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Yeah, So, I Saw That Watchmen Movie

Or “I Would Have Titled This ‘I Watched The Watchmen’, But It Turns Out Even I’m Not That Lazy”.

Despite losing a lot of the details that made the book the masterpiece it is, a lot of compression to the story (and shoe horning in of lines of dialogue and scenes just to have them), I enjoyed the film immensely. I went with a friend who had never read the book, so it was an interesting to find out he loved it, and that the parts of the book that work the most for all of us long time fans (okay, fine, I read it for the first time in 2002) worked for him as well. Also, I got to drop knowledge on Steve Ditko being an objectivist and how that influenced things. I don’t get to do that nearly enough.

Although he was the first (of probably many people) who may have liked Rorschach a little too much, it was nice to see his reaction to things like Rorschach’s last stand and the classic subversion of the villain’s monologue. Since I came to the book so late, it was nice to be able to share those moments with someone for whom they weren’t old hat. It was also nice to hear that he enjoyed those pivotal scenes as much as we discussed the film in the lobby, since he (and the rest of the crowd) were so placid (other than a lot of giggling during the sex scenes; there were more children in the audience than there should have been) I had no idea how this stuff was effecting them. Everyone cleared out once the film ended, too, which didn’t seem like a good sign, although the fact that the damn thing was nearly three hours long probably had a lot to do with it.

So, yeah, despite a multitude of flaws and nitpicks, I thought it hit the right notes when it mattered. That’s the thing; as many times as the niggling fanboy voice in my head said “that’s not right! That’s not how it happened in the book! Everything’s out of order!”, I found the film riveting enough that I was easily able to ignore all of that. Of course, I tend to fight like hell to block out the anal retentive fan voice any time this sort of thing comes up; it’s just that it came up more often for here than it did for any franchise hero. Which is weird, but I think that’s more due to the fact that Watchmen is a self contained; we’ve seen multiple revisions of Spider-Man, Iron Man, Batman, et al.; this is the first time anyone beyond Moore has done anything with these characters.

I can live with the adaptation overall, despite the fact that they had to chop a many details from the story and completely change some scenes entirely. For instance, it’s Nite Owl, not Rorschach, who warns Ozymanidas about the possibility of a “mask killer.” That was disappointment, solely because I wanted to hear him talk about investigating Ozy’s possible homosexuality. What’s he going to do, breakrandom thugs fingers to find out of if Veidt enjoys sodomy? I dunno, I have that idea in my head since hearing that line in the motion comic.

The biggest loss, in my eyes, is that the “man on the street” characters like the news vendor and the cops are rendered in to nothing but bit players at best and extras at worst. They left in the scene where the vendor and the kid reading Tales of the Black Freighter embrace before being atomized, but it doesn’t have the same meaning as it did in the book. I understand why they trimmed all of that, but that was one of the special things about the book to me; that those characters were fleshed out enough that you felt it when they died. In the film, the destruction of New York means less, because it’s like something out of the first ten minutes of a disaster flick; there’s no emotional attachment to anyone involved, so it’s just spectacular destruction.

As far as the change to Ozy’s big plan goes (it’s not really an ending change, is it? I mean, things still play out pretty much exactly like they did in the comic in the end), I can live with it. I can certainly live without the giant squid from the Twilight Zone (even if Sean T. Collins gave me a new appreciation for its purpose when he blogged about the comic at Savage Critic). The resolution of the Cold War came across as more pat in the film than it did in the comic to me, but it’s not like it was any more fleshed out there.

Switching gears to the performances for a moment, since I’ve been preoccupied with the adaptation; Jackie Earle Haley was great as Rorschach, even if I didn’t care for his voice. It was less ridiculous than Christian Bales’ similar Bat-voice, but I always imagined ‘schach’s voice being more dispassionate than growly, although he did use that kind of delivery when it was most appropriate, at least.

