Review: “Watchmen”

watchmenposterBefore we start, this review will contain a number of references to the book, and as a result spoilers for the movie.

It’s funny for a movie that is supposed to be so faithful to the book (that I have read through many, many times) that I did my best to avoid spoilers. I wanted to dive in and make the comparisons myself, without hearing what critics (who, as we discovered, may be coming from an entirely different perspective than I am) have to say. I also try very hard to avoid being the nitpicky fan who dislikes any deviation from the source material: after all, different media have different challenges.

Watchmen does a very good job of conveying the story (and most of the important plot beats) of the original work, and for that, I really enjoyed seeing it onscreen. Yes, there are a few details that are changed, both large and small, to accomodate the film’s running time (which is already very long). An opening montage is added to provide some of the backstory into the divergent 1985 where the story takes place. Talking to some of the people I had come with, it seemed that this worked to add confusion instead of give a foundation.

Then by the time you get to Rorschach’s meeting with Dr. Manhattan and Miss Jupiter, you start to see the groundwork of where the story would diverge more, and also a bit of new dialogue clashing with Moore’s original. Still, the scenes are there, and by the time you get to the Comedian’s funeral, you REALLY feel the faithfulness of the work shine through. As the movie goes on, you’ll see the odd line that the film walks between staying true to the original and making a plot that fits within the confines of the movie. Sometimes it succeeds, and sometimes it doesn’t. I will say that the ending event, which as you’ve probably heard is different than the book’s, fills the same role well enough. Unfortunately, several other parts of the ending are chopped to bits, and was where I most longed for it to have stuck closer to the original.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed the actors in it, having a vague feeling of dread going in that it would be a “young, sexy” cast instead of an appropriate one. Jackie Earle Haley wins my top award for casting, especially when he is without his face in the prison. His gravelly voice always manages to stay menacing (unlike Bale’s Batman) and he delivers all the classic lines with a subtle but hard edge. His most powerful scene in Antartica is not to be missed. Night Owl could have been a bit more of a schlub for my tastes, but manages to be enough of a dork in his giant glasses to make up for it, and a totally different person while in his suit. Miss Jupiter didn’t wow me, but didn’t ruin anything either. Billy Crudup plays Dr. Manhattan as detached at nearly all times, which has an appropriately unnerving effect, but not in the same ways you’d expect him to from the book. (And by the way, you will see plenty of Dr. Manhattan, in more ways than one). The Comedian (NOT played by Robert Downey Jr.) also has the appropriate range for the character, and you do both hate him and feel sorry for him at various times. Ozymandias plays it mostly cool as well, and while he doesn’t get much screentime, he delivers the important lines very well.

There is one important distinction to note between the cast of the book and the cast of the movie: the cast of the movie are bona fide superheroes. Every one of them is a martial arts master, able to take on large numbers of opponents at the same time and snap their bones out of their skin with a flick of the wrist. (Note to the squeamish: if you see a fight starting to happen and it’s going in slow motion, look away. Also, look away any time Rorscach is doing anything). There are even a couple fight scenes that are way padded out from the book, which seems unnecessary, and in fact reminded me a lot of the treatment of V for Vendetta.

In addition to the main cast, there are a large number of celebrity 80’s impersonators. This is one of the movie’s failings hands down: the make-up is terrible. I found myself wondering if Nixon’s putty nose was going to fall off in the middle of a scene. It was also amusing to me to have fake Lee Iacocca and fake Henry Kissinger have extended parts.

Another major distracting point of the movie, and one that also caused unintentional chuckles, was the music. Various famous songs are used, which makes them almost instantly recognizable and don’t sink into the background. They also are too “on the nose“, too loud, and often mood-breaking. This may sound like a small issue, but it’s done in the most irritating way I can imagine. At no point when reading Watchmen did I envision hearing 99 Luft Balloons.

