This review (actually more a collection of thoughts) is split into two parts. No spoilers above the fold, but spoilers below.

On the whole I think that it was probably the best movie that could have been made while keeping faithful to the source material. I have a few nitpicks that I will get to below the fold, but even those for the most part I know why they deviated. My concerns about the most major deviation, the ending, were largely rendered moot. It was even, perhaps, an improvement over the comic book. Watchmen fans really have little to realistically complain about. For the movie to include every scene we wanted to see, it would have had to be far too long to even be called a movie.

But every cut scene still hurt. Not only those of us that loved the graphic novel but also those that didn’t. The elimination of the non-costumed characters (the Bernies, the psychiatrist’s backstory, the lesbians, etc) took a bite out of a particular event by making the repercussions a little less personally significant. The cutting down on both Dr. Manhattan’s and Rorschach’s stories made the events of issues #4 and #6 – possibly two of the best individual issues ever made – less poignant. More broadly, the trimming – however efficiently done, gave viewers less time to get to know and care about the Watchmen themselves as much as the comic book readers did (and that’s arguably an area where the comic book was already a bit weak, excepting #4 and #6).

This movie was in a much tougher spot than a lot of other movies. They’re not just taking six characters and moving them from one medium to another. They’re taking an entire story. An entire universe built on the back of the comics. And they’re taking it from its native medium which it was written for and put it into another medium that was simply incapable of taking advantage of everything the original had to offer. The most obvious example is the text (in the form of letters, articles, book excerpts, etc) that appears at the end of 11 of the issues that goes a long way towards explaining and setting up events. Different media have different strengths and weaknesses and any story that fully takes advantage of its native medium can’t be ported over very easily. Books to movie are of course the classic example of that. So too it is with this story.

Despite all of that, though, I think that a lot of people are being way too hard on the movie. Particularly from the standpoint of a fan of the comic, but I think otherwise as well. Though they didn’t do as good a job as they might have in keeping future events from spilling, it’s still the case that you don’t entirely know where the story is going. I guess for some people they felt that this was aimlessness rather than unpredictability. I wouldn’t recommend the movie to people that are lukewarm on superheroes the same way that I might do the same with the comic, but it was still a heck of a lot better than a lot of comic movies out there despite in some ways having a much tougher hill to climb.

I thought that the acting and characterization were really quite good with one major exception. Ozymandias is a pretty sticky character and unfortunately I don’t think that the movie got him right either from the comic book standard or from the standard that would make him an interesting character to anyone. Not sure if the problem is the script or Matthew Goode’s acting, but I suspect it’s a little bit of both. On the other hand, I never liked the Silk Spectres in the comic book and found the parts in the movie much more sympathetic. Maybe I need to see their flesh to better appreciate their humanity or maybe the acting was just that good. Jackie Earl Haley was brilliant as Rorschach. So much so that it made every cut scene a tragedy. Jeffrey Dean Morgan also did a great job with the Comedian, though I think that’s an easier part to cast. I was worried when I saw the pictures of Patrick Wilson to play Nite Owl because I really thought him too young and too good-looking, but they really did a good job with that. They managed to make him fat-seeming and frumpy without making us look at a fat dude shirtless. No real strong opinion any which way on Dr. Manhattan.

The general sense of the movie was also pretty. The opening sequence was a bit odd at first, but it was probably the best way that they could convey the amount of information that they needed to convey in the time that they had to convey it. Some of the physics of the movie strain credibility, but I honestly don’t have a problem with that. It’s neither possible nor desirable, I don’t think, the want to apply all of the laws of physics to superheroes without some selectivity. Some people thought that the blood was excessive, but the blood very much there. The nudity of Dr Manhattan might have been better off avoided (though I frankly didn’t care, the people behind me did), but the nudity of Silk Spectre II was greatly appreciated.

