Some thoughts on Watchmen

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Well I liked it.

For those familiar with the book, it’s all in here, or all the parts that matter anyway. The director understands, and loves, the source material, but he hasn’t let it stand in the way of creating a cinematic narrative. A rather dense cinematic narrative at that.

For those unfamiliar with the book (and I maintain that one should never be familiar with a movie’s source material to enjoy the movie), as long as you keep in mind that Watchmen is, in essence, a detective story that pauses, often, for some very long digressions, I think you should be fine, but let me know. The people who really, really hate the movie I think get lost in its narrative ellipses, where the detective plot is put on hold for, say, a series of involved flashbacks or for a sub-plot involving a character’s sex life. Long digressions like this can make a story feel long, but I was never bored by Watchmen and was frequently thrilled, and even surprised, in spite of having re-read the book recently.

The problem with Watchmen, if it’s a problem, is that without the digressions, which are all thematically resonant and serve to deepen the story, if you cut all that stuff out, it’s just another superhero detective story. In a sense, the narrative digressions are the real "point" of the story, and the movie (like the book) uses the detective plot to deliver those digressions.

From a marketing standpoint, of course, the movie is a "tough sell" — it’s got multiple protagonists (four by my count), not a single character to "root for," a complicated plot that keeps looking backward to tell us about characters we barely know yet, a "meta" approach to its subject matter (it’s a superhero story that worries that having superheroes might not be such a good thing) and takes place in a weird alternate-universe 1985.  All of which makes sense when you read the book (or it did when I first read it in 1986), but again, you tell me.

As for the learned critics who have screwed in their monocles, tucked in their ascots and sniffed in disdain at this rather ambitious piece of popular culture, describing it as trash and its audience as sociopaths, in time they will look like idiots, if they don’t already.

Comments

76 Responses to “Some thoughts on Watchmen”
  1. voiceofisaac says:

    Tom Charity of CNN has panned it, with some rather weird logic. He accuses Snyder of being incapable of original thought, gushes for a bit about the original commic, but then says that Snyder is somehow bad for using the original comic as a storyboard.

    Which means that nothing Snyder could do would’ve satisfied this guy. If he’d diverged wildly from the book, he would’ve been accused of desecrating the original. But since he’s tried to be faithful, he’s accused of “duplicating other artists’ imagery with a forger’s intensity.”

    All in all, I’ve found another movie critic to ignore in this guy.

    • Todd says:

      The idea that someone who watches movies for a living cannot see how the images of Watchmen are different from its source material is pretty funny all by itself.

  2. Completely agree with on not reading the source material before the film, I’ve had Jurassic Park and V for Vendetta to name but a few spoiled for me as I read like a bugger (JP not so bad as film was great and I was young, V for Vendetta I resent even existing)

  3. Anonymous says:

    Well, a movie that both Roger Ebert and Todd Alcott liked cannot be that bad.

    I’m just perplexed by the violent negative reactions that some reviewers are having. It’s way above the “not my cup of tea” response; many are displaying a barely veiled hatred of the movie, Zack Snyder and pop culture itself. How can Ebert call it an “experience” that he looks forward to seeing in IMAX, however others call it “despicable trash”??

  4. eronanke says:

    I was wary about a movie adaptation, but when it appeared that Snyder had taken the visuals seriously and reproduced them faithfully, I felt optimistic. When Ebert said he needed to watch the movie twice to best critique it, and *did*, I was sold.

    I’ll see it this weekend for sure.

    • moroccomole says:

      I watched it twice before reviewing it, because as a fan of the book, I knew I needed to get my “OMG! The cuff-link!” viewing out of the way before I could really examine it with a critical eye.

      And I liked it even less after the second viewing:
      http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29512171/

      • eronanke says:

        Alonso, you’re legit, but you understand why I need to see it, right? The visuals ALONE make it mandatory.

        Your comments about the music are, however, quite accurate, and are echoed in other critic’s reviews. I cannot imagine that someone got paid for it. I was wowed by their use of a Smashing Pumpkins pseudo B-side for the trailer, and now… Flight of the Valkyries? Really?

        I’m much more excited to see the Director’s cut. Really, when you read what Snyder was up against studio-wise, I’m happy it resembles the original AT ALL.

        Also, do you twitter?

        • moroccomole says:

          Oh believe me, were I not a critic, I would have bought my ticket to last night’s midnight show weeks ago. I begrudge no one their need to see it.

          Musically speaking, I didn’t even talk about the Philip Glass stuff refurbished from other sources — including The Hours, of all things — and the use of “The Sounds of Silence” during a funeral. I wonder if Snyder knows the latter already has a big-screen connection?

          Haven’t gotten sucked into Twittering yet, but then I once said I’d never join Facebook, so anything could happen.

          • curt_holman says:

            Watchmen Top 40 countdown

            Clearly, ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ is meant as a nod to Apocalypse Now — in effect, it’s saying that if the ‘Watchmen universe’ HAD an Apocalypse Now, it would have Dr. Manhattan instead of Col. Kilgore’s helicopters. But I know you get that.

            I loved the Philip Glass music during Dr. Manhattan’s martian flashbacks. Actually, I loved it in chronological cross-cutting in The Hours, too.