As mentioned before, I thought the dialogue was fine, except when it specifically was clashing between old and new dialogue in two different styles, and not just because I was used to the old dialogue. I was quite thankful that most of my favorite lines made it in, and were largely delivered well. It’s only in the ending when it starts to get muddled up by moving around the lines between different characters, and leaving out a few that I felt were pretty important to the story. Additionally, almost all my favorite scenes made the jump, as well as my least favorite scene from the book (which I’m happy to discuss with those who have seen it in the comments).

So what’s the verdict? They made a good movie based on Watchmen. It’s not perfect, both in terms of adapting the source material and just in making a good movie, but it’s well worth seeing both for die-hard fans and those who can get a glimpse into what all the fuss is about.

My favorite part of the movie’s release is entirely detached from the movie itself. I’ve gotten to talk to other fans of the book, and find out that each person takes something different away as what to appreciate about it. Just last night, one friend was telling me about how he appreciated all the effort that went into the alternate world it takes place in. Another talked about the tough choices that all the characters were placed in. The more visually-minded I’ve talked to have discussed the back and forth contrasting panels, and the use of an unusual panel grid. I myself love the twists and turns of the plot. Any movie that spurs on such great conversation has to be given some credit. Alan Moore may not like it, but ultimately, I think having more entry points to his world is a good thing.

About Dave

Dave "The Game" Chalker is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Critical Hits. Since 2005, he has been bringing readers game news and advice, as well as editing nearly everything published here. He is the designer of the Origins Award-winning Get Bit!, a freelance designer and developer, son of a science fiction author, and a Master of Arts. He lives in MD with e, the Geek's Dream Girl.

Comments

  1. As always, I can count on you for the serious review. :) Nice job, Mr. Game. ;-)

    Geek’s Dream Girl´s last post: Top Ten Things Geeks Can Learn About Dating From Watchmen

  2. Probably better than my less serious review title, “Dr. Manhattan’s Blue Man Grope”

  3. Aye…good stuff…

    In case you hadn’t heard, there used to be a Watchmen Saturday morning cartoon

    It’s true, I swear…

    Reverend Mike´s last post: Demotivational Monday: OH SHI-, indeed.

  4. After 4 people sent it to me yesterday, it became an automatic next YouTube Tuesday.

  5. TheMainEvent says:

    First off, TOO MUCH BLUE DONG.

    I give it a +35 (-90/+90) as a movie. I have really mixed feelings. Sometimes I feel that the almost fetishistic adherence to the dialogue and scenes from the comics wasn’t the best film making choice, whereas in other places I thought the deviations in dialogue just came across badly.

    As you said, the soundtrack was total cheese. My friend (a non comic person) laughed out loud when “Hello Darkness…” came on. The ending makes sense from a cohesion stand point (as they could cut out a lot of plot threads by changing it), but in kinda ruined Manhattan’s aloofness. Basically, in the comic, he’s pretty withdrawn and barely does anything anymore, yet in the movie we are led to believe that he is actively participating with Ozy trying to fix up the world. Its didn’t ruin things for me, but I understand more negative reactions to it. The fight scenes were extraneous, but I understand why they were beefed up…

    Really, I think the problem is, as a movie, its totally defies categorization. Too little action to be an action movie, not quite enough drama to be a drama, and the brutality and sexuality scare away the squeamish.

  6. OK, in all seriousness. I’ve read the comic book many times. My kids 17, 14, & 10 all really wanted to see this movie. I have no problem with taking the 17 and 14 year olds as thy’re both mature enough to handle the aspects.

    However I rgretted taking the 10-year old along to Wanted when it hit the dollar theater (Movie was spur of the moment descision based on advertising and not research).

    For those who seen it, is this reccommended for a younger comicbook movie fan?

    Vulcan Stev´s last post: Vulcan Stev Family Movie Review: X-Files Fight the Future

  7. Stev: I would definitely NOT recommend Watchmen for a 10 year old. The older ones, if they’ve seen sex scenes and gore (akin to those in 300) then it should be fine but again I’d say no for sure with the 10 year old.