Patrick Wilson was also great as Nite Owl (even if he gets saddled with some heavy melodrama at times; to be fair, the original may go too far the other way). I was also impressed with what Jeffrey Dean Morgan did with the Comedian. He was able to make the necessary impression in a short period of time, and he really was able to bring the character life. Billy Crudup did Dr. Manhattan exactly as he should have.

I know that Malin Akerman has received some grief for her performance, and while I may be cutting her a lot of slack because she’s cute and got nekkid, I thought she did perfectly well. That she never displays Laurie’s generally bemused attitude with super heroing is a pretty glaring omission, some of that has to be down to the script, and I thought she did a solid job with what they gave her to work with. Or I’m just really forgiving towards Swedish girls.

The only actor I didn’t care for was Matthew Goode. His Ozymandias just fell flat for me. While I didn’t find the foreshadowing of his heel turn quite as bad as Rohan did, but I agree about the lack of nobility. I think it’s telling that Ozy’s scene in the opening montage/Dylan music video/blatant Cronin pandering was him hanging out in front of Studio 54.

In the end, I enjoyed the film a lot, I don’t want to go too overboard with praise for it. I haven’t really had time to digest it. I tend to be really enthusiastic about things immediately after experiencing them, because I’m not very analytical. It’s only after I’ve had time to think about any piece of work that I can properly assess it. It may years before I come to assess this thing fairly, or decide it’s the crappiest piece of crap that ever was crapped, or what have you. The sheer fact that I have not been to a movie in like 5 years could have something to do with my enthusiasm besides the giddiness of seeing favorite scenes of a cherished story on the big screen.

That said, I had a good time, and I think the film did enough right to sail well past all of the accumulated pessimism about the prospect of a Watchmen movie that’s built up for 23 years. Faint praise, but that’s all I feel qualified to give it right now, especially since I realized I didn’t bitch at it for being too much like a music video at times. Or like superhero Forrest Gump at others. Or that they cut Hollis Mason’s death entirely. I’d better not get started on all that. This damn thing’s too long anyway.

32 Comments

check this out

http://www.6minutestomidnight.com/

it’s awesom

I’ll admit to not seeing it yet- and probably won’t until on video.

I’m concerned from a stro telling perspective about the change of Veidt’s plan.

Because by framing Dr. Manhatten, I don’t see the countries of the world coming together in harmony. Instead, if the back story remains the same, Dr. Manhatten is the USA’s superman. And if it is beleived that he has destroyed cities in other nations, it will be perceived as a threat FROM the US, to other nations, not a unifying threat to the world.

And even if it can be played that Manhatten is the threat, once he goes into exhile, the threat ends, and there is no reason for the nations to be united. Without his constant presence (or perceived presence), apathy will set in.

Look at how united the US and other democratic nations were after 9/11. Fast forward half a dozen years, and without constant terrorist attacks, we are back to the same squabling amongst ourselves that existed before 9/11. Or, looked at another way, once Germany and Japan were defeated, the US and Russia were no longer allies.

Another point- The sequence on Mars where Manhatten becomes intrique by the possibilities inherant in human beings brings him back into the main story. If in the film his story arc is basically the same, why would he be willing to go into exhile? For Veidt’s plan? Mahatten should be able to see the flaws in this plan.

Boatman: I think you should give the film a shot – without giving too much of anything away, I’ll say that they handle your objections well enough to suit me. There’s a clever reference on the topic of Manhattan’s exile that I actually quite liked because of the commentary on human nature that the source material was so adept at. In a way, you’re over thinking the reaction of the rest of the world…. if NYC goes down, I think it’s easy to see how other nations could be convinced of the mutual threat, and the need to band together (not that they could do much of anything). As for Manhattan’s vision of the future, the same tool is used to explain his hazy view of the future as in the book.

I agree, Brad, that it’s hard to assess a film adaptation on its own merits after only one viewing if you’re especially familiar with and admiring of the source material. I’m seeing it for a second time Saturday afternoon (the first time was about two weeks ago), and I’m looking forward to finally talking to others about it, especially “Watchmen” virgins.