In the end, I would recommend this to people that enjoyed the comic book, enjoy comic book movies, or enjoy seeing movies. I wouldn’t recommend it to people that take enjoyment in finding flaws in film because this one does have plenty. I’m going to watch it again in the theater for sure. Probably more than once. I went in with my fingers crossed, hoping that if nothing else I would get some great visuals. I got a lot more than that. The realization of something I’ve waited fifteen years for. And leaving it without a sense of disappointment. That in itself is an amazing accomplishment.

See below for more tidbits with spoilers:

I was actually a little worried shortly after the movie started. I really, really didn’t like the inclusion of the McLaughlin Group with Buchanan and Clift. The actors they picked out were quite remarkably good impressionists, but in addition to having been done so many times before as to be tedious, it felt out-of-place. That’s the sort of thing that you do with a movie to establish credibility before the president is replaced by a body double or Earth is attacked by aliens. This movie’s universe was already different enough to render that unnecessary. And supremely irritating.

One thing that I wish that had left out of the movie was Ozymandias’s catching of the bullet. There was a greater set-up for it in the comic book, though it strained credibility there as well. Since they punched up the fight scenes towards the end, I think leaving that one off would have been a good change.

Speaking of Ozymandias, I really think they screwed up that character. He was probably one of the two least compelling characters in the comic to begin with. But they made him so stiff as to be creepy. I think that more than a couple people probably realized that he was behind it based solely on the creepiness factor. They needed a less obvious tell, I think. I thought that they had the look down great, but not so much the character.

I know that in director’s school they tell you that you need to show faces and that’s tough for superhero movies, but how many times did Dan Drieberg take off his goggles or his mask? I swear at the end it was like on-off-on-off-on-off.

They also flubbed the prison break, I thought. In the comic, Rorschach was holed off in a corner of the prison. That made his confrontation with Big Figure and the two goons more credible. In the movie, fifty characters are hovering within 100 yards of Rorschach. Since it was his actions that theoretically tipped the glass of the riot, you would think that more than a couple of them would have said “Hey, dudes, let’s tear the redhead apart limb-from-limb”

They kept the nail polish to a minimum. Yay.

I was really bummed that “Laurie Jupiter” didn’t smoke. Or that nobody did. Laurie in particular because it made her accidental triggering of the flamethrower make more sense. But more generally I wanted to see what the bulb cigarettes in the comic would look like on screen.

I was also kind of bumped that there weren’t the silhouette dancer graffiti on the wall. At least not that I noticed. That was a staple visual in the comic that I would have enjoyed.

For all of the talk about how gruesome the movie was, the directors didn’t even use the City of the Dead, the most gruesome scene of all.

One of the things that the comic book did well was show the deterioration of age. Gibbons art really lends itself to the gradual progression of age. In the movie, the “old” Janey Slater was still pretty hot until she took off her wig.

In the comic, Osterman’s supervisor tells him that the hatch’s inability to be opened was a “safety feature”. It wouldn’t have taken them two seconds to put that in the movie and might have made that scene feel a little less rushed.

In the comic, Dan and Laurie take on new identities at the end and in the movie they didn’t. There is a pretty obvious reason for this: In the comic, their identities were exposed by the detectives. In the movie, they weren’t.

In the comic, only New York is hit. In the movie, several cities are. A pretty obvious reason for this, too: Ozymandias could not upset the balance of power between nations. Had only the US been hit, the Soviet Union would have attacked. Or vice-versa. Everyone was hit, so everyone took a step back. In the comic this wasn’t an issue because everybody needed to unite to face an external threat. The external threat in the movie was too powerful for that to even be a factor.

What I find that I missed the most from the movie were the little things that gave the characters just a little more depth. Jon and his father. Rorschach’s brush with Kitty Genovese. Some of the background material in the end-text of the stories. I absolutely understand why it was taken out, but it’s tragic to see anything lost.