            • Todd says:

              Re: Watchmen Top 40 countdown

              I thought a couple of the musical choices were lame, but I thought that the decision was made to make the music as “obvious” as possible to help orient the viewer in what can feel like a very dense, confusing narrative.

              • ogier30 says:

                Re: Watchmen Top 40 countdown

                I rather enjoyed the “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” muzak, though. Thought that was placed in a particularly good spot.

            • moroccomole says:

              Re: Watchmen Top 40 countdown

              That’s a very generous spin.

              I think “Valkyries” in relation to Apocalypse Now has been so done to death that you can’t even nod anymore without looking like you’re just being lazy.

          • eronanke says:

            If you do ever twitter, it’ll increase your web presence exponentially, even if it turns out to just be a fad.
            You could be famous for your brief reviews (linked, of course, to the msnbc page/blog of choice for the full one).

            At any rate, I enjoy it immensely. I reccomend it for anyone looking for a wider following.

            Thanks for being prompt with your response – sometimes I have to wait weeks for cool ppl to comment back.

      • Todd says:

        I can see how someone who has devoted a lot of time to a close reading of Watchmen could find the movie cringe-inducing. A lot of what makes the book such a rich experience cannot be shot, devices central to the comic-reading experience that have no cinematic equivalent. But then, one faces the same problem bringing Moby Dick to the screen as well — the real meat of the novel lies beneath its action-adventure narrative. Movies, as they say, reduce literature to anecdote.

        • moroccomole says:

          I don’t know if this is an observation I’ve made on your blog before, so forgive me if I’m repeating myself, but for an example of how to and how not to adapt a novel to the screen, I usually point to two movies based on the work of John Irving: The World According to Garp and The Hotel New Hampshire.

          Garp leaves out huge chunks of the novel — they don’t go to Vienna! — but does a good job in nailing the serio-comic tone of the piece and in capturing the many facets of the characters.

          Hotel stuffs in as many incidents from the book as is humanly possible while completely missing the point of the story.

          I would have been happy for lots of the minutiae of Moore and Gibbons’ Watchmen to have been left out had the final product actually captured the theme and message of the book, but I think Snyder was too busy dwelling on the details to capture the essence.

          • Todd says:

            What theme or message went uncaptured, do you think? Because it all seemed to be there to me.

            • moroccomole says:

              SPOILERS TO FOLLOW OUT OF NECESSITY:

              The United States as presented in the book of Watchmen is substantially different, particularly in terms of technology. Thanks to Dr. Manhattan’s abilities to synthesize chemicals, we have electric cars and other scientific marvels, even though — as stated at various times by Jon, Laurie and Adrian — technology may be advancing faster than the human capability to use these new inventions in a moral or rational way.

              By having the whole “energy crisis” subplot in the movie, it sets up the new ending, but it leaves out the notion of the brave new world that Dr. Manhattan’s existence has created. That takes away the whole “Obsolete Models a Specialty” aspect of Hollis Mason’s character (in the book, he retires to fix cars, only to find out the gas-powered automobiles he knows how to repair will soon disappear to make way for the new electric ones) and it undercuts Adrian’s whole motivation of humanity getting dangerously ahead of itself. (It’s interesting — or maybe another mistake — that the movie leaves out the electric cars but leaves in the airships.)

              For me, anyway, that was a dimension of the alternate reality of Watchmen that seemed sorely missing from the movie. Moore always said that one of the big points he was trying to get across was the idea that a world with superheroes would be a completely different world altogether from the one we know, but the U.S. we get in Snyder’s film (apart from the whole Nixon-being-president thing) doesn’t seem that different from the world of other superhero movies or even from our own real one.

              • Todd says:

                It’s funny, I just re-read the book a few weeks ago and was not even aware of the “energy crisis” sub-plot, but saw it plain as day in the movie.

                • moroccomole says:

                  My point is that the “energy crisis” sub-plot isn’t in the book at all.

                  • Todd says:

                    Ah, I see now. From your previous reply I couldn’t tell whether there was too much energy crisis stuff in the movie or too little. My error.

                    In any case, I feel like the main thrust of Watchmen, a meditation on the corrupting influence of power of all kinds, is still very much there.

        • schwa242 says:

          I’ve read and reread and reread Watchmen so many times, and I know some things are going to be different in the film. From watching the ads and reading interviews, I guessed one aspect that would be different with the film, and it’s a change that’s probably necessary. But the previews look so beautiful and show such a devotion to the source material that I think it would have to be awful for me to be disappointed. Which from the sounds of things isn’t going to happen.

          Also, [SPOILERS IN LINK] this reviewer seems to really get it.

      • Anonymous says:

        The cufflink??

        The cufflink???

  5. veedub says:

    i’m looking forward to seeing it, even though i have read the original a bunch of times and know it by heart.

    spoilers never spoil it for me…perhaps it’s merely a function of the impairment of short-term memory which is a normal part of the aging process.

    ….um, noe what did i come in here for?

  6. mr_noy says:

    While I understand the grumbling I’m certainly willing to give Snyder’s Watchmen a chance. It was never going to be a film that satisfied everyone. I think some of the invective hurled at the film and its director is excessive. It certainly can’t help that the advertising for the film boasts that it’s from the “‘visionary’ director of 300″. If Snyder is a visionary I’ve yet to see proof of that. I don’t blame Snyder as that surely was the studio’s call, not his. He’s a fine director but he’s only made three films; a remake of a George Romero classic, a faithful, sometimes panel for panel, adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel – an approach he seems to be taking with Watchmen. I don’t see anything “visionary” there, just good taste and good craftsmanship – which is nothing to sniff at.