As for all the excised material, Snyder already has a 190-minute director’s cut planned. (He told me so, though it’s already been reported elsewhere.) I imagine the extra half-hour will solve some of the problems we both had — like the lack of dramatic impact in New York’s devastation, from not getting to know the Bernies, Dr. Long, etc. I’ve posted more thoughts about it all (including the one bizarre change that really miffed me) at my blog: watchingthewatchblog.blogspot.com. (Yes, apparently I am that lazy. But somehow the name seemed less derivative three weeks ago when I chose it.)

I’m on board with, Alan Moore, author and creator of the original graphic novel “Watchmen”, comments on how anything Hollywood touches turns to crap and of the movie version of “Watchmen”, along with his co-authors Dave Gibbons (artist) and John Higgins (colorist), “And I can tell you that we will also be spitting venom all over the movie for months to come.”
Right On ! Real artists rule!
Death to DC Comics! And any other that assumes they own writers and artists!

it was the outer limits not twilight zone that spawned the giant squid.
the outer limits allusion is even made in the movie just like in the graphic novel.

Rohan Williams

March 7, 2009 at 1:18 am

Sounds like you had more or less the same reaction I did, Brad, albeit you were a little more forgiving! I’m sure I’ll enjoy it more if I see it a second time, but yeah, some of the stuff they chose to omit (and some of the stuff they chose to include) was baffling. I don’t necessarily mean that from a ‘faithfulness’ perspective, but just stuff that hurt the internal logic of the movie.

I haven’t talked to anybody (at least anybody whose opinion I’d pay any heed to) yet who had a particularly strong reaction to the film, one way or the other – most people (yourself included, if I’m judging your tone right) like it fine, and really enjoy certain aspects of it, but were left relatively cold overall. A little odd, given how passionate we are about the book.

Long time reader. Brian please don’t let young people post about things of this nature.

Long time reader. Brian please don’t let young people post about things of this nature.

Huh?

Rohan Williams

March 7, 2009 at 4:27 am

Those damn young people, with their spirographs and their music.

Well I have to chip in here. I’ve seen it twice already, and am fully confident that I won’t see a film this year that I’ll enjoy more than this.
Yes they’ve cut bits out and shifted bits around but we all knew that would happen, and by comparison to other adaptations, I feel it stays closer to the source material than nearly every other comic film.

My biggest concern was that I didn’t think the ending made as much sense, but a friend of mine who hadn’t read the book assured me that it was OK.

Tom Fitzpatrick

March 7, 2009 at 7:21 am

How can anyone not love Rorschach anymore than any other character?

Maybe ‘cept for the Stand-up guy who got killed in the beginning. ;-)

Boatman, don’t wait for the video. In fact, see it in IMAX. When you can actually feel the air rush from Dr. Manhattan’s teleportation and you get a tactile sense of the impact from the blows landed in the fight scenes, it really adds to the experience.

Allan Maes, don’t see the movie at all. It wasn’t made for you.

What’s with this “people who like Rorschach are dumb” attitude I keep seeing? You can like a character or think he’s interesting without agreeing with his views 100%, y’know.

My favorite character was Silhouette, but I’m a pervert.

It’s hard to complain too much about a movie that was fairly riveting for nearly three hours, but the climax just fell flat. Maybe because I knew how it would end, maybe because Viedt comes across less as a fallen hero than as your garden variety super-villain. For a guy who’d just burned 15 million people to death, he takes it rather in stride.

Speaking of which, all the characters shown in the denouement were mighty blase about that kind of mass murder. And how did Nite Owl’s NEW YORK brownstone survive? More to the point, would anyone ever choose to live in the destroyed cities afterwards? I mean, I love Philadelphia, but if three-fourths of the city was vaporized, I’d learn to love Memphis.

“you get a tactile sense of the impact from the blows landed in the fight scenes, it really adds to the experience.”

