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There's a big movie opening this weekend with a very excited fan base. "Watchmen" began as a 12-part DC Comics series written by Alan Moore, an eccentric icon of the comic world. The series developed a devoted following. The comics were reprinted as a graphic novel, which earned a spot on Time Magazine's list of the 100 best modern English-language novels.

Bob Mondello says the movie hews closely to its source material, but that's not necessarily a good thing.

BOB MONDELLO: The opening titles welcome us to an alternate 1985. Richard Nixon has begun his fifth term as president, and partly because he's outlawed costumed superheroes, the world is a messy place. As the titles end, one guy who once wore a costume and called himself the Comedian gets a late-night knock at the door.

(Soundbite of bang)

BOB MONDELLO: Well not a knock, really. The Comedian was expecting this visit.

(Soundbite of film, "Watchmen")

Mr. JEFFREY DEAN MORGAN (Actor): (As The Comedian) Just a matter of time, I suppose.

BOB MONDELLO: An aerial ballet of a fight sends him crashing around his high-rise apartment, through walls and cabinets and finally out the window into a fatal 40-story back-dive, tuck position, I think. I'd give him about a three for execution, but it's flashy in that digitally unreal way you expect in a superhero epic.

Comedian's death prompts a reunion of five vigilant vigilantes who were his buds back when costumes were legal, including Rorschach, whose mask has constantly moving blotches, a raven-haired beauty who looks like a walking shampoo ad, and a gadget nut who gets de-molecularized in a lab accident, which gives him actual superpowers.

(Soundbite of film, "Watchmen")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) The Superman exists, and he is American.

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (As character) They call me Dr. Manhattan. They're shaping me into something gaudy, something lethal.

MONDELLO: Something blue and without a spandex suit. So full-frontal shots of him are also blue. Collectively, he and his less super super-buddies, whose powers seem to start and end with martial arts abilities, were once known as Watchmen, and in Alan Moore's graphic novel, they sort of deconstructed superherodom.

But the moviemakers are too busy digitizing to bother much with that, so in place of personalities, the characters make do with the kind of complicated back stories that are just riveting in graphic novels.

(Soundbite of film, "Watchmen")

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman #1 (Actor): (As character) The past, even the grimy parts of it, keep on getting brighter.

MONDELLO: Cue something bright, say a flashbulb, 40 years earlier. Unfortunately, back stories, however riveting they are in graphic novels, tend to clutter up movies, especially when there are six of them to get through. So director Zack Snyder is still doling out origin flashbacks two hours and seven minutes in.

Mind you, the movie has almost 40 minutes to go at that point, most of which will take place in a cross between The Mummy's tomb and Superman's ice palace, where catastrophic scenarios will be debated at length. I'll leave you to discover how all that works out.

For the record, the director recycled some of his better effects from his gladiator epic "300," that 40-story back dive for instance. And when he's not splattering blood a good deal more liberally than he needs to, he's being so faithful to the work of comic-book artist Dave Gibbons that he might as well have used the graphic novel's illustrations as a storyboard, which will likely seem a good thing to really rabid Watchmen fans, but it's going to leave everyone else wondering if the director knows much about movie pacing, movie narratives, or movie audiences. I'm Bob Mondello.


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