When writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons conceived the comic book Watchmen – a dark, complex deconstruction of what it is to be a superhero – it was not only to tell a gripping tale but also to showcase the unique merits of the comic book as a medium. It was created to be unfilmable, not that that stopped Hollywood from trying. However, where others – including the likes of Terry Gilliam and Paul Greengrass – failed to adapt the most celebrated graphic novel of all time, Zack Snyder, best known for 300 (another comic book adaptation), has succeeded. Of sorts.
Fans of the comic book will be pleased with much of Snyder's refreshingly reverent adaptation. The six main characters, the titular Watchmen, are all accurately portrayed (including the anatomically correct superpowered blue-skinned nudist Dr Manhattan), and each of their stories is given good weight within the overarching tale of the hunt for a killer of masked vigilantes in a world on the brink of nuclear Armageddon. The film's visual design too is stunning, striking the perfect balance between the lush colour palette of the comic with an outlandish but believably real alternate Earth. Much of the comic book's elegant dialogue has been lifted straight off the page, while fans of the ink-blot masked Rorschach will be pleased to note that he is the outstanding character here too.
All good so far, and yet ...
Those looking for Iron Man-like thrills or The Dark Knight-style tension will surely be left underwhelmed by the experience. Watchmen is not a taut thrillride; the lengthy scenes of dialogue and flashback give it a pace that while never dull (and in a film that runs at two hours and 40 minutes that's a blessing) is never truly exciting either. To counteract this Snyder has upped the fisticuff count, but because Watchmen is not a traditional comic book action film – if anything it's an anti-superhero film – the fight sequences often feel awkwardly forced into the narrative. Equally, while each of the main characters' back stories and motivations are explored, it seems oddly cold in tone with a lack of an emotional connection to any of them – the frustrated Batman-esque Nite Owl, the most humane of the group, perhaps the only exception.
There are other more minor quibbles and as frustrating as it often is, Watchmen remains a well-polished whodunnit that has plenty to cheer and, unlike those who were left weeping into their popcorn following the woeful adaptation of Moore's other great comic book opus, The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, fans should be content that Snyder hasn't made a pig's ear of their hallowed text. It falls far short of the multi-layered complexities and emotional themes of Moore and Gibbons' original story, but then we knew that it would anyway, didn't we?
EXTRAS ** Decision time. See the big Watchmen Blu-ray cover image up there? That's the Region 1 Director's Cut, which is 24 minutes longer than the Region 2 edition – pictured there at the right. That's a whole 24 minutes of movie, with extra scenes, more gore, more background and more for the fans of the graphic novel on which the film is based. Personally, if you're going to buy it, I'd say that you should make your way to Amazon.com, or you US online retailer of choice, and get the Region 1 version – you'll be getting much more for your money. But if you want to stick with the Region 2 version, the extras include: a digital edition of the film to put on your computer or any mobile device; a bunch of promotional material from the production of the film (11 behind-the-scenes video journals, some viral videos and the music video for My Chemical Romance's Desolation Row); and three featurettes (The Phenomenon: The Comic That Changed Comics, Real Super Heroes: Real Vigilantes, and Mechanics: Technologies of a Fantastic World).