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Cerebral and entertaining
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
Dr. Manhattan/John Osterman (Billy Crudup): "Why would I save a world I no longer have any stake in?"
It's not difficult to see why geeks all over the world love Alan Moore and David Gibbons' Watchmen graphic novel heroes if the complex, cerebral, and entertaining film of the same name is any indication. Heroes filled with angst, lust, and revenge rummage around the screen trying to make sense of their existential lives while figuring out how to save the world from nuclear holocaust. As he did in 300, director Zack Snyder makes memorable images surrounding challenging ideas.
It is an alternate world of 1985 when Richard Nixon has a third term facing the awful decision to use nuclear weapons against Russia rather than allow it to bomb us first. That the ex-Mask superheros Watchmen are variously found to cause the nuclear tension while they come back to save the world is the delicious complication of this challenging film.
Long it is at 161 minutes, but satisfying it is in the range of human emotions and conflicts befitting bickering gods of Greek legend and Star Trek fantasies. In fact, the godlike Dr. Manhattan is an authentic superhero, a scientist transformed by bad experiment into a superman deficient in the emotions the gods, from Browning to Roddenberry, have traditionally coveted.
Jackie Earle Haley's Rorschach/Walter Kovacs, providing the voiceover narrative about the return of the heroes, has a mask with floating inkblots, appropriately signaling the ambiguity of the hero and the world he is saving. But besides the satisfyingly ambiguous roles of the advanced X-Men like heroes is a musical score equally spot on for meaning but also ironic in the extreme.
For instance, after failing to rise to the occasion of intimacy with Silk Spectre II/Laurie Jupiter (Malin Akerman), Night Owl II/Dan Dreiberg (Patrick Wilson) eventually responds by being aroused after heroic activity with her accompanied by the strains of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, both a sensual accompaniment and a send up of heroic seriousness. Additionally, Philip Glass's accompaniment to Dr. Manhattan's back story is close to perfection.
The pure goal of all superhero stories is best described by Ozymandias/Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode): "And so began my path to conquest. Conquest not of men, but of the evils that beset them."
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's It's Movie Time and Cinema Classics shows, which can be heard streaming at http://publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/ppr/index.shtml and on demand anytime at http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/arts.artsmain
Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com