Reviews: Watchmen

The Movie

Half of it is shot in slow-motion, the other half is flashbacks, and the opening credits is both at once. The constant camera tricks get a little repetitive to say the least. The violence is excessive to the point where it ceases to be both shocking and candid as the film intended, becoming perversely indulgent instead. The characters are well realised and the performances are excellent, with the exception of Nite Owl and the Silk Spectre. Their characters are supposed to be the closest things to "ordinary" people, but their wooden dialogue taken straight from the comic looks awkward and unbelievable on screen. It is Rorschach who steals the show; haunting and dangerous but also cruel witted and darkly charismatic. In short, he is everything that the fans of the comic could ever want. Whilst the movie is (excessively?) faithful to the comic, the changed ending is warranted and makes far more sense. I have no idea why they bothered to keep Ozymandius' pet tiger thing in the picture; it only confused those not familiar with the comic. Also confusing, was Rorscharch's mask. The film could have at least explained what the deal behind Rorsharch's mask was. it would have only taken 30 seconds to explain it for the sake of those who hadn't read the comic.

I've seen Watchmen twice now, and To this day I still can't work out whether the film is good or bad. I really can't, so I'll leave it at that.

The problem with the Watchmen movie

A few years back, a movie came out that perfectly captured the realistic, gritty tone and character depth of Alan Moore's Watchmen, and that movie was The Dark Knight.

Okay, maybe not "perfectly" but certainly more that the movie Zack Snyder directed.

One of the major things that made the comic so influential and beloved was the level of realism and character personalities that were not present in most graphic novels at the time. This completely redefined what a comic book could be. It was dark, political, and relevant to the real world, despite having colourful costumed heroes.

What the movie tried to do was recreate the book, almost panel by panel, scene by scene, with Zack Snyder, who's good at that sort of thing. In the end, what we got were slow motion kung fu fight scenes, big yellow block letter credits, and surreal explosion dreams, set to rock music. Somebody should tell the filmmakers that a realistic comic book and a realistic movie are two different things, and recreating panels aren't realistic, even if the panels are from a realistic comic book. I hope that makes sense.

Anyways, I didn't think it was a terrible movie, but it was certainly a terrible adaptation, despite how claustrophobically close it followed the book. When you're making a film adaptation of something, you need to find out why fans of the source material love it, and work that into the film. Watchmen did not do this.

The New Superhero Movie Standard

Note: If there's a spoiler, too bad; you probably should have seen the movie before you read this, anyhow.

Before seeing the Watchmen movie, my favorite superhero movie was Iron Man 2, with a close second as the Dark Knight trilogy. Now those are second and third, respectively. This movie has totally changed the standard by which I judge this kind of movie, though.

The Watchmen movie is good. There are all kinds of fans out there who will tell that it's not because it had to cut lots of things, but it is, on its own, good. Naturally, in the shadow of its source material, it's not as good, but compared to all the other superhero movies, it really is just a whole different level of awesome.

For the things they had to get rid of (the Tales of the Black Freighter, most of the intermittent inter-chapter material like Under the Hood), it manages to add all the more. The performance of Rorschach was astounding, and minor tweaks to Nite Owl's character made him go from alright-if-annoying to one of my favorite characters. Ozymandias wasn't quite the insufferable, needs-to-be-punched-in-the-face genius jerkass as he was in the comics, and all in all, the movie managed to adapt the characters very well. The fight scenes are spectacular, and, although the violence is sometimes cringe inducing, I think that might have been the point.

Some of my complaint of the movie is that it sometimes chose poorly for what stays and what goes. For example, the completely unnecessary sex scene between Nite Owl and Silk Spectre could have been a Sexy Discretion Shot, and we could have had more of the exchange between Rorschach and his psychiatrist, and a longer reveal on The Comedian being Silk Spectre's father. Still, the montage in the beginning is probably the greatest adaptional compression I've ever seen, and overall the quality of the entire movie is amazing. In addition, the altered ending made quite a bit more sense (not that I wasn't disappointed that there weren't any Eldritch Abomination squids), and I thought it was a better end to the movie, ultimately.

Overall, I would recommend the movie. Read the comic first, if you can, and definitely get the extended version, but it's a thoroughly enjoyable superhero movie that leaps over the normal bar entirely, which makes it awesome in my book.

The Movie: An Effective but Significantly Altered Adaptation For the Medium

While there is considerable discussion over the question of whether the Watchmen movie is good, the answer ultimately lies in what you're looking for.

As a movie: See my review of the comics for more, but the story itself translates nicely. The concept is quite interesting, the mystery is highly captivating and the characters are well-developed. The acting is well-done, and the production values are generally high.

Cuts and Additions: In the process of transferring twelve chapters of comics into a movie, even a two and a half hour one, quite a bit had to be cut. Most of the supplemental material, such as the Under The Hood excerpts, and the Tales of the Black Freighter chapters are not shown or mentioned at all. Several interesting minor characters, like Dr. Malcolm Long and Hollis Mason have most of their scenes and development, which is unfortunate considering Watchmen's attention to detail. Most of the dialogue that is cut is relatively extraneous to the plot, but is often interesting and thought provoking, especially the Big Bad's explanation for his plan. The story does not change much from the excluded dialogue (although the evil plan is simplified and some characters' backstories are left unexplained), but it detracts from the experience.

Translating into the adaptation: Despite this, the creators manage to adapt the novel into movie form while preserving the original spirit, even if a considerable part of the material could not be included. Some parts would inevitably not translate well into a movie, like the Tales of the Black Freighter excerpts interspersed with the action, and the removal of some of the scenes helps streamline the narration and make it better fit for a movie. The opening montage helps show the changes in superheroes over time, with the song effectively speaking to the changing era and setting the tone for the movie. Some of the Bob Dylan songs that were referenced in the comic are included in the soundtrack, which is a nice touch if you've already read Watchmen. Despite the removed scenes, the movie remains a faithful adaptation of story.

If you're looking for an entertaining and thoughtful movie, you should see Watchmen and then read the graphic novel for the full story. If you've read Watchmen already, you should see it if you can open mind with regards to the changes.