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Like many people that grew up in the fifties comic books were once the very center of my youthful literary universe. From ‘Spider-Man’ to ‘Superman’ the heroes and villains changed our imagination and helped set the stage for a lifetime love of science fiction and fantasy. Historically every human culture and society has created their own mythology. The stories that comprised this elaborate system of myths were populated by beings of incredible, super human abilities and quite often regular people daring to challenge the powerful. With the advancement of science replacing the explanations of nature that mythology provided the need for these gods and goddesses greatly diminished but even know we still seem to crave these stories. Comic books and graphic novels have moved in to fill this void providing us as a culture with a new set of myths. The overall effect and many of the fundamental purpose is still maintained. Myths serve to teach through their stories the eternal battle of good versus evil. In recent years these tales have clouded the line between heroes and villains as moral ambiguity rises in popular story telling. This has coincided with the greatly increased use of comics and graphic novels as a main source for mega budget films. Most of the record breaking movies in recent years have been bases on comics proving their continued importance to our culture. Not only have the major main stream comics found their way to the big screen but now some of the cult classic is garnering such treatment. One of the most heavily anticipated film treatments where ‘Watchmen’ and once again it is a block buster and sure fire new classic. This movie doesn’t merely emulates a visual style it blazes a new trail creating something unlike what you have come to expect from a comic based movie.

The source material for this film came from a limited series graphic novel written by writer Alan Moore with art work by Dave Gibbons. The characters are set in an alternate universe using variations of the classic super hero line up from the traditional DC universe. Translating this story into a screenplay fell to David Hayter and Alex Tse. Hayter has fairly extensive experience as an actor with writing credits right on point for this project with credits in ‘X-men’, ‘X2’ and ‘The Scorpion King’. Tse may have less notable credits but is well versed in crime dramas. The two complement each other amazingly well in this script. Directing the movie was Zack Snyder who also sat in the big seat for ‘300’ and the 2004 remake of ‘Dawn of the Dead’. On the surface these areas of expertise may seem unlikely to blend properly but these talented men help it fulfill its potential. The result was a unique, gripping story placed against a visually stunning visual.

‘Watchmen’ is set in an alternate universe where many pivotal historical events unfolded with differences ranging from minor to those that altered the very direction of history. The thirties and forties was a golden age for costumed vigilantes. A group of the more active came together to form ‘The minutemen’ charted to finish what the law could not. Ultimately things did not turn out well with these early crime fighters with many coming to premature, violent death, confinement to mental instructions or general nervous breakdowns. These costumed heroes frequently had a major impact on the course of history including the assassination of President Kennedy. The Vietnam War was won by a near godlike super being called Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) formerly nuclear research scientist Jon Osterman. He grows himself to enormous heights and overruns the Vietnam in a short order. This allows Richard Nixon to retain his popularity, run again, change the law and practically become President for life. A couple of decades later a new generation if vigilant, ‘The Watchmen’ takes the stage but public opinion reverses resulting in their actions becoming against the law. The story starts in 1985. Nixon is still president and only a few costumed heroes remain active; sanctioned by the government. They are Doctor Manhattan, the comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and the world’s smartest and richest man, Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode) better known as Ozymandias. When the Comedian is murdered the former Watchmen are pulled back into the action. Among them are second generation Laurie Jupiter (Silk (Malin Akerman) replacing her mother (Carla Gugino) as Silk Spectre II. Then there is the master of gadgets Dan Dreiberg (Patrick Wilson) going by the name of Nite Owl II. The wild card of the group is the psychotic Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley); unpredictable and extremely violent. When he is placed in prison surrounded by criminals he captured he reminds them he is not locked in with them; they are locked in with him. Unlike most comic based films this one truly works even for those unfamiliar with the graphic novels. It is just a finely crafted story with more twists and turns than a long mountain road. It is not really dependent on super powers as a gimmick; actually only Dr. ‘Manhattan has true powers. The core of this story is the psychological profile of the emotionally damaged people who can only cope with life behind another identity as vigilantes. There are several ways to get this film but it is highly recommended you go for the Blu-ray extended cut. The visuals are so impressive it takes high definition to fully appreciate them.

Posted 08/26/09

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