The eagerly awaited Watchmen finally hit the screens in Hong Kong on 12 March in 2 versions – an edited cut for normal screening and a category III cut for IMAX at MegaBox. I actually did not realize that 2 different cuts were being shown as the publicity material never highlighted this and ended up seeing the shorter version at Pacific Place on Saturday morning.
Watchmen is adapted from a graphic novel largely considered to be seminal and one of the best graphic novels ever written. Created by the highly regarded UK writer Alan Moore, the graphic novel is bleak, plot-driven, and plays down standard action based heroics. Moore became disillusioned with Hollywood adaptations of his works after the disappointments of the atrocious League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen and V For Vendetta and disowned this project. Zack Synder’s film, however, remains close the spirit of the graphic novel and is the best cinematic version of Moore’s work to date.
Set in 1985, the film starts with imminent nuclear war between the US and USSR. Watchmen features an alternate history where Nixon won the Vietnam War with the help of superheroes and even changed the legislation to allow for his running for the presidency after his second term. After winning the Vietnam War, masked heroes are forced to retire. With the doomsday clock countdown looming in the background, former masked heroes are being assassinated and a plot to change the course of human history takes place.
As can be expected from a blockbuster movie these days, the special effects are excellent and the largely un-famous cast all seem perfectly cast for their respective roles. The use of these lesser known actors works well and we focus on the characters’ development – a crucial aspect of all of Moore’s works. An A-list star might have easily ruined the project. There really aren’t too many action set-pieces but the fist fights are brutal and violent. The soundtrack works less well in my opinion: the use for overly familiar music comes across like clichés. A few of the songs are heavily associated with other iconic films – their use here seem like afterthoughts and diminishes the impact in my eyes. I can understand the use of 80s pop music in the film, but blasting Jimi Hendrix’s version of All Along The Watchtower, a classic 60s rocker in the climatic scene, felt out of place.
I mentioned earlier that I saw an edited version of the film – the one I saw had approximately 4 minutes shaved off. It was extremely evident that the major scene that was cut was the steamy sex scene between the Night Owl and the Silk Spectre. The full frontal shots of Dr Manhattan were not cut and while his genitals were clearly visible I would say they weren’t prominently displayed. Still, I was extremely annoyed by the fact that I did not see the full cut for the movie. What’s worse is that the cuts were done haphazardly, and it was impossible to NOT notice the jumps visually and in the soundtrack. Shame of the Hong Kong distributors!
Overall, I would say that Synder’s Watchmen is an excellent addition to the recent crop of comic book adaptations. I personally prefer his previous movie, the rowdy adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300. Many people consider Watchmen un-filmable and the project did go through alot of legal wrangling; the finished product, fortunately, is a respectable film, which while not be as polished and mainstream as Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, deserves to be seen.