  8. Blumpkin says:

    As some one who didn’t read the “book,” I mixed feelings on the movie. On the whole, I kinda liked it. But, I don’t know if I want to sit through another 3 hours of it to see the scenes that I liked. Maybe I’ll reconsider if it’s not at midnight, without my nap and a big headache.

    The first 45 min or so confused the hell out of me, b/c I had no clue which characters were which and when there were flashbacks. Of course, some of the confusion wouldn’t have been there had a read it beforehand. The movie did try to make clear which character was in which generation by the sometimes funny snapshots of famous places, ie: Studio 54, oh and the second shooter on the grassy gnoll. But with no prior knowledge of the characters, still came up kinda short.

    The plot was also confusing at first but then later became more pronounced. But just as I am writing this, I just realized why. It was guided by Rorscach as our narrator/investigator. We are moving along in the movie at the pace that he is learning details, which is very slow a good deal of the time. We don’t have a clear arch-villian at first, nor does the movie show us one. Only as “we” move farther into our investigation do our enemies become clear. We don’t have any scenes where we get a glimpse of what the bad guy is up to. With the plot line flowing like this, it was pretty frustrating not knowing who we are supposed to hate. But I guess this was the intention oof the filmaker/author to get us feeling like Rorscach does in the movie. With a bit notice of the dectective-like plot prior to watching, I think would have made it a bit more enjoyable than figuring it out. Or I may be a bit slow.

    I liked the soundtrack…as a compilation of good songs. Not in an attempt at background in the movie. But that has already been addressed.

    This is the closing paragraph where I’m supposed to say something insightful and stuff.

    btw, The Main Event’s last paragraph is spot-on.

  9. You can never have too much blue dong…

  10. Nepharia says:

    I saw it and felt a lot of the things you expressed in your critique.

    I was most wowed not by the special effects or the plot line, but by the character development. The only person I felt I didn’t know by the end of the film was Ozy. Having not yet read the graphic novel, I didn’t know how faithful his portrayal was to it. I was left cold for his character, but I don’t know if I was supposed to. However, for everyone else I had strong feelings for — either good or bad.

    It was definitely *not* your typical action film that most people expect from a Marvel/DC movie. But I may go see it again, just to see the characters again — they were *that* worth it.

    -N

  11. Tonester says:

    Overall, I think they did a good job with the characters. Not an awesome job, but definitely a good job.

    I actually hated the stupid ending in the book. I think the ending in the movie (which definitely does accomplish the same goal) was done much better. For me, it was one of the downsides from the book.

    However…

    If I had never read the book, I would have probably hated the movie. My wife never read it – nor did many of the friends that came with us. The early flashbacks added tons of confusion. For many of them, the movie didn’t get good until the funeral and it was only good then because they finally stopped trying to figure out what had happened, and just treated it like a new movie from that point forward.

    The movie does an absolute terrible job of revealing who the bad guy is, explaining the entire polar castle, tiger, etc. Many of the non-readers I went with were scratching their heads, shrugging, and just trying to go along with it at that point… and I don’t blame them.

    Overall, the movie is decent… whether you have read the book or not. If you read the book, its probably a little bit better. I thought some of the music was good and I thought some of it was stupid. They captured most of the key scenes and dialogue for me and it was great to see it on film.

  12. I’m probably a rarity in commenters, in that I purchased 11 of the 12 original issues of the story when they were first published, and at the time had just gotten my appetite for Alan Moore’s works whetted, in some of the various DC titles at the time – Swamp Thing, as well as Superman and Batman issues in various titles.

    I read the story then, and just recently reread it(with the ending finally!)prior to seeing the film. That’s right- about 23 years not knowing how it ended.