    I agree with you about the digressions being the true meat of Watchmen; the detective story/save the world plot is a good one but its chief function is to serve as a structure upon which Moore can layer on his thematic concerns. The more succesful a work of art is; the more dependent it is on its chosen medium than the tougher it is to adapt into another medium. Watchmen is a comic book about comic books and some of that will be lost in the adaptation but Snyder deserves credit for having fought to keep as much of that stuff in as possible. He could have gone an easier route (as others have attempted to do). I’m looking forward to seeing the film this weekend so I’m reserving judgement but if it is even half as effective as the graphic novel than I will consider that to be a not insignificant accomplishment.

  7. uberfilmsnob says:

    haven’t read the book and totally enjoyed it. had lots of the elements i had hoped to get from “sin city” and didn’t. and not even close. just took the world they presented as it was and enjoyed the ride. especially liked that so many of the actors were not movie stars. and it actually took me a while to recognize billy crudup.

    can absolutely see validity to folks not liking it for whatever reasons, as it’s certainly not a movie for everyone.

    i only came away with one relatively minor confusion regarding rorschach’s mother. but it’s a very minor issue compared to the rest that i thoroughly enjoyed (minus a couple truly gory bits when i had to avert my eyes).

    am interested to see what die hard fans think. it’s always hard to see a movie of a book well loved. but then, it can be done well (e.g. “the color purple”). the right intentions and handling can go a long way.

  8. swan_tower says:

    The thing I’ve been wondering about, with Watchmen having taken this long to reach the screen, is how well its “revolutionary” aspects will come across. This is the same problem that I and other readers have had, picking it up for the first time round about now: what, you mean superheroes would be psychologically screwed-up people? Gee, there’s a surprise. We’ve been fed on a steady diet of post-Watchmen superhero narratives, so what was earth-shattering in 1986 is now standard furniture. Most of the people I know who picked it up recently have said, okay, it’s a perfectly good story, but they’re not as impressed with it as the ones who read it back in 1986.

    • Todd says:

      I wonder about that myself, but then it’s interesting to think of it as a piece of art, the same way we watch 2001 now, long past the actual year of the title, and still get something out of it even though its prognostications turned out to be so terribly inaccurate (and, like Watchmen, made stale through over-use).

      • glumpish says:

        Well, I don’t think you need to be immersed in 1960s pulp SF to appreciate 2001. And I think you do need to be immersed in 1980s superhero comics to appreciate Watchmen.

        Watchmen was one of the first few comics I read, in the late 80s. (The others were Dark Knight and The Tick, so… I’m more surprised that there are still non-ironic superhero books.) The things that were groundbreaking about how Watchmen presented superheroes were not apparent to me. I know they were intellectually, but I’m not about to read volumes of other 30 year-old comics for context.

        Moore’s Watchmen is technically amazing. The worldbuilding is impressive. There are many fun moments, but the plot is honestly the least interesting aspect. (And, okay, it didn’t help that I had seen “The Architects of Fear,” so when I got to the end I was like, “…Seriously? You stole your evil plan from Robert Culp?”)

        I’ve suspected since they started filming that the non-fanboy reaction would be, “If this is the Greatest Comic Ever, I guess I can continue to not read comics.” Which is a shame.

        • Todd says:

          I disagree that one needs to be immersed in 1980s superhero comics to appreciate Watchmen. Watchmen was actually the first comic book I ever read (at 25 — I never read comics as a kid), and I had no problem recognizing the basic tropes that Moore was commenting on.

  9. quitwriting says:

    SPOILERS — READ NO FURTHER

    Turn back now

    Seriously

    I’m giving you a shot here

    C’mon, flee

    Last chance

    What I loved / liked / was okay with:

    Rorscacht and The Comedian were perfect. These guys completely immersed themselves in their roles and ran with them. I believed them all the way.

    They didn’t balk from showing Dr. Manhattan as he really is, floppy blue penis and all. Clearly he’s not Jewish.

    The pacing, even when cutting backwards, never slowed enough to lose my interest. Except the Nite Owl / Silk Spectre sex scene. That almost lost my attention.

    The spirit of the comic shines through, here, in all things. Alan Moore took his name off of it, but that’s Alan Moore.

    The new ending isn’t the ending from the comic, but it keeps the essence of that ending.

    What I didn’t like:

    Ozymandias / Veidt never grabbed me. He had my compassion in the comic. Here he just sort of annoys me.

    The prosthetics on the aged characters and on Nixon were obvious and distracting. More could’ve been done to conceal this.

    The syrupy standard Hollywood prologue kind of pissed me off a lot. This is by all accounts a dark and self-deprecating story. Having it all wrap up neatly like that kind of pisses me off, even if they did let Rorschact’s journal out into the wild. That last little bit there is ALL that saved me from completely panning the movie entirely. I seriously would’ve completely reversed my opinion of the movie if that hadn’t been there.

    Other than that, good movie. 7.5 out of a possible 10.0. Doesn’t knock Iron Man or Batman Begins or Dark Knight out of their Top Three slots, but it does knock X-Men out of the top 5.