Category: Theater

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7 Responses to Watched the Watchmen

  1. Kevin says:

    Very thorough review. I, too, was quite pleasantly surprised by the film. The things I did not like about the film were the same as the things I did not like about the comic. The following are some random observations:

    1. I didn’t like the way the ink blots on Rorschach’s mask would move. The story of how Rorschach gets his mask is probably my favorite part of the comic. I understand taking that part out (although it would only have taken a couple of minutes to include it), but the movie never explains why the blots on his mask move. Don’t tell the story of Kitty Genevese, fine, I can accept that. But Rorschach has no superpowers, and there’s no reason the ink blots on his mask should move, other than to let the tech guys show off a little.

    2. I was amazed at how closely they captured the scene of Blake being thrown out the window. That is one of the central images from the comic, and I thought they reproduced it really well.

    3. I was surprised at how emotional Rorschach was in the movie. In the comic, I always imagined him speaking in a very low, monotone voice, because he’s so repressed. It is primarily through violence that he unleashes his fury. That’s why I like the comic Rorschach better than the movie Rorschach. For example, take the scene where Rorschach comes to tell Dreiberg about Blake’s murder. At the end of that scene, Dreiberg begins reminiscing about old times and asks Rorschach whatever happened to those days. Rorschach, walking away, says, “You quit.” I think that’s a much more powerful line as a throwaway than the the way it’s done in the movie, where Rorschach’s emotions get the better of him and he shouts, “You QUIT!”

    3. I had a hard time caring about Dan and Laurie in the comic, and I had a hard time getting emotionally invested in them in the movie.

    4. Except for the sex scene. WOW! I gotta go see more movies if they all have soft core porn scenes.

    5. Why did Rorschach have to grunt his way through his diary? Couldn’t he have just spoken it?

    6. One of the things that puzzled me before I went to see the movie was how they were going to present Hollis’ autobiography. That conveys a LOT of background information in the comic, and I could not imagine how the movie could possibly convey the same amount of information. Using Bob Dylan’s “The Times, They are a-Changing” over the various background scenese was pretty cool. I was very happy that they worked in the story of Dollar Bill.

    7. I missed the interplay between Kovacs and the newspaperman.

    8. I didn’t much care for Adrian Veigt in the comic. I didn’t much care for Adrian Veigt in the movie.

    9. Are they seriously thinking about making a Watchman II? If so, they’ll have to do a prequel, as I can’t imagine anyone paying good money to see a Watchman movie that doesn’t have Rorschach in it.

    10. If I had superpowers like Dr. Manhattan, I think I’d be well hung, too. The image of a naked, well-endowed radioactive blue man was surprisingly easy on the eyes. It did seem unnecessary, and it yet it also seemed quite natural. I was glad they kept the scene of Dr. Manhattan teleporting to the t.v. studio and scaring the snot out of everyone there. That was a nice touch.

    Overall, I was quite pleased with the film and felt like I got my money’s worth. I would definitely watch it again.

  2. trumwill says:

    1. I wonder if the Genovese connection wasn’t actually a scene that was cut. It’s sort of on the borderline of being necessary but not entirely. It wouldn’t surprise me if it were filmed to be determined whether or not it would go in the movie at a later point. Either way, I liked the shifting mask. I am curious as to whether or not people that didn’t know the backstory were bothered by it or not.

    3a. I had always imagined Rorschach with a deadpan, maybe almost nasally voice. I wouldn’t have gone with gravelly. The actor was good enough that I didn’t mind, though. I agree on the “You quit” line. I thought the original way (which I read the way you apparently did) drew more attention to Drieberg where it belong. The point wasn’t any sort of anger on Rorschach’s part, but Dan’s guilt, the obviousness of his question, and his tendency to talk to (and treat) Rorschach the same way that he would talk to any other friend when the underpinning of the relationships are different.

    4. I never liked Laurie in the comic, but I was a bit vested insofar as I really liked Dan and wanted Dan to find his happiness, however poorly defined. The sex scene was phenomenal, wasn’t it? A lot of people didn’t like it, which is odd.