    It’s unfortunate Mr. Moore couldn’t be involved in creating this movie, which undoubtedly would have resulted in 2 movies, an absolute necessity to cover not just the plot lines covered in the movie, but the 2-3 devices used to further carry the overall theme and mood to the whole story. At the time, I’d venture to say no comic book story ever ventured to tackle as many issues as this one, in so many creative and successfuly subtle ways.

    Which contrasts immensely with the music used- I’m not minding most of the selections, some were over the top- but I defintely agree about level mixing as was stated earlier. Best example used in the film- Veidt’s conversation with the moguls (Iacocoa, etc.) nice use of instr. version of Everybody Wants to Rule The World. Over the top song choice used to subtle effect. Too bad that same decision wasn’t carried out elsewhere.

    The comment regarding the pace of the plot not being up to speed- anyone having read the story could have predicted that with ease, and I am pleased to see that same sense of anticipation in print replicated in the film.
    Imagine- not having a hint of the villain’s identity(if such a single entity could be identified here) 6-8 issues in the run, which you know is going to run to 12… True, clues abound in both the dialogue, but ever more so in the imagery in the art. The way it’s brought home to the conclusion by so many artistic devices- let’s admit- comicdom had never seen the like, even to the point of blending at least 3 genres of literature- namely 1- the superhero- both mythic as well as surreal, and ultimately deconstructed and reconstructed in nearly every example..2-the horror story, which unfortunately was left out entirely of the movie, but can be had and is being advertised as we speak.. 3-documentary , as each issue excluding the last of course, was capped with some form of documentation to give further back story & details shedding vague light on what had just been read.

    Some of this was incorperated, as has been mentioned, in the early montages, as well as adjusting some of the dialogues. Really, taking the challenge from the point of having the story at first, sure there were rough patches in the end result, but I for one don’t see how you could avoid having them, especially compressed into 1 film.

    Even having the “Tales of the Black Freighter” story, it would still require mapping out the story to scenes in the hero story that occur to reinforce the themes Moore wanted to accent.

    The only complaint I could yield up had to do with limiting the scenes involving the newsman and the young reader/fan, although they get a rather honorable nod in the destruction scene, as do the New Frontier scenes at the end, which I thought were decently sufficient, mayble only improved with a mention of their association with Rorschach prior, perhaps early on in the film (or maybe I just missed it.) Perhaps these scenes were subject to time period revision, and proved too difficult. Maybe an idea for DVD bonus?

    Finally, I’ll conclude that it’s definitely a shaky propostition to take in the film w/o having read the story, but having read it it’s more than amply successful, both in telling the story as well as properly revising it. All the problems with the ending I feel more film time could have solved, but then you’re waiting to see the 2nd film….

    Let’s hope all comic film makers learn the lesson here- stay true to the story enough to be recognizable to the fans, you’ll earn their initial interest. For the more complex stories and character issues, if done well, you’ll earn our respect and repeat dollars for taking the time to get it right.

  13. The biggest thing I noticed about this film is how it revolves around the comedian. His take on stuff overwhelms some of the other characters, such as Silk Spectre II or Ozymandus. Rorschach’s “justice” was undermined quite a lot in every change made to him, nothing about black-white and the meaningless world got into the film as far as I saw. Even in his scenes suffering and absurdity overtook that. Niteowl got out pretty unscathed, although the lovely counterpoint between his mythological view and Rorschrach’s was lost. Perhaps that’s why they took them both out.
    The slowmo bits in the violent parts were also really off from my imagination, as was taking all the utilitarianism and tragedy out of Ozymandus. Basically, this film is accurate, but somehow doesn’t move like my imagination did.

    So as I said, I think the writers really “got” the comedian, and got a lot of Rorschrach, but tamed him a little to keep balance. Everyone else is a little poorer, and frankly, did we need choreography for “that scene” with the pool table?

    Oh yeah, and the music is really funny! I’m assuming the writers knew the songs in the chapter endings really well, and tried to chuck the same jarring but fitting feeling at the audience!

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