    • vinic says:

      Except the Nite Owl / Silk Spectre sex scene. That almost lost my attention.

      My wife felt the same way, but from my perspective this was a necessity in the film. Watchmen thrives on portraying the extremes of human nature, showcasing plenty of extreme violence, mental brilliance, science, hatred, fear — all cranked to 11. The sex scene was uncomfortably long because it is another human aspect in the limelight, and the point would not get across without the audience getting slightly uncomfortable by it.

      The amount of graphic violence far outweighed the sex. On a personal note, it will never fail to amaze me how quickly sex becomes uncomfortable to the American audience but gore and excessive violence does not. I can’t help but think this contributed to the sex scenes; apparently, even though the Nixon++ 1985 didn’t happen, America still prefers images of hatred over love.

      • quitwriting says:

        Actually the astounding violence made me wince about as often. I tended to roll my eyes and give a little chuckle during the sex scenes. The violence actually tended to take me aback and while I never looked away, I did wince a lot. And I only rooted for one character’s horrible, agonizing death. The guy that drove Walter over the edge and made him solely identify himself as Rorschach.

    • curt_holman says:

      Not to pick a nit, but do you mean “syrupy standard Hollywood prologue” or “epilogue?” The ending is streamlined, but seems pretty much the same as the graphic novel’s, down to the reference to ‘The Outer Limits.’

    • vinic says:

      The prosthetics on the aged characters and on Nixon were obvious and distracting. More could’ve been done to conceal this.

      Watchmen‘s America has become a caricature of itself, and its leader reflects this. I find it extremely hard to believe that the obvious nature of the Nixon prosthetics wasn’t on purpose.

      • quitwriting says:

        Actually I was referring less to his comically over-sized jowls and nose and more to Sally Jupiter’s hairline and wrinkles. It… honestly it looked like the “old age” makeup they used in Back to the Future. Which is circa 1985 so it MAY have been on purpose. Maybe we should ask?

    • What I didn’t like:

      Ozymandias / Veidt never grabbed me. He had my compassion in the comic. Here he just sort of annoys me.

      Indeed. The actor simply didn’t/couldn’t pull it off. I remember reading that Tom Cruise was considered for the role and I would have loved that: he has the right measure of grandiosity, charm, and understated lunacy required to play Ozy.

  10. vinic says:

    I see a lot of the comic crowd angry that a lot of the audience seems to miss the irony and messages of the story altogether. The film utilizes a lot of subtle nuance (and many blatant, in-your-face moments, obviously) that unfortunately is marketed towards the drunken, gore-loving 18-30 male. To say that the irony is lost on a lot of people is an accurate statement, but it is of no fault of the film, but the idiocy of the mainstream audience. I guarantee plenty will receive the story’s messages. It unfortunately will not be the ones who need to hear it.

  11. TOTAL SPOILER ALERT SORT OF

    I’m not a film critic or an intellectual by any means but last night while I was watching the film I couldn’t help but want to throw up sawdust every time I heard a music cue that was so “GET IT? BECAUSE! YOU SEE! THE 1980S! THE COLD WAR AND SUCH!”
    I don’t need to hear Tears For Fears to get the message that all of the people in the room want to rule the world and for that matter I don’t need to hear “Hallelujah” and see a giant blast of fire to get that sexy stuff is happening.
    I guess I’m complaining about the lack of subtlety in a genre that lacks subtlety but I really did expect more.
    BUT! I enjoyed the film for what it was and was pumped to see a pair of arms get sawed off.

    • vinic says:

      The problem isn’t the overt nature of some aspects of the film like its emotional queues, but the fact that many people still don’t get it.

      • I feel like plenty of people are going to get it. When The Comedian is standing in front of a building with an American flag painted on it saying “The American dream came true…” while he shoots a pedestrian with a shotgun, lights cigar off of a burning building and laughs sardonically people will get it.
        I don’t think that everyone everywhere in the entire universe will understand that The Watchmen is a commentary contemporary anxieties and a deconstruction of the superhero concept but I do think that most people will get the big picture.

        • vinic says:

          I made a point to ask several strangers after we left the showing what the point of the story was. Four out of five groups of people gave a “well, uh… I don’t know” before going back to talking about how cool certain scenes were. I fully agree that many of the overt, one-liner-driven emotional moments will be understood by the masses (I found myself, too, rolling my eyes at how “DO YOU GET IT?” some of these moments get), but the overall message, ironies, and critiques on the human condition are not going to reach a lot of people.

          • Todd says:

            It doesn’t surprise me that the “uninitiated” don’t “get” it on a first viewing — I imagine it’s quite a disorienting experience at first. I would give those viewers a chance — there are enough eye-popping visuals in there to make them come back a second time and then buy the DVD, and slowly the messages of the narrative will seep in.

  12. curt_holman says:

    1985

    Something I didn’t really dwell on my my Watchmen review is that it feels very much like a film that would have come out in the mid-1980s. I can see it sharing double bill at a repertory house (back when those existed) with the likes of ‘Brazil’ or ‘RoboCop.’ Alan Moore’s political sensibility seemed (and still seems) very consistent with both 1960s-style radicalism and 1970s punk rock anarchy, at least in his attitude towards authority figures. The movie’s musical cues and satire of ‘baby boomer American history’ feels very consistent with Moore’s attitude.