This is a perfect example of what I knew Snyder would do to make this a dumb, generic movie.

Uh, okay. How is the technical aspect of an IMAX theater in any way, shape, or form, “what (you) knew Snyder would do?” I was commenting on what it was like to see it in an IMAX theater as opposed to a conventional one. I think you have a bias issue here. You took a comment about a type of theater and turned it into an extracontextual attack on a film director.

I thought it was a “solid” movie if not amazing.

One thing that really stood out for me over everything else was some violence, I re-coiled a few times especially young Rorschach biting the teen bully scence, and Nite Owl and Silk Spectre breaking necks and bones.

Its funny how on the page this sort of stuff can be gruesome but on the screen its shocking.

Jax, I was also shocked at how incredibly gorey some of the scenes were. The scene with Nite Owl and Silk Spectre hit me specially hard because of how brutal it was, because I don’t remember it being that bad in the comic.

Thought Jackie Earle Haley was great as Rorschach but couldn’t help but think that he looked a lot like Alan Kalter, the announcer from The Late Show.

Hats off to Matt Frewer as Moloch as well, pointy ears and all.

i’m in the same camp.
i really liked it. but, i can’t figure out why i wasn’t outraged at all the omissions, big and small.
i think some of it has to do with the fact that it was a great team movie. something that we haven’t really seen yet.
it was like seeing tim burton take control of batman. taking a new, more serious step on the evolutionary ladder of superheroes in the media.
bodes well for the avengers movie and maybe points towards something like legion or titans.
but as a representation of the book, i was left wanting more.
I’ll be seeing it again tomorrow for sure.

i saw Watchmen last night, and i felt it worked. for most people who have never read the comic, its 2010…i think a lot of people tend to overlook how difficult it might be to bring a film to screen that was dealing with issues nearly a decade (2) behind. most kids nowadays don’t even know when the Berlin Wall fell, and unfortunately i think much of the symbolism and deeper analysis will be lost on the action.

and to not living in the city after getting thoroughly fucked up by Manhattan, maybe not, but the symbolism with the WTC Towers in the background and ” ground zero ” in the front, priceless and chilling simultaneously.

from the reviews on Rotten/tomatoes, you get to see many a people say Snyder relied to heavily on the source material. more to the idea that works like this or Alan Moore’s V, and League are to worthy a test for the average popcorn junkie.

If you haven’t seen the movie, you really shouldn’t be discussing it.

The comic book and the movie are 2 different things.

other than a lot of giggling during the sex scenes; there were more children in the audience than there should have been

If by “sex scenes” you mean the particular sex scene in the Owlship, and if by “giggling” you mean “laughing uproariously at just how over-the-top Synder made the scene” then it wasn’t the children who were laughing. Because come on – Snyder HAD to be going for the laugh on that one. If having “Hallelujah” blaring in the foreground and choreographing the scene like a made-for-Cinemax softcore porn movie weren’t enough to deliver the laugh, he kept dragging the scene out so that it would move beyond the “storytelling point”, through the “okay, this is getting kind of awkward” point and all the way to “so awkward that it’s really damn funny”. After all, the other sex scenes in the movie were handled well – the Laurie/Multiple-Manhattan scene was simultaneously creepy and sad, and the earlier Dan/Laurie scene on the couch conveyed the awkwardness and the frustration of the two of them pretty well. But the scene on the Owlship was so over-the-top ludicrous it had to be going for a laugh.

Mike Loughlin

March 7, 2009 at 6:51 pm

I enjoyed the heck out of the movie. The only major missteps I found were the sex scene, some of the acting (Adrian & Laurie, especially), and the overdone gore. Overall, I think Snyder did an amazing job adapting the look and tone of Moore’ & Gibbons’ work. As Alan Coil wrote, the film is different from (and not nearly as good as) the comic. I think, however, that the movie was well-done.

