Monday, March 2, 2009

New review this week: "Watchmen"

Back in 2001, I wrote a column explaining to readers that I was going to have a hard time remaining objective about a forthcoming movie: "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring."

You see, it was my favorite book. I'd loved it since childhood, so any film version would have to compete with the thousand imaginary reels that already spun through my head. I was either going to love the movie or hate it with every fiber of my being.

(I loved it, of course, as I did "The Return of the King," although I gave the middle installment, "The Two Towers," a less glowing review.)

It's time to issue another warning, because "Watchmen" is coming out this Friday. In fact, as you're reading this I've probably already seen the movie.

Alan Moore's apocalyptic tale is the Holy Grail of comic books. If ever a work deserved the snobby term of "graphic novel," this is it. It's the only comic book ever to win a Hugo Award, science fiction's highest honor. During college, I wrote a paper comparing and contrasting "Watchmen" with John Milton's "Paradise Lost." (Got an A, too.)

Moore took every conceit of the costumed hero genre and turn it on its head, shattered it and subverted it. A hero who's an impotent schlub? A vigilante who takes a butcher's axe to criminals? A power-mad hero who is willing to literally destroy the village in order to save it -- times a thousand? That's the dark world of "Watchmen."

They've been trying, unsuccessfully, to make a film version almost since the book came out in 1985. Terry Gilliam, one of my favorite directors, took the longest crack at it back in the 1990s. Zach Snyder finally made it happen, although for a while it looked like a lawsuit over ownership rights to the material would keep the movie from being released. (They resolved it, just a few weeks before the opening date.)

We'll have to see if Snyder is the one to breathe "Watchmen" to life. I loved his remake of George Romero's "Day of the Dead." I had mixed feelings about "300." The serious critic in me recognized that it was a tremendously silly movie, but the 15-year-old in me loved it. We'll have to see which side prevails with "Watchmen."

I think he made the right choice in casting little-known actors in the roles; I'm not sure how audiences would react to a Bruce Willis Nite Owl or Brad Pitt as Dr. Manhattan.

I'm curious, and anxious, to see how Snyder handled a lot of the material. Are they really going to have the all-power Dr. Manhattan walk around naked? Are they going to keep the gruesome violence in place? (The film is rated R, another good sign -- watering this movie down for a PG-13 would have been criminal.)

So watch for a review of "Watchmen" this Friday. I'm hopeful, and terrified, of what I'll find.

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