    For me, that became a problem as well as a virtue. I thought some of the more pointed satirical elements (ex. Nixon) fell flat, and I didn’t really feel the impending-threat-of-nuclear-war anxiety that I felt from, say WarGames (which is otherwise a much lighter movie in every imaginable way). I’m not sure the film resonates very much with contemporary concerns — I don’t see it having the same thematic relevance as, say, The Dark Knight. Instead of feeling “timeless,” it feels a little dated to me, which is weird given that it just came out today.

    • Todd says:

      Re: 1985

      That may be one of the reasons Moore felt it was “unfilmable.” A narrative that takes place not just in 1985, but an alternate universe 1985, where superheroes changed history and “the American Dream came true,” may just be too much for a mass audience to grasp. But, like I say, when I read the book, while living in crack-infested NYC in 1986, the politics of it seemed very real and immediate — every day, with Reagan in the white house, I was sure he was going to do something stupid and get New York destroyed.

      • cdthomas says:

        Re: 1985

        Word. Remember, kids, that this was before Giuliani and Dinkins police riot began the turn of NYC into a Wall Street playground, with everyone marginal pushed literally to the margins.

  13. craigjclark says:

    As much as I would have liked to have gone to a midnight showing (there was one at the theater not more than five minutes away from where I live), I had to work today, so I won’t be able to get out to see this until later tonight. (I’ve had my ticket for the 7:40 showing since Monday since I fully expect it to be a sellout.)

    Thus far I’ve been avoiding any full-fledged reviews, but I have yet to see anything overtly negative. I do have to wonder how it’s going to play for those who aren’t already steeped in the book and its themes.

  14. I figure i’ll throw some of my thoughts on the film here.

    When people said Watchmen was “unfilmable,” they didn’t literally mean it would be impossible to uproot the panels and dialog from the graphic novel and produce a working film. It’s just that so much of the meat of the work comes form back story and minor characters that can’t be given the time they need in a film. Watchmen isn’t really story driven. So does a back-story laden three hour super-hero talky with only one character really driving the story forward work? I think the lack of time given to minor characters in the film is what makes the new ending less shocking and successful. So New York blows up. Who cares? We didn’t know any of those people.

    I feel like the actors did a good job, with the exception of Malin Akerman, who really struggles to keep up with Dr. Manhattan, and possibly Matthew Goode, who I feel was miscast. Although think he brought an interesting touch to the character in that when he speaks to the media he hides his German accent.

    My two favorite characters in Watchmen are Jon and Adrian, and am thrilled with how one turned out and disappointed by the other. Within the time constraints of the film, I feel like a lot of the humanization of Adrian fell by the wayside, leaving a relatively ambiguous and mysterious German character who no one would be surprised to learn is the antagonist. I am also upset that his heart-to-heart with Jon at the end was left out, as we’re never given any indication that Adrian may question what he has done. In the film, he’s essentially just comes off as crazy. Although I did almost get goosebumps after “I did it thirty-five minutes ago,” because i’ve just always loved that part.

    And I personally am in the camp that believes that if you have to take liberties with the source material in order to create a better working picture, than so be it. That’s why it’s called an adaptation. If you want the graphic novel, go read the graphic novel. I honestly felt like the crews own reverence for the source material really got in the way.

    The music is another issue. Yes, it’s set in the 80s. Does that mean you have to use 99 Luft Balloons? Just because “Hallelujah” is quoted in the comic, does that mean that you have to use it during a sex scene that is supposed to reveal a lot about Dan’s psyche in order to get laughs?

    Sorry, this turned out long. I enjoyed it, but didn’t love it. I don’t fault it for what it left out, I just don’t think it works as well as a film.

    • pirateman says:

      I completely agree on all points – especially the part about Adrian. I always felt that one of the tenets of the comic was that none of these characters are all good or all bad. The fact that Adrian needs Jon’s reassurance and Jon’s haunting response was always such a powerful moment for me in the comic, and to skip over it like that made the ending of the movie feel somewhat emasculated.

      Also, I agree with the adaptation comment – this movie’s downfall, pure and simple, is the fact that it was too faithful to the comic. Take the heart of Watchmen and make a good film. Don’t just act out the comic, because it won’t work. It was pretty, though. Great movie with the sound off.

  15. Anonymous says:

    I’ve just come back from watching it and was very curious to see what you posted.

    Personally, I thought this was a terrible movie, un-cinematic and un-engaging. I’ve not read the book, although I do like comics and own other stuff by Alan Moore. From what I’ve read he himself doesn’t seem impressed, which is hardly surprising.

    For starters, far too many unnecessary bits and pieces of back-story were included in a clumsy fashion, bogging down the pace. Several scenes seemed to serve no other purpose than “getting to know the Minutemen and their history”. Other scenes, such as Rorschach’s prison breakout, were delt with in a completely gratuitous manner.

    The only characters who managed to engage me at all, one way or another, were Rorschach and the Comedian. Towards the rest I felt nothing but indifference. I have no problem with multiple protagonists, but the way their stories were structured and interwoven often felt lop-sided and self-indulgent.

