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Notes from the back row

Watch the Watchmen

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Comic book geeks have been walking around all week with tents pitched in their jogging pants (I'm 33 years old and have never met a female comic book geek) but the wait is finally over. The Watchmen, the most celebrated comic story ever, crashes onto screens this Friday at the Village 8.

At over 160 minutes long Watchmen is a real commitment, and its twisting, flashbacking, teleporting story will likely leave a few viewers scratching their heads. Astute audiences should be able to get into it however, and fans of the Alan Moore-Dave Gibbons graphic novel will be stoked with the faithfulness of director Zack Snyder's (Dawn of the Dead, 300) adaptation.

Set in an alternate 1985 where Dr. Manhattan (a blue, all-powerful super-being assumedly named after the nuclear Manhattan project and not the drink) won the Vietnam War for the U.S. and secured Nixon a third term as president, Watchmen is a mystery story at heart. Some ne is killing retired superheroes and Rorschach, a renegade vigilante with a moral philosophy as black and white as the ever changing inkblots on his mask, wants to find out who.

Amidst an environment of looming nuclear Armageddon, courtesy of the Russians and an ever-ticking doomsday clock, Rorschach must track down his old super crew to warn them and discover who's knocking off heroes and why. Using flashbacks, ultra-violence, murder, sex, humour, paranoia and a Kit-Kat break on planet Mars, director Snyder paints a bleak and telling tale about the government's misuse of power, the danger of good intentions, and the nature of mankind.

Comic geeks should support this $100 million flick whole-heartedly but comic movies often seem very stilted and melodramatic to regular people, full of overplayed dialogue and rubber costumes (and this film certainly has those elements) but if you are able to get over it and buy into the alternate world (which isn't too hard as the first 40 minutes are slick and exciting) Watchmen is fresh and challenging. Who cares if the threat of nuclear war doesn't scare you anymore, check out this killer flying podship named Archimedes or the garter straps on the Silk Spectre's costume. It's a geek dream come true.

The characters, led by Rorschach, are integral to the story. These are, for the most part, normal people who possess a special (sometimes psychotic) drive and kick-ass martial arts skills, who have relationship problems and egos, who wear winter coats when it gets cold and who might not get along with their mothers. This take on the layman superhero has been done a lot recently but Watchmen revolutionized the concept back in the '80s and even today it still delivers a much higher complexity than, say, San Raimi's Spider-Man.

While today's torture-porn loving youth (seen a horror movie lately?) will undoubtedly be stoked on the violence, genocide and sexual fetishistic aspect (thanks to Malin Akerman's stunning Silk Spectre II) Watchmen is not a children's comic movie. It's violent, long, and so jam-packed with story that viewers need to be on their toes. There isn't a lot of room to breath in this one.

Aforementioned comic geeks will notice a few glaring omissions from the original book (no Black Freighter pirate story-within-the-story, and a new ending) but Snyder claims to be working on a four-hour, all-inclusive director's cut for the DVD and if you're looking for a nice geeky comic girl to enjoy that version with, good luck. The best place to start the search, however, is at the Village 8 tonight, (Thursday) for the special midnight screening of The Watchmen. That puts you home at around 3 a.m. unless her place is closer.

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