    6. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they’d dropped the Minutemen all together. I half-expected them to. I was glad that they didn’t and I thought that the way they pulled it off was very well done.

    7. Yeah. I missed the uncostumed Kovacs more generally. And the newspaperman.

    8. I liked Veidt a lot better visually in the movie. I liked the character quite a bit better in the comic. No question that in both he was one of the weaker characters.

    9. I think that those rumors have been shot down. A Watchmen sequel (sans Rorschach and Comedian) would be possible if you could come up with some good follow-up characters, but nobody short of Alan Moore could do it and he obviously wouldn’t. The rumors I heard were more prequel-oriented. Minutemen or 70’s Watchmen. I used to wish that they’d had a comic series of the Watchmen’s earlier exploits. Though it’s undeniable that some of the power would have been lost. Outside of the stories, the characters themselves were not all that remarkable. Except maybe Rorschach and Comedian, but I suspect that both are probably better in smaller doses.

    10. When I read the comic, the thought had crossed my mind that he certainly didn’t make himself very impressive down there as he could have. He also probably could have made himself human looking (or a regular-looking copy of himself), if he’d wanted. I would have. But that wasn’t his mindset. He had no need to impress. Or, as became apparent, even make himself presentable. It was a shame that the gradual dressing down of Jon (from full custome to tanktop to skimpy pants to nothing) didn’t make it into the movie. I thought it was a good indicator of how he was drifting away from humanity, taking expediency over how he would be received by those around him.

  3. logtar says:

    You guys make me sick, seriously. I had never been anti geek before, but you really need to check your fandom at the door.

    Why would you forgive such a horrible put together movie because you knew the source material? Just because it was already visual to begin with?

    Everyone has been saying that the source material was so big it would be hard to put it all in… really? have you since the size of LOTR? Even the first Harry Potter movie was better executed.

    Sure, visually the movie was great, but character development was not there, acting save a couple was horrible, and the violence in the movie did not help the story or make any sense other that to stroke the director imo.

  4. trumwill says:

    Logtar,

    To me there is nothing to forgive. It did me no wrong. I found the movie immensely entertaining. I went to see it again yesterday. I’m going to see it in IMAX tomorrow. I haven’t rewatched a movie in the theaters in years. The only thing I think is a shame is that the movie was not as enjoyable to people that did not know as much of the backstory going in. But, as said before and below, I don’t know what they could have done differently without substantially deviating from the source material (which would have been better for you but worse for me).

    I was up-front about my bias in favor of the source material. Maybe that bias has lead me to enjoy what was really a lousy movie. I don’t know if that’s the case or not, but I never claimed it wasn’t.

    Regarding length, it’s not just the contracting of a long story into a shorter story that makes it so difficult. It’s contracting a story that follows six independent characters around in what is already an extremely dense story.

    V for Vendetta didn’t have this problem because there are only two main protagonists. Harry Potter didn’t because it was following only one character around. From a movie-making standpoint, The Watchmen is a much, much more difficult story to reproduce in a different medium with less time.

    This isn’t just post-production excuse-making. The main concern I had from the get-go was how they were going to pack so much (dense) material into even less space. The comic book itself was almost to short to contain its story. Then of course the movie had to cut it further.

    The failure of this movie represents to appeal to non-fans, to me, the impossibility of the task. If you go and read the comic book and tell me what they could have done to make it more accessible to people that hadn’t already read the comic, I will gladly listen. As it stands now, this is a better execution than I would have thought it would have gotten.

    I’m sorry that the violence so bothered you. It really barely registered with me. It certainly didn’t bother me. Did it advance the plot? Maybe not. I felt it did in the comic book. Maybe in the movie it didn’t and I fail to recognize that because I am seeing it through the prism of a more complete story.