    Other stuff which annoyed me:

    - The cheesy soft-core sex scene was simply pathetic. I’m no puritan. In fact I’m all for quality sex scenes if they serve a narrative purpose and are well executed. Clearly not the case here.

    - The way in which Dan finds out what is actually going on was the least imaginative piece of cinema I have seen since I had the misfortune of viewing “Righteous Kill”. Am I missing something here? Was that supposed to be a clue, left there on purpose?

    - Manhattan’s change of heart on Mars came across as completely implausible. Here is a character who is no longer capable of true human emotion who out of the blue (pun intended) suddenly goes a big rubbery one (pun intended again).

    - The use of (good quality) music often came across as a case of: “Well, I really like that song, so why not stick it in there?”

    Alex

  16. Anonymous says:

    Perhaps I should have specified that I was referring solely to script/story. In terms of visuals the film is well executed, at times even brilliant, although that tiger with the horns was ludicrously crappy.

    Alex

  17. robolizard says:

    I dunno. I’ll have to watch it again. I couldn’t get past the absurd violence, the bones sticking out of people’s arms, the Comedian fighting so insanely that he PUNCHES A HOLE IN THE WALL. That fantastic scene where Rorscharch gets the prisoner cut like a pig as he cries is replaced by a scene where the same prisoner gets his arms sawed off with a noisy electric saw.

    This all took me out of the idea of ‘superheroes in the real world’.

  18. marcochacon says:

    I liked it. A lot.

    Now, I have to recognize that there’s plenty in there that’s cringe-worthy–the Nite Owl/Anakin Skywalker “Noooo” scene alone is an example of something we didn’t need added (come to think of it, Nite Owl coming back in all mad and hammering Ozzy was a worse anti-climax than the novel’s seeing him and Silk Specter making out scene … which, IMO, worked).

    However, it got so much right–so much–that I think as an artifact of filmed-novels (be they graphic or otherwise) my had is off to Snyder. His work with it is masterful. Maybe someone could’ve done better–but I am hard pressed to see who.

    I also find that the movie has guts. It clocks an R-rating. It’s necessarily long. It breaks the until-now prohibition on CGI-penis. It shows the Comedian shoot a pregnant woman. And so on. It does not flinch in the places it can’t afford to (for one brief moment I thought they would back away from the New York blast–and they did not).

    It is a brave movie for a visionary comic book. I can’t–I just can’t–bring myself to ask for more.

    -Marco

    • Todd says:

      I’m sure that, even now, all CGI characters will be required to have penises.

    • djscman says:

      Nooooo! A Spoiler in Three Acts

      Dan rushes back inside to attack Adrian *again*, after learning twice that Adrian physically outclassed him, Rorschach, and Laurie-with-a-gun, together. Instead of schooling Dan one more time, or using some kind of Aikido to redirect the attack, Adrian serves as a punching bag until Dan stops. I didn’t like it at first, but now I think there was a reason for that scene.

      Here are two ideas from the book that I wish could’ve been in the movie:

      Hollis, Dan’s personal hero, gave up costumed crimefighting after the villains started wearing suits instead of costumes and fighting in courtrooms instead of back-alleys. The job lost its thrill, punching men who weren’t punching back.

      Adrian confesses to Manhattan that he tries to imagine every death he’s caused, as if that absolves him for the atrocities, as if Veidt Industries wouldn’t massively gain from the new peace. He wants to be punished, but he’d rather be vindicated, yet Manhattan doesn’t do either for him.

      And an idea that *was* in the movie:

      Dan and Laurie recalled Captain Carnage, the masochist who would’ve been laughed out of the Guild of Calamitous Intent’s informational seminars. Carnage begged the heroes to punish him. The movie changed the line to (I’m pretty sure) “Fight me!” Dan and Laurie walked away from the creep. The character is an example of the same kinky fetishes that beset our heroes. He’s a pathetic character, mentioned only for nostalgic shop talk.

      I think Dan’s impotent (ha) rage against Adrian was a callback to the the restaurant date, and a conflation of the other two scenes snipped for time. Adrian receives a tiny bit of penance in the form of corporal punishment, so his character feels good about that. Dan learns ol’ Captain Carnage’s lesson: costumed physicality is only good when both the good guy and bad guy are into it. (CC probably loved it when Rorschach dropped him down that elevator shaft!) And the “wham, sock, pow” is pointless, even criminal, when they aren’t. It’s an anti-climax, like you said, and that’s kind of the point. The book did it better, but the movie was able to reduce these ideas to their essence.

      As for the Nooooo! itself, I dunno, I get sad when bad things happen to loved ones and I’m impotent (ha) to do anything about it. Come to think of it, Dan is pretty blase about R. getting killed in the book. “Well, we’re damned or the world’s damned” doesn’t quite cover it?

      Not that I think the movie was perfect! Like you say, there’s plenty in there that’s cringe-worthy.

      • cdthomas says:

        Nah, they kept “Punish me!” in.

        I noticed that Adrian had his arms open in an *embrace* when Dan rushed at him for the last time. He was as relaxed as a mother waiting for a squalling infant to finish his temper-tantrum. He even sustained cuts and bruises when he could have easily evaded them. Why? Token harm, if that would make Dan feel better that there is no more heroism left in the world.

