Watchmen (HBO / Showcase)

Watchmen remains the equivalent of a sacred text among graphic novels. The 1986 tome by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons was listed among Time Magazine’s 100 Best Novels in English since 1923. It was adapted into an incredibly faithful film by Zack Snyder in 2009. At the time I wrote of that film that it was an “excellent, exciting adaptation which will please fans no end, but probably bewilder those who have not read the source material. Violent, strange, enigmatic and loads of fun.” Some of those sentiments carry over here.

Damon Lindelof’s new HBO series continues the story world of Watchmen by bringing its given circumstances into the present, but not our present. Like the source text, it presents an “alternative history” narrative. In the 2019 of the show, Robert Redford is President (and that is literal: the actor Robert Redford is not playing “the President” in the TV show Watchmen; rather, in the TV show Watchmen, the actor Robert Redford is the President). Police officers’ handguns, at least in the state of Oklahoma, where the first episode is set, are locked into gun-safes within their squad cars and may only be remotely released by an authorised higher-up back at base. Cops wear masks to protect their identities. And, most intriguingly, race now longer seems to be generally consistent within families: black parents have white children, and vice-versa.

There are a few big barriers to entry. The show’s world-building is clearly going to be deliberately parceled out, and those who need to get a quick grip on everything will feel rootless and probably frustrated. If you haven’t read Watchmen or seen the movie, the whole tone, which is intense, highly ironic (and sarcastic) and really pretty provocative, may be discombobulating or off-putting. And this is a show about vigilantes who wear masks and capes, so it is certainly superhero-adjacent.

I’m in for now. Lindelof is a TV genius (The Leftovers is one of my favourite TV shows ever, and Lost certainly was a thing) and the opening of this episode, dramatizing a horrendous moment in US racial history known as the Black Wall Street massacre, is arrestingly bold. The production values are through the roof, the music propulsive, and Jeremy Irons is in a concurrent storyline as a really weird castle dweller. One thing is for sure: there’s no predicting what’s coming next.



*** (out of five)

Tomorrowland will be remembered as the film that launched Britt Robertson into movie stardom. As Casey Newton, the feisty, science-minded daughter of a NASA engineer, Robertson does everything she can to single-handedly power this awkward, confused, shambolic young adult fantasy along. She can do perky, she can toss a double-take, and her wide-eyed, eyebrows-up, mouth-agape look of surprise saves many a scene from total irrelevence.

It’s not that the movie is bad, per se, but it’s just so undisciplined. It feels like writers Brad Bird (who also directed) and Damon Lindelof (Lost, Prometheus) started with a blank page and an unlimited budget, wrote feverishly for forty-eight hours, and shot the result with no re-writing, re-structuring or even re-reading. It’s like a one hundred and ninety million dollar improvisation.

Casey is a teenage suburban terrorist (she continually sabotages a NASA structure that is zoned for demolition, in an ongoing attempt to stop it being demolished) who is chosen by a very perky little English girl, Athena (Raffy Cassidy) to help build a brighter future for planet Earth. Trouble is, as cranky old inventor Frank Walker (George Clooney, making bank) tells her, it’s too late. Essentially, there is no there there – the tomorrow of our dreams has been hijacked by a geezer named Nix (Hugh Laurie), and we’re to be left with the tomorrow of our nightmares, which, the movie and Nix state very emphatically, is the one we have actively chosen through our nihilistic and lazy pessimism.

Shifting tones wildly, incorporating some very dubious choices (I’m looking at you, head robot man) and featuring a relentless, mind-numbing score (Michael Giacchino) that cranks every scene up to a dramatic eleven, Tomorrowland knows what it wants to say, but says it way too often and often in gibberish. At the end of the day, its vision of Utopia is essentially a combo of Changi Airport and Walt Disney World. Guess which studio produced it?