Take it from a comic book geek who bought 11 of the 12 original issues of Alan Moore's seminal comic book superhero series The Watchmen in 1986: Director Zack Snyder's film adaptation is faithful to the point of fetish — right down to specific lines and visuals cribbed directly from the award-winning graphic novel.
For my money, Snyder (300) has created the first real superhero epic; a grand period tale that sprawls from the 1940s to the mid '80s, with a running time — two hours, 43 minutes — worthy of any Merchant/Ivory masterpiece.
But the problem with such an elaborate homage is that those who come new to the party may not feel welcome. And this tale of twisted superhero pathos is so explicit, so relentless and so long, it will be a very tough sell for anyone who isn't already on the Watchmen love train.
So, to make your Watchmen experience more enjoyable, I've come up with this handy list of Things You Should Know Before Seeing Watchmen.
1. This is not your children's superhero story. One of Watchmen's boldest moves was forgoing a shot at Iron Man-level box office returns by making this movie earn its R rating. Characters sling the f-word; superpowered master of matter Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) spends chunks of the movie nude, naughty bits in clear view; one hero attempts to rape another; bullets are fired through limbs and heads; Dr. Manhattan makes some enemies explode into a bloody shower and much more. This isn't Spidey or the Hulk; children should wait for Monsters vs. Aliens.
2. Reading the books wouldn't hurt. I couldn't imagine catching all the nuances of this sprawling story without already having it burned into my brain from decades of poring over Moore's work. Though Snyder is so faithful to the books, the screening made me feel a bit like Dr. Manhattan — a character who can see his past, present and future unfolding simultaneously.
3. Understand Moore's enduring themes. Watchmen creator Moore is an iconoclastic Brit with a severe distaste for '80s-era conservatives Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President Ronald Reagan. That's why Moore's vision of a nightmare America includes a United States that wasn't humbled by losing Vietnam and thus elected the disgraced-in-real-life President Nixon to five terms in office.
4. Watch for the tiny details. The music will help you stay oriented in a story that flicks from the '40s to the '80s with little warning (K.C.'s I'm Your Boogie Man plays during the '70s, Nena's 99 Luftballons signals a scene in the '80s). And check how Snyder provides an ending that subtly echoes 9/11 without breaking the period feeling.
5. Enjoy the performances. St. Petersburg native Patrick Wilson does a wonderful job as dumpy superhero retiree Dan "Nite Owl II" Dreiberg, but the film's real triumphs are Jeffrey Dean Morgan as hard-bitten, sentimental psychopath the Comedian and Jackie Earle Haley furthering his comeback career with an amazing turn as relentless criminal punisher Rorschach. And Crudup should get a special Oscar just for letting Dr. Manhattan's naughty bits show for so many scenes in a major movie.
Eric Deggans can be reached at (727) 893-8521, firstname.lastname@example.org or at blogs.tampabay.com/media.