    I can say that there is little violence in the movie that isn’t in the comic book. So it wasn’t the director being bloody for the sake of being bloody. What was probably lost was some of the context that may have made it easier for people that didn’t read the comic to understand its significance.

    Lastly, what is apparent to me is that Snyder had a choice at the outset of the movie. He could have made a movie that appealed more to people like you that are unfamiliar with the material or he could have made a movie that appealed to fans such as myself. Had he gone with the former we might have gotten a Rorschach-centered movie or a movie mostly about Nite-Owl and the Silk Spectre. He chose the latter. It’s no great surprise, then, that I liked the movie than you didn’t.

    The main difference here is that you are suggesting that there is something wrong with me for enjoying it, whereas I am not blaming you for not enjoying it.

    I have little complaint with the acting. Ozymandias didn’t really work for me, but he was the weakest link in the comic, too. A couple (Rorschach and Dr Manhattan) went in a different direction than I would have thought, but the direction they went in seemed to work. The others met (Nite-Owl, Comedian) or exceeded (Silk Spectres) my expectations. I say this as someone that was initially very suspicious of the casting choices when they were first announced.

  5. logtar says:

    My comment was supposed to be a little sarcastic on the making me sick part 😛

    The image of that little girl’s let being fought over by those two dogs is up there with some of the most disturbing things that I have seen in a NON horror film. I think that is the part that bothers me the most.

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with you with enjoying it and I WILL read the graphic novel and WILL post how I would have made this movie different… not to make it more accessible to all audiences, but to make it a better movie.

    I don’t have any problem with a movie being done to please fans of the original material, however, when a movie is mass marketed as it has been done with this one I feel that it is almost false advertisement. The trailers do nothing to hint as what is to come… from some of them all I can tell is, hey superheroes. Maybe I am just bitter because I did not read the comic book first… might be the first time that reading the source material does not make the movie suck but the other way around.

  6. trumwill says:

    I think whatever shock and disgust I may have originally felt with the Rorshach/kidnapper story has so long-since passed that it didn’t bother me. Or maybe seeing it in comic form (where it does not quite have the same resonance) prepared me to see it on film. The dead dog actually jumped out at me more.

    There are various things that they could have done to make the movie more accessible to new viewers. Focusing more on a single or couple characters probably would have helped in that regard. Dr Manhattan’s nudity was probably more distracting to new viewers than it was interesting. Every thing that they would have done for you probably would have made me enjoy the movie a little bit less.

    That was apparently one of the few scenes that Snyder had to work hard to save. The studio apparently wanted to scrap that scene, Jon’s stint on Mars, and Comedian’s funeral. Maybe it would have made for a better movie for the uninitiated, I don’t know. But personally I’m extremely glad that they were all there. If I’d had my druthers, it would have been almost scene-for-scene. But I take what I can get.

    Regarding the advertising campaign, I don’t disagree. When I first heard of the project in the form of “Superhero movies are popular, so they’re making a Watchmen movie” my internal response was “Wait… what?” and wondering if that were that bereft of comic booky material. These decisions were apparently made by people that didn’t understand how different (for better and worse) Watchmen is from Spiderman.

    I don’t know whether you will like the comic or not. Part of me wonders if the movie didn’t ruin the comic for you :). A lot of your complaints about the movie hold true for the comic as well, though I hope that the context of some of the grit makes it more worthwhile for you. I’m actually reading the comic again this week.

  7. Becky says:

    I’m planning to do a review later this week, but in short, I thought it was just okay. My only familiarity with the story were the stories I’d read in Entertainment Weekly, so I knew it was a dark comic and somewhat atypical to the traditional superhero movies. That said, I found the characters they seemed to focus most upon a little boring or unlikable in the first place. The acting was so-so, esp. compared to superheros of late (and even ones that use no-namers like X Men). But it was visually stunning. We saw it at the Cinerama (a state of the art theatre w/an enormous screen in Seattle) and it was awesome — I can’t imagine watching it any other way (or in IMAX).

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