Thinking about the violence, however, I realized most of the violence in the comic wasn’t cathartic- there weren’t supervillains getting their comeuppance (except in the prison scenes, maybe). The Comedian’s assault on Sally and murder of the pregnant woman, Rorschach’s past, the fight between Adrian and Dan & Rorschach, Hollis’ death… they’re brutal, ugly scenes. You should flinch when Sally gets punched in the stomach. You should want to look away when Rorschach kills the dog. Laurie & Dan fighting muggers wasn’t the same, however. I thought the rampant bone-breaking was gratuitous. Whenever the characters did “super-hero” stuff (e.g. Laurie & Dan stylized battle vs. prisoners), it felt out of place.

As for the ending, I don’t think the change mattered much. Hell,comic-book Adrian wasn’t going to send a giant squid to destroy a major city every year. I’ve never loved the Watchmen ending, but I don’t think it’s that bad.

The movie, perhaps inadvertently, asks the same question of itself as the movie/book asks of the world – what sacrifices are worthwhile?

As central and “attractive” as Rorshach, the deletions from and changes to his character really stuck out. “Your hands, my pleasure”? Real Rorshach does not talk about his pleasure – he’s an ascetic. His killing Figure lost its importance – Laurie and Dan watched him kill a midget rather than muse on R’s personality flaws and the exigencies of costumed heroing. And in the ensuing scene, R’s essentially absent from the Owlship, again omitting a character-establishing moment that allows him to express his beliefs/values, and which makes his pending apology to Dan more meaningful. And R no longer incinerates the building (the saw moment being superseded cinematically by, well, SAW), leaving his “Rorshach” revelation moment almost by the wayside. As a result of these changes and omissions, the uncompromising “integrity” that drives the character dissipates, rendereing his demise much less consequential or meaningful.

We also see very little about the day-to-day impact of Manhattan on the real world – including, as a side note, that R’s mask is a Mahattan by-product, making his removal of it for his execution by Manhattan a little more meaningful, as well.

And the Silk Specters were just fine – both of them, but we never got the sense that Laurie cared who her father was or why she’d run from Dan to John since nothing of their prior relationship appears. Still, the impact of Laurie’s personal revelaiton is essentially omitted, as well, coming across more like Dorothy’s revelation that she could get home by clicking her heels in the Wizard of Oz.

Finally, for this post, I hope Hollis gets killed in the director’s cut.

I thought it pretty decent with 3 exceptions that caused my suspension of disbelief to be suspended like a mofo:

“Hallelujah” – Directors, please stop using this to indicate the consummation of awkward love affairs. It makes you look like lazy hacks.

Bubastis and Ozy going up the stairs – awkwardly painful CGI that added nothing to the narrative and only has the effect of making me think, “Hmm, that animated cats’ feet aren’t touching the floor – howcum?”

“Do That Thing You Do” – What thing? I have to agree that with Daniel above that this felt like a non-sequitur. At no previous point does it seem to matter to Laurie who her father is, nor how it plays in the dynamic of the relationship between Schexnayder and Juspeczyk

Other than that, I get the sense that (like LOTR), the cinematic release is effectively a precursor to the ‘complete’ viewing experience and hopefully the blanks will be filled in. I may be wrong.

This felt more like a missed opportunity than the movie I’ve waited 23 years for. Bah!

That said, please don’t doubt giving Dave Gibbons as much money as possible, as often as humanly possible is anything other than a Good Thing.

(Yes, even after the Rogue Trooper revamp in 2000AD Prog 695. I choose to remove this from my memory).

Rohan Williams

March 8, 2009 at 4:23 am

Hh. I did like it a lot more the second time. I still have problems with Ozymandias and some of the characters and developments that feel shoehorned in there, but yeah, it’s a solidly entertaining flick, and maybe a little more than that.

[…] Okay, now I’ve had time to think about all the things that really annoyed me about the Watchmen movie. Let’s see how much I can contradict this! […]

@Allen Maes: Actually, GIbbons was very involved in the making of the movie and has done interviews promoting it. It’s only Moore that has a crazy objection to any and all movies.

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