One of the great rites of passage reads, Alan Moore (writer), Dave Gibbons (artist) and John Higgins' (colourist) 'Watchmen' revolutionised comic narrative and characters when it ran for 12 issues in 1986 and 1987. Beginning with the murder of costumed 'hero' The Comedian, 'Watchmen' followed the efforts of his former colleagues to find out who was behind his demise while delving into their own personal histories, worldviews and hang-ups - all this as the Doomsday Clock edged nearer to midnight. That's the postcard synopsis, there's a whole lot more besides - politics, popular culture, the other ills of the world - and if you haven't read it, and are at a loose end for a weekend, borrowing or buying a copy would be a good idea.
That it's taken 22 years for 'Watchmen' to reach cinemas says a lot about the complexity of the material and the expectations of its audience. Numerous filmmakers - Terry Gilliam, Paul Greengrass, Darren Aronofsky - have been linked to this project, but ultimately the man who shouted "action" was '300' director Zack Snyder. And you have to admire him for having the guts to take the project on: as much as 'Batman', 'X-Men' etc have their devotees, fans of 'Watchmen' would arguably be even more demanding and unforgiving. How they'll feel after this, well, it could vary from one to the next.
Following the murder of The Comedian (Dean Morgan in a great opening sequence), the masked vigilante Rorschach (Earle Hayley) tries to persuade his former partner Night Owl (Wilson) of a conspiracy to kill "masks". Riddled with self-doubt, Night Owl is more pre-occupied with his feelings for Silk Spectre (Akerman), the girlfriend of Dr Manhattan (Crudup), the only real superhero of the legendary-but-now-disbanded group who is currently working with crime-fighter-turned-billionaire philanthropist Ozymandias (Goode). Rorschach thinks any of them could be next. But who's behind it?
With the Academy Awards just over, 'Watchmen' seems like a shoo-in for a bagful of the technical Oscars next year. It looks and sounds stunning, the effects are superb and any blockbuster director in the future will have to measure up to what's here. Where 'Watchmen' won't be winning a haul of gold statues is in the acting categories.
While Snyder has assembled a cast that look perfect for the roles of the comic's characters, 'Watchmen' is a curiously unmoving experience and the only one onscreen you really care about is Earle Hayley's Rorschach. The emotional wallop that, say, 'The Dark Knight' packed just isn't there and scenes that should be the big heartstring moments come and go without any real resonance.
With one massive exception, Snyder has - to these eyes - remained very faithful to the comic (dialogue, set-pieces, even the coat on one of detectives) and while he hasn't been able to include everything that was in print (eg comic-within-a-comic 'Tales of the Black Freighter' isn't here but will be on the DVD), he has put a good shape on the story.
Where he has failed is transferring that on-edge feeling from the page to the screen. Because of its 12-issue nature, 'Watchmen' could crank up the tension from the end of one instalment to the start of the next - and all the way through the month waiting in between. Snyder has only minutes, not weeks to accomplish this and there is nothing here that has you gripping the seats or worrying about the characters while you do it. And the area where this is most apparent is the ending, which is more 'Oh, right' than 'Oh, my God'. Some readers of the comic will take issue with how Snyder has changed it around; others who thought the finale was a letdown anyway won't have their minds changed here.
Reviews won't deter anyone who has counted down the days for this as they did for every issue or the next bit of free time they had to read the collected edition - rightly so. Perhaps 'Watchmen' will do more for those who haven't experienced those emotions than those who have. But for both the next destination should be the same: Moore, Gibbons and Higgins' original material. This is worth seeing; just the once.
Watchmen Competition Winners: John Barrett, Meath; Cian Craddock, Dublin; Stephen Cronin, Cork; Paul Gilmartin, Limerick; Richard Kennedy, Dublin; David Phelan, Dublin; Morgan Lynch, Galway; William Monahan, Dublin; Padraig Mulcahy, Limerick; Chris Neville, Galway; Sarah O'Mahony, Limerick; Dara O'Neill, Kilkenny; Martin Rowan, Waterford; Tim Ryan, Kildare; Eoin Stephens, Dublin.
Thanks to everyone who entered.