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Watchmen blockbuster premieres, early reviews mixed

By Douglas MacLaurin and Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - The $120 million comic book adaptation "Watchmen," one of 2009's most eagerly awaited films, has had its world premiere in London, and reviews on Tuesday generally cast the movie as classy but no classic.

The red carpet launch late on Monday of the special effects-laden action thriller is the culmination of years of to-ing and fro-ing over scripts, budgets and, finally, a legal dispute between rival Hollywood studios.

Directed by Zack Snyder, whose "300" was a box office winner in 2007, Watchmen is based on a 1986 comic book series of the same name written by Briton Alan Moore and illustrated by compatriot Dave Gibbons.

Critics gave it mixed reviews, with several predicting approval from the hardcore comic book fan fraternity.

How it plays to a wider audience, however, will be more important to its commercial prospects.

"For those just watching Watchmen for the Watchmen, without any expectations or knowledge of the comic's storyline or historical importance, this really will be a blast," wrote Mike Ragogna in the internet newspaper The Huffington Post.

But Robbie Collin, of Britain's top-selling tabloid weekly News of the World, disagreed:

"This two-and-a-half-hour wannabe pop culture epic isn't the worst superhero movie ever made ... But it is one of the most spirit-crushingly disappointing," he said.

MOORE-LESS

As with other movies based on his stories, Moore has distanced himself from the film, which hits cinemas in Britain and the United States on March 6.

Asked if Moore was likely to watch the movie, deemed "unfilmable" by some in the business, Snyder told Reuters: "Look, you know Alan has famously said 'I don't want anything to do with it' and I just try and respect that as much as I can."

Watchmen is set in an alternate 1985 United States, where the "Doomsday Clock" charting U.S. tensions with the Soviet Union, is permanently set at five minutes to midnight.

When one of his former colleagues is found murdered, masked vigilante Rorschach sets out to uncover a plot to kill and discredit all superheroes, both past and present.

The film contains scenes of sex and violence, earning it an R rating in the United States meaning under-17s can only see it with a parent or adult guardian, limiting its commercial potential.

The fate of the film was in doubt until last month, when studios Warner Bros and News Corp's Twentieth Century Fox reached a settlement in a copyright infringement dispute.

Warner Bros, a unit of Time Warner Inc, produced the film, but Fox sued Warner last year to stop its release. Fox, which acquired the rights to the "Watchmen" story in 1986, claimed it had a continuing stake in the project.

Warner was also behind The Dark Knight, the Batman sequel which was last year's biggest grossing film globally with ticket sales of $1 billion. "Iron Man" was another superhero hit grossing $582 million worldwide, according to ticket tracking site www.boxofficemojo.com.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

(To read more about our entertainment news, visit our blog "Fan Fare" online at http://blogs.reuters.com/fanfare)

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