        And, yes, Adrian’s masochism: Jon’s “neither condemning nor condoning” was the final push towards his transhumanity — if he does neither, he is no longer human. And Adrian could never feel one person’s life, let alone death (that damn “Boys” file, huh? Funny, ain’t it, how AIDS isn’t mentioned either in the book for film….), let alone the death of millions, and neither can Jon. It’s a shame they never got together…. so why not take a couple of punches, just to feel something?

        If these heroes couldn’t stop the biggest act of state terrorism ever, then what good were they? And yes, I said *state* terrorism. Remember that the Comedian was spying on them for the USA — don’t you think somebody wasn’t checking up on *him*? No one in American intelligence didn’t know what Ozy was up to, with using a off-the-shelf Mac with the weakest of passwords? And data on *floppies*? *Cheney* was a Nixon boy, recall….

  19. johnnycrulez says:

    It was neat seeing parts of the book animated and some of Moore’s great dialogue spoken out loud.

    But the movie didn’t do anything for me, really. I didn’t expect it to. Without all of the deep undercurrents present in the book it is reduced to a pretty hollow story with underdeveloped characters. I don’t blame Snyder, even though he made some choices that bothered me, I’m pretty sure nothing would have made me happy. Maybe the five-hour miniseries Gilliam proposed.

  20. You don’t think Dan/Night Owl is someone we can “root for?”

    • Todd says:

      All I mean is that all the characters seem initially appealing, in that superhero way, until you get to know them, and then you go “ick.” With Nite Owl, you see him and you say “Oh cool, he’s just like Batman, I like Batman,” and then it turns out that his whole alter-ego is just a sexual fetish and he’s really kind of a pathetic loser unable to accomplish anything.

      • cdthomas says:

        Which Dan? the passive fanboy or the ultra-v freak?

        To state it plain, it’s as if Dr. Venture p0wns one half of Dreiberg’s brain, and Brock, the other. Or, worse, *24* and The Monarch.

        Yeah, as one man he’s hella functional and ‘nice’, until you get him in a dark alley and he starts using disproportionate violence to get him and his lady-friend off. It felt indecent for them *not* to wear the rubber while killing that gang, because it was as if they did not give fair warning that they would use lethal force. At least with a costume, the inherent kink in the confines of the book and movie is made plain.

        And remember he never has to accomplish anything; he’s on trust-fund welfare, he can reminisce about his crimefighting days the way alt.girls do about sex parties, after they’ve wed their Army officer. (Yes, Lily Burana does not cease to Freak Me Out, from her lesbo pinup days to stripping to her writing career to her latest book about being an Army wife. People do change, and that’s one lesson WATCHMEN underplays for the sickening weight of the past and fate.)

  21. buzzmo says:

    Saw it over the weekend. Have been a fan of the novel for decades, read it many times.

    The best I can say is that it was a noble attempt. Some aspects were pitch-perfect (Rorshach, Dr. Manhattan), some were not (Veidt). I was not nuts about the amped-up gore; I think it made Dan and Laurie look like homicidal maniacs in the alley fight, for example. I also found the sex scene in Archie to be unbearable. I don’t think there was any artistic goal behind it; it was just about adding in some R-rated titillation. And, I have to say, the actors playing Dan and Laurie were terrible. Their scenes were quite cringe-worthy.

    Overall, I think it’s going to prove to be a pretty forgettable film. I think people will simply remember it as “the time they tried to make Watchmen into a movie.”

    • Totally agree with you about Laurie’s acting, but not Dan’s. I thought he was very likable and brought a ton of humanity to it–failing only when forced to deliver word-for-word lines from the comic which have no business coming out of a real actor’s mouth in real time…such as “what ever happened to the American Dream?”

      • Todd says:

        Yeah, I liked Dan’s performance too, I can’t see what people are complaining about there.

        • cdthomas says:

          I think they’re complaing because Dan is their mirror.

          I’m going to harp on the inner-24-ness of Dreiberg, because he starts the movie being all up in Hollis’ grill, hearing an origin story that he’s memorized from the other beer sessions and the book, plus every bit of Nite Owl I memorabilia he got his sweaty teen paws on, back in the day.

          I was thrilled with Dan, after supping on the dour Bruce Wayne portrayals of the past 20 years, because Batman’s origins were in near-psychotic pain. Dreiberg started crimefighting because he loved it, loved the men who did it, and loved a dad who enabled him by dying well. No neuroses here… until he feels what he feels when he punches flesh, which, to be blunt, is what fanboys feel when reading comix. Better, stronger, faster, tougher…

          About the alley scene/fire rescue scene, I hadn’t seen such a limbic response since BATMAN RETURNS had its bout of underwear perverseness with Selina’s “Oh God… does this mean we have to start fighting?”

          Ah, good times. Not here, but in Batman… well, um, didn’t Catwoman’s suit work a hell of a lot better on her than that flimsy getup Silk Spectre had? and such exposed skin, tsk….

          Anyhoo, the other bit of discomfort might be in how Patrick Wilson bodymodded he fuck out of himself, for Dan. It’s not just Dr. Manhattan who’s making the mens uncomfortable at the IMAX. Sure, Wilson in WATCHMEN looks like a schlub, you could hire anyone off the street to look like that, if you add months of fight training. But go to the land of Broadway queens (go on, Google “Patrick Wilson” Broadway You Tube, I’ll wait…) and see the hottness that is Wilson *off*-WATCHMEN. Normally he’s dancer-thin, whippet-thin, Wednesday-matinee-lady-fantasy thin, so he really took one for the team in both beefing up for Nite Owl, then deconstructing that buffness, for Dan.

