MOVIE REVIEW- Unfilmable? <i>Watchmen </i>thrills fans, confuses the rest


There are two kinds of people in the world: "Watchdawgs," or whatever the out-and-proud geeks who are familiar with the Watchmen comic books/graphic novel call themselves; and "Watchvirgins" like myself.

Unlike most polar opposites– male and female, Democrat and Republican, Israeli and Palestinian– the twain shall meet this weekend, when Zack Snyder's (300) adaptation of the "unfilmable" tale occupies every available multiplex screen as 2009's first designated blockbuster.

Who will leave happy?  A thoroughly unscientific poll after a preview screening found geeks anywhere from pleased to over-the-moon with the movie, while the rest of us– well, I was the only one I could find.

Since the fanboys have their own expectations, their own yardsticks and their own grapevines, this review is intended for people like me who have heard, perhaps read some of the hype, but are basically going in cold in hopes of being entertained by the movie.

You'll come away wishing you had done more advance research.  That means Watchmen breaks one of my cardinal rules, that a movie should be self-contained, giving viewers all the information they need to appreciate it.  (There are exceptions, such as sequels no one is likely to see without having seen the originals.)

The Watchmen (and Watchwoman) are superheroes, but most of them have no superpowers, which makes them garden variety costumed vigilantes. They couldn't use powers if they had them, because in the story's alternate version of 1985 these outlaw-fighters have been outlawed. President Richard Nixon (Robert Wisden) is in his fifth term by 1985, having won the Vietnam War by using Dr. Manhattan/Jon Osterman (Billy Crudup) as his secret weapon.

Superpowered as the result of an accident in a research lab, Dr. Manhattan can teleport people and things at will or take them apart and put them back together with his mind. He can also blow himself up to about 10 times normal size. Oh, and he's bright blue and usually naked, except when he occasionally puts his schlong in a thong.

Though his friends call him Jon he's unable to switch out of his Dr. Manhattan persona. He lives with a second generation superhero, Silk Spectre II/Laurie Jupiter (Malin Akerman), whose mother, Silk Spectre/Sally Jupiter (Carla Gugino) is an alcoholic who was part of an earlier vigilante group, the Minutemen.

Laurie's only other friend, and obviously waiting in the wings in case she and Jon break up, is Nite Owl II/Dan Dreiberg (Patrick Wilson). His owl costume looks suspiciously like a bat and he used to do his crimefighting in Archie, which functions as a flying Batmobile. (Oops!)

There are plenty of gaps in their individual and collective stories, which emerge gradually through flashbacks. The present events are narrated by Rorschach/Walter Kovacs (Jackie Earle Haley), who sounds like he's imitating Travis Bickel from Taxi Driver. With his face covered by a mask with constantly shifting patterns, he's still serious about cleaning up New York– deadly serious after someone kills The Comedian/Edward Blake (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), another survivor of the Minutemen.

"Maybe someone's pickin' off costumed heroes," Rorschach theorizes.  "An attack on one is an attack on all of us."  He's unable to arouse much enthusiasm from his cohorts, including Ozymandias/Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode), the smartest and possibly richest man in the world.

All this unfolds in a world on the brink of nuclear war, with the Soviet Union preparing to invade Afghanistan. There's a cancer scare, too. There's a lot of paranoia in this movie, which shows that heroes are just like you and me, only more heroic. And sometimes they dress funny.

Except for the ending, the story is reportedly extremely faithful to the source novel. There was too much material to squeeze into a movie, even one running two and three-quarter hours; so Snyder and his adapters included what they could and put some more on a DVD to be sold separately.

Watchmen will make perfect sense to those who already know the whole story, while the rest of us can enjoy the visual effects and the film's highlights, which, except for Rorschach taking a Rorschach test, mostly involve sex and violence that put the "graphic" in "graphic novel."

The obvious aim is to stimulate a lot of repeat business, not just from people who like the movie but from those who are afraid to appear uncool by admitting they don't understand it.

They said Watchmen couldn't be filmed, and maybe they were right. Now they'll say the movie can't be sequelized, but Laurie addresses that in the final line: "Nothing ends.  Nothing ever ends."#