal tweaks to the story and as few cuts as possible they have managed to bring the Watchmen to the screen in all their dreadful glory.
The story centres on a group of masked vigilantes or superheroes who take it on themselves to clean up the crime ridden streets of America. This is an alternate historical path in which the cold war and Vietnam have turned out very differently and Nixon remains in the Whitehouse. All of this is largely thanks to the influence of the powerful Dr. Manhattan and the insanely violent Comedian. Most of the Watchmen have retired after their activities were outlawed but Rorschach continues to pad the streets and after the Comedian is murdered he begins to suspect a plot which threatens all of them.
The film works for various reasons and while it is impossible to distil something as rich as the graphic novel into 162 minutes this is probably as close as you could get. Zack Snyder is clearly a fan and his direction is excellent throughout, from the opening credits to the final frame this is faithful and beautifully made. The art design is perfect and there are several scenes that feel unaltered, recreating frames from the original and animating them together with fluidity.
The casting is another vital component and the fact that Jackie Earle Haley was cast as Rorschach really made the entire film work. He was absolutely perfect in the part. He could not have looked, sounded or acted it any better. Another impressive piece of casting was Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian. He managed to humanise the thoroughly evil grinning violent maniac which was no small task. The rest of the cast was a bit more mixed, Billy Crudup did a great job as Dr. Manhattan, Carla Gugino was decent as the original Silk Spectre and Patrick Wilson did well as the new Nite Owl. I wasn't massively keen on Matthew Goode as Ozymandias but on the whole the casting was great and blissfully free of huge stars. Keanu Reeves, Ron Perlman and Tom Cruise were apparently all in the frame at various points during development but I'm glad none of them got the part.
Whether you have read the source material or not this is a film worth paying to see. Snyder is definitely one of the most talented directors working today and he really has done a great job here. Who watches the Watchmen? I suspect everyone will.