          There are women who fondly remember his stint in OKLAHOMA, and some wonder whether the Hugh Jackman Broadway Stud Comic Book Movie Full Employment Act will still hold during this recession. With Wilson, Jackman, Crudup, Hensley (the Monster in Jackman’s VAN HELSING) and Mr. Urbaniak’s replacment (as Sabretooth in WOLVERINE), all signs point to: YES.

  22. buzzmo says:

    SPOILER ALERT.

    I have to say, I also found the director’s “macho-ing” of Dan Dreiberg kind of funny. The sex scene in Archie reminded me of the one in 300: the stoic, masterful man with his back to the camera driving his woman to orgasmic heights. (The Dr. Manhattan scene was similar.) Even in the scene with Dan and Laurie’s first attempt, Movie-Dan isn’t nearly as bumbling and insecure as Novel-Dan. There’s no Laurie offering comfort and saying “Let’s just sleep,” nor do we get Dan’s line about feeling impotent when he’s standing naked in the basement afterward.

    Add to this the extended fight scene in the final confrontation with Veidt, in which not only is Nite Owl shown to have somewhat of a fighting chance against Ozymandias (not in the novel), he even gets a “You blew it up! You maniacs!” rage-moment after the big reveal to pummel Veidt for a few rounds (also not in the novel).

    (Not to mention, Movie-Dan is in great shape, unlike flabby Novel-Dan.)

    I dunno. It was subtle betrayals like this that added to my “meh” reaction to the film.

  23. leborcham says:

    Of all reviewers I was most eager to see yours! But I juts now had a moment to read it.

    I’m glad you liked it. I think on its own logic, it made total sense. I’m eager to see it again.

  24. noskilz says:

    Although unfamiliar with the source material, I didn’t find the movie hard to follow and enjoyed it a great deal. All I really ask is that a film hold my attention and interest for the bulk of its length, and no problem on that score, despite the 2 1/2hr runtime(in fact, I’m looking forward to finding out what that extra material on the dvd release is.)

    No film is likely to make everyone happy, particularly one where the source material has its own history of twists, the makers just have to make enough people happy. For a film like this what constitutes enough? How much money does something like this have to make to be considered successful? I liked it, but how economically significant that may be is something else.

  25. I liked it. So, nobody get me wrong, based on what I’m about to say. (SPOILERS, natch.)

    Two things missing that are SUPER important in the comic: Rorschach’s confrontation with his landlady, and Rorshach pulling Dan off the topknot in the bar.

    These are important because, in the comic, there is only one protagonist, and it’s Rorschach, but not until those happen. Those moments show us his turn from psychopath to hero.

    Compare him to Dan and Laurie, who fight crime because they get a kick out of it; Veidt, who is a megalomaniac; Jon, who is so deluded as to be ineffective; the Comedian, who was effective and wasn’t deluded, but was a right bastard, eventually reduced to a whimpering wreck, and then dead.

    Rorschach fights crime because he MUST. His only real wrinkle is that he values justice over human life. Which becomes important in the climax, in which everyone must choose between justice and human life. When it came down to it, Dan and Laurie were moral jellyfish (they were in it for kicks, not for justice; also, their fear of nuclear annihilation, well-documented throughout, clearly had something to do with their judgment). Jon and Veidt were deluded. Rorschach was the only one with any backbone, and God — uh, I mean Doctor Manhattan — killed him for it.

    Here’s another thing:
    In the end of the comic, Dan gives up after being repulsed by Veidt the first time. Rorschach keeps getting up, over and over. In the movie, Dan fights just as much, if not more, than Rorschach, and kinda holds his own for a while.

    This is because, in the movie, Dan is just as much of a protagonist as Rorschach. Compare his reaction to Rorschach’s death in the comic, to the reaction in the movie.

    The movie is friendlier. It has a far less brutal thematic landscape. But none of this makes it a bad story; it just makes it a different story.

    Another thing:
    In the comic, I wanna snap Veidt’s smarmy neck when he gives that “I’ve made myself feel every death” bullshit (if anyone felt every death, it was Rorschach, and you see what that got him). In the movie, not so much. I can almost believe him. Almost.

  26. Anonymous says:

    This film (it deserves to be called such; not a movie. For its genre, a rarity) is gorgeous.
    A faithful piece of pop culture art.
    Critics hated “2001: A Space Odyssey”, too.

    • Todd says:

      Just for the record, I call all feature-length entertainments “movies,” just because a lot of them aren’t really shot on film any more, and also because blogging about “film” sounds pretentious to me.

      I think 2001 is a good movie, too.

  27. Loved the movie, haven’t read the book yet. I didn’t want to ruin my cinematic experience by reading the book first, and I have no doubt I can still enjoy the book even though I already know what happens.

    Rorscacht. Wow. What an amazing character and so well acted.

    Loved in general how it showed how screwed up heroes lives can be masks on or off, more than any “comic book movie” I’ve seen.

    That title sequence grabbed me by the chest and yanked me to the edge of my seat for the entire film. Amazing.