I Watch the Watchmen

March 11th, 2009

Watched, rather.  And it was good.  Some spoilers below, though I’m not sure whether spoilers really apply to movies based on comics published more than two decades ago.

watchmenFirst things first:  The book was better.  I don’t imagine that comes as a surprise to anyone.  Books are usually better than the movies based upon them, just as movies are usually better than their novelizations.

Almost as important:  The film is good in its own right.  There are changes.  There are cuts, of course.  There’s even an addition or two.  But for the most part, the movie works.  It’s an excellent adaptation, really; it manages to tell its story coherently, fit in quite a bit more of that story than I’d expected it to, and it manages to maintain its tone, pace, and storyline when it does diverge from the comic.

Highlights:

  • The opening sequence  is nothing short of brilliant.  Five minutes of footage nicely encapsulates almost 50 years of alternate-reality history, establishing the movie’s world and how it differs from our own in an efficient and beautiful way.  It’s full of little nods to things that didn’t make it into the film proper (like the Minutemen), and even an in-joke or two.  Take that first shot, for instance; Nite-Owl is punching a masked gunman.  Outside a theater.  The posters on the wall are covers from an old Batman comic.  And the couple at the left are dressed as Bruce Wayne’s parents were dressed in that comic.  Unlike the Batman comic, it’s not a movie theater playing Zorro, though — it’s an opera theater.  The opera is Die Fledermaus (The Bat).
  • Costuming and character design were really on the ball.  There are a couple of minor design changes, but many of the cast members are dead ringers for their comic counterparts.  The Comedian was particularly impressive.
  • It’s coherent.  This might sound like faint praise, but not when you consider the source.  The comic features jumps and diversions, and spends a lot of time playing with graphical imagery — exploiting symmetry and asymmetry, repetition of visual motifs, and other static-image effects that probably wouldn’t translate well to a motion-picture medium.  The movie is still very visual, but it isn’t afraid to strike out in its own direction.  It’s a risk that pays off.
  • The acting.  I know, who sees an event movie for the acting?  But overall, it’s pretty good.  Rorschach, Nite-Owl, the Comedian, and Dr. Manhattan all come off pretty well.
  • The action.  It’s a little more graphically violent than in the comics, and I know the slow-motion annoyed some people.  I liked it, though.  Given the choice between Watchmen‘s slow-motion and The Dark Knight‘s quick cuts, I favor the Watchmen approach.

Some things I missed:

  • The squid.  If you’ve read the comic (and you should), you know what I mean.  The plan is different in the movie.  It might be a bit less silly, but I think the very fact that it’s not so much of a stretch makes it seem like a weaker plan overall.  Easier to pull off initially, but harder to sustain.
  • The police attempting to break into Nite-Owl’s place and being delayed for just long enough by his new lock.  In the movie, Rorshach breaks the lock and Nite-Owl replaces it, but neither of the police visits to his home occur.
  • The snow globe.  It shows up in the opening credits if you look closely, but Laurie’s dreams don’t really make an appearance in the movie.
  • There’s no hint that the Comedian killed Hooded Justice.  Then again, the Minutemen play an extremely small part in the movie.  There’s also no hint that the Comedian once pretended not to recognize Ozymandias in order to beat the crap out of him.
  • The supporting characters.  The psychologist’s role was trimmed; his wife is entirely absent.  The people at the newsstand exist only in cameos.  The ‘The End is Near’ guy shows up once or twice, but I don’t recall ever getting a good look at his sign — he’s mostly seen from the back, or in a close-up that cuts most of the sign out of the picture.  I have to suspect that was intentional, but I can’t imagine why.

I was surprised to see:

  • The Comedian being slashed with a broken bottle by his pregnant ex-lover and then shooting and killing her.  Never thought the MPAA would allow that past.  It’s a powerful scene, though, maybe even more so than in the comic.

I see very few movies in the theater any more.  Last year I saw three — a record, in recent years.  Iron Man, The Dark Knight, and Kung Fu Panda.  I thought all of them were worthwhile (which surprised me somewhat, frankly).  This year it’s just Watchmen so far… but it was definitely worth it.  I highly recommend it.  It’s not without its occasional missteps, but Watchmen was a revolutionary comic that’s impacted more or less everything in American comics since, so to be honest, I would’ve been satisfied with an adequate adaptation.  I’m happy to say that the movie goes beyond that.

(Edit: Unlinked the opening sequence, since it was removed by the studio’s request.)

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5 Comments

  1. Rob, Mar. 11, 2009, 11:06 pm:

    Heh, I used almost the exact same title for my Watchmen review. I suppose it is a bit obvious in retrospect.

    That said, I have to say I agree with most of the points in your review. The opening sequence was brilliant. I have heard that there will be an extended version which will put some cut scenes back in the movie. I imagine one of them will be the scene with the police you mention. After all, the police detective who visits Nite Owl in the book gets a cameo in a few scenes (namely the funeral), but never gets an explanation.

    In any case, glad you liked it. I know I did.

    Rob´s last blog post: I Watched the Watchmen

  2. Scott, Mar. 12, 2009, 12:59 am:

    Heh… yes, but I was never one to shy from the obvious. ^_-

    Extended version? I’ll have to keep an eye out. If nothing else, I’m sure some of the cut sequences will show up as DVD extras.

  3. justaguy, Mar. 12, 2009, 12:21 pm:

    I enjoyed the movie, and thought it was good. (which is high praise from me, I am informed).

    The squid thing I’m okay with. I think that as a “movie for folks who haven’t seen it” the squid would add a level of “WTF?” to the movie that would have been cheesy. Many (not I) already felt the movie was to long, and adding in the subplot to explain the genetic experiments that allow the squid to exist would have added to much time I think. And did you catch that when Dr. Manhattan teleports the reactor to the base the monitor is displaying an acronym of SQUID, in a nod to the comic?

    Oh… and the end is near guy. Did you notice that it was Walter Kovacks? I think that was the point of not focusing on the sign. It’s been long enough since I read the graphic novel (which I need to pick up a new copy and rectify) that I don’t recall if that was the case in the book, but it seemed to be Rorschach’s way of scouting around in public. There’s a point there Nite Owl and Silk Specter are walking out of the diner and pass him. Nite owl stops a moment to look at him cause of the way hes lurking there but just keeps going.

    justaguy´s last blog post: Old school, new school… I’m the one with the dice

  4. Stargazer, Mar. 12, 2009, 2:57 pm:

    @justaguy: The “End is Near” guy IS Walter Kovacks aka Rorschach. You are absolutely right.

    @Scott: Great review! I watched Watchmen yesterday and I have to admit it’s the best movie I’ve seen in a long time.

  5. Scott, Mar. 12, 2009, 6:57 pm:

    @justaguy, Stargazer: Yeah, he is… I was sort of veiling that for spoiler purposes, though I suppose there wasn’t much point to it. In the comic, though, the sign is legible in quite a few panels. In the movie, I don’t remember ever seeing the full text. Just seemed odd.

    Justaguy: One explanation I’ve since heard is that someone was worried that the squid would present too silly a visual, which I could see. It also did eliminate that subplot and condense the running time, as you mention. And it revolved around a character who was already involved in that research…

    I did catch the SQUID, and laughed. It was a nice nod. And I don’t really have a problem with the movie’s ending… it’s acceptable to me. It doesn’t change the important things.

    Still, I kind of miss the comic’s ending.

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