Oh, you know I’m going to write this, don’t you?
Before we start, let’s get the disclaimers over with. Yes, there WILL be spoilers. Furthermore, I will be writing as a massive fan of Alan Moore, who’ve read Watchmen countless times and eagerly anticipated the movie adaptation since it was announced. Lastly, as you may have realised—yes, I am a bloody snob.
So, Watchmen the movie, huh?
First of all, if you were planning on chilling out, watching an action-packed, slightly funny superhero movie with lovable heroes, hot chicks and despicable villains…do yourself a favour: don’t pick Watchmen. I think Punisher: War Zone is still showing at some theatres. The trailers and movie posters might show a group of buff guys and a girl in costumes, but don’t be fooled.
It will not make you laugh like Iron Man. It will not leave you breathless, at least not like The Dark Knight did. Hell, it doesn’t even have a supervillain.
Watchmen is full of superheroes talking to each other, usually while they’re not in costume. It is very low on action and might leave you yawning, that is if you are still not leaving the theatres for the whole two and a half hours.
This is because the original comic, ladies and gentlemen, is not just a graphic novel, it’s a masterpiece. There’s a reason why geeks all over the world were creaming their pants for the film.
You might have heard about how the graphic novel has so many layers about it, and how each panel is meticulously detailed. Ask those who have professed their love for the graphic novel, I’m sure most of them read it a couple of times, and that was just to get the whole story.
Unless you’re prepared to open your minds to the concepts of banned vigilantes, Cold War, Nixonian America, the savage nature of humankind, quantum physics the and reign of Supermen (and a lot more), you might be wondering what is with all the fuss regarding Watchmen?
It is for all these reasons that a lot of people claim that the graphic novel is “unfilmable”, although the panels themselves are very cinematic. Alan Moore has never allowed any of his work to be adapted into film, and I for one have to agree with him.
Watchmen the movie is just like a mirror reflection of the graphic novel. It looks like it, but it’s just a shallow imitation.
Zack Snyder cut a lot of scenes out of the film, citing time constraints as the problem, but he did take a long time to start the story. The assassination of The Comedian was too long, and it was practically a duel between supermen. This has diluted the intrigue of a murdered old man, which was later revealed to be a legendary masked vigilante and government operative.
The worst crime Snyder could’ve done was leaving out Walter Kovacs’ first case, and butchering his transformation into Rorschach. Cuffing a psychopath and leaving him with a saw while his house was burning is horrifying in itself, but Snyder had to change it to crass violence.
Personally, I am disappointed that a lot of little details that make the story are left out, even though they won’t lengthen the film by one bit. Dumbing down Crimebusters to Watchmen. Rorschach measuring the wardrobe using a hanger. Laurie’s on-and-off smoking habit, and looking for the lighter button in Archie. Janey Slater’s wristwatch. The origin of Dr Manhattan’s symbol (that’s hydrogen atom, by the way). Sweet Chariot sugar cubes. The meaning of the name “Ozymandias”. The hoverbikes. The “Tandoori to go” quote. Lipstick mark on Sally’s framed photo. Burgers ‘n’ Borscht. Robert Redford (not Ronald Reagan!).
I’m sorry, that’s just the fanboy sentimentalism talking. Perhaps the DVD will be kinder to me.
The scene where Dr Manhattan is on Mars, recounting his past, is perhaps the hardest to translate onto film. Originally, it was presented as a series of non-linear events to document his perception of time. On film, it’s a mess as audience scrambled to decide which comes before which. He can see the future, and his prior knowledge of your actions is supposed to be frustrating and annoying. However, he announced the actions like he’s reading off a teleprompter, and Laurie doesn’t seem to be affected at all.
Perhaps I should’ve expected all this when Snyder was announced as the director. Just like in 300, his strength is only in translating visually, which is the only redeeming point in this film.
There’s a reason why the first preview way back then was of Rorschach. His is the strongest presence, and watching his mask fluidly transforming every time is just FUCKING AWESOME. Dr Manhattan is larger than life, if you can distract yourself from watching his dong and perfectly sculpted ass every so often. With a glow that beats even Edward Cullen, you can sort of make out the particles that construct him if looked close enough.
You have to agree that the casts all look the part. The Comedian with his bastardly sneer while lighting up his cigar with a motherfucking flamethrower. Nite Owl, an out-of-shape nervous man with boyish dreams. Ozymandias and Silk Spectre, so-so but fairly okay.
Carla Gugino: HOT.
All the places were lovingly constructed to look like they leapt straight out of the panels. For that at least, I owe Zack Snyder my gratitude. The newsstand on the corner in particular, with its owner and the comic-reading boy, is my favourite.
Well, in short, I find the Watchmen film completely missing the point of the original. It might be whored less than Moore’s other works—The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, V For Vendetta, From Hell—but it’s still a travesty, although a pretty one at that.
A wildly hit-or-miss affair with the fans, it will probably be a miss with most of the casual viewers. I bet there will be many who will grumble for Nite Owl: the Batman rip-off, gratuitous sex scenes, slow pacing and too many flashbacks (well, there are SIX origin stories to be told).
Nonetheless, if you are still reading this review up until now, I strongly urge you to watch it. True, it might not be very fun, but it’s a decent movie, really.
And if you do find the movie interesting, please, please I beg you to read the original graphic novel. Your life will be better for it.
*p.s.: io9 has this really helpful feature article that will help you make sense of all this Watchmen hype.
Update (07/03/2009): After that long rant, I do think Snyder did a commendable job of staying as faithful as he can to the original material. Just read this for a flavour of how worse it could’ve been.
Or you can just watch this: