Watchmen (2009)

Not sure if I should admit this or not, but I saw Watchmen last night. As with Wanted, I think comic book adaptations work best for me when I don’t really know the source material. I basically knew two things about the movie going into it (plot-wise). I was quite ambivalent about the movie going in. I left not hating it but not loving it. The violence and sex was gratuitous. The story is dark. It’s not an action movie. I felt like it flowed well (many critics have given that part of the movie a “no”). The acting was fine. It’s just not what I’m looking for in a movie.

Ironically, I started reading comics back when the comic series was coming out in serial format. Along with a few other titles, Watchmen helped herald in the “dark period” of comic books. I’m glad that period is over. Funny that it’s taken twenty years for the movie version of things to get there.

I saw Watchmen tonight. In a word, painful. In three words – didn’t get it. The best part, for me, was after the movie listening to my friend express disbelief at how often he had to look at “the naked big blue guy” and his overexposed nether area.

In retrospect, I’m not surprised that I didn’t like the flick and atribute the decision to watch it to the extra beer I had to order when I ran out and still had sushi on my plate. It’s a fine art to run out of beer and sushi at the same time and I must work on this dilligently to avoid foolish decisions like this one…

Watchmen (2009)
Dir. Zack Snyder

I’m not going to recommend this movie, even though many of you would probably say it’s OK. (Marc’s strong negative reaction surprised me a little.), although I’m pretty sure no one will say it’s better than OK (at least not by much). And I also think people will leave with a lukewarm or negative impression of the graphic novel, which is a shame and probably another reason I’m not recommending this movie.

It’s 1986. The US won the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon is still president. The Cold War is at its peak; nuclear war is imminent. Super-heroes have been outlawed, yet they are being murdered.

Terry Gilliam, who was reported to have been called on to direct this, supposedly called this film unfilmmable, and half way through the novel, I felt the same way; at the very least, this is not a good candidate for a film treatment. Perhaps, if they get the right actors that might make it worth it; or if they did something really unique in the storytelling, which would probably dramatically change the novel. That latter doesn’t happen, but the former does. The casting is really spot on–particularly Hollis Mason, as Nite Owl and Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan. Actually, they’re all good. I can’t imagine a better casting job. The actors do a very good job of creating a faithful depiction of the characters in the novel. But it’s not enough. Their performance doesn’t justify the making of this film.

Another justification for the adaptation may have been showing action sequences. The action sequences are solid. Snyder does a good job of shooting the action, particularly the action. But again it’s not enough. Indeed, the action takes away from the story because in the film all the super-heroes seem to have super-human strength. This makes the fight scenes exciting. But in the novel. all but a few are basically normal human beings, with above average to very good fighting ability–but no superhuman strength. This makes them seem a little pathetic and deviant. You could understand individuals with super-human abilities becoming super-heroes, but when regular people do it, it’s a little creepy. And that’s exactly the type of vibe Alan Moore was going for; he wanted to show the dark and creepy aspects of super-heroes.

In saying this, I must point out that Zack Snyder is not really to blame. In fact, he–and the screenwriters– really do a good job. They leave out sub-plots and don’t develop certain characters–even the changes in the story–specifically using Dr. Manhattan’s powers to destroy millions of people instead of a phony alien–were improvements to the story. Still, it falls way short of capturing what makes the novel so great. As I mentioned, I don’t think anyone will think highly of the graphic novel based on this film, which is a shame. Because the novel could very well be one of the top 100 novels of the 20th Century.

**potential spoilers**

*Watchmen* was just too long and too convoluted for me. I wonder how Reid’s reaction to the movie was influenced by his reading the graphic novel beforehand and I’d remind folks that I didn’t. While I was able to follow the plot it was difficult to do and I just got tired of the movie after the two hour mark.

The other thing that truly annoyed my friend was Mr. Manhattan being naked and exposing his rather overdeveloped male organ prominently throughout the movie. This seemed pretty gratuitous to me although it didn’t really bother me that much. At least he was never excited during the three hour flick…

Certainly my having read the novel could have helped me understand the film, although Larri had no problem with understanding the story. I think there might have been a few parts of the story or characters that were confusing, but I can’t recall any right now. Do you recall what parts seemed “convoluted” to you?

Marc, if I remember correctly, you sort of liked comic books, and if that’s correct, I would consider reading the novel. It’s the type of novel that is hard to enjoy, but I think you would admire many things about it.

(Some minor spoilers about the novel)
A word about whether the sex and violence were gratuitous (which is slightly related to the nakedness of Dr. Manhattan). I think this is an aspect of the novel that did not translate as well to the screen. As I mentioned in my review, the graphic novel looked at the darker side of comic book heroes. If we actually knew someone who dressed up in a costume to “fight” crime, we could reasonably expect that individual to be strange, at the very least, and even severely disturbed psychologically. We certainly wouldn’t call that person normal. Yet, I’d guess these thoughts don’t cross the mind of comic book readers–and even non-comic book readers. Watchmen challenges that view and gets the readers to look at comic book heroes in a more realistic way. Take the graphic violence, for instance. The violence is muted in most comic books, making it more “acceptable” to parents. Watchmen challenges that view by making the violence more graphic. Moreover, I think the violence with characters like Rosharch illustrate that some of these heroes have serious psychological problems. I think the graphic nature of sex in the film (it’s more graphic in the movie) is done for similar reasons. Heroines are almost always drawn as beautiful large breasted woman in scantily clad outfits. It’s almost pornographic. If we’re honest this is part of the appeal of comic books–and the movie (and graphic novel) brings this front and center. That’s just one of the reasons the novel was so great. When I read it I knew I was reading a comic book–the art and situations certainly had the right feel–but there was something very different and it left me with an odd feeling. And that feeling stemmed from the way the graphic novel exposed these hidden aspects of the comic books.

But the film didn’t do a good job of doing all of this. However, since I knew the graphic novel, I didn’t think the sex and violence were gratutious. (In the novel, the writers make Hollis’ (aka Nite Owl) sexual hang-ups clear. He has trouble having sex when Ms. Jupiter is not in costume. He also happily accepts one of the pornographic comics of Ms. Jupiter’s mother.)

Again, I was able to follow the plot, but some of these issues below are probably more evident to those who have read the novel.


1. It was easy to identify Rorschach as one of the Watchmen since he wore his mask. It was a little less easy to identify the others. It was not clear to me at first that the heroes did not have superpowers. Dr. Manhattan had powers, why didn’t the others have powers? Rorshach had the moving mask, why didn’t he have a power? At some point you realized that they didn’t really have any although this is never explicitly stated and probably became obvious around two hours into the movie.
2. The whole sequence with Rorshach investigating The Comedian and the former arch enemy takes a large part of the middle of the movie, leads to Rorshach’s arrest and subsequent escape, and is resolved at the end. Yes, the end made clear what was happening, but I didn’t have any idea what was going on with that thread for the first 2.5 hours. By the time it became clear what was going on, I was waiting for the movie to end so I could hit the facilities and cleanse my bladder of the beer that I had consumed earlier that evening.
3. The movie implies that the Comedian, not Lee Harvey Oswald, killed JFK. What exactly was going on there?
4. Was the Comedian really a hero? Did he do anything good in the movie? Did he do anything good in the novel? Is this just one of the things that is supposed to be unclear?

I should just probably say this: The movie was long with a dense plot. It was certainly ambitious, but it failed to hold my interest long enough for me to appreciate all the stuff that was onscreen. I guess it seemed like it had more flash than heart. Maybe the novel is different.


The novel is very different..well, the storyline and characters are faithful to the novel, but the richness of the novel doesn’t translate well. Again, I think the graphic novel is very good, a novel that challenges and expands on the genre. There are also stylistic elements that are cool, too. You might want to give it a shot, as it’s not a long read (although it took a lot longer than most comic/graphic novels I’ve read).

I’m going to respond to your points, but if you decide to read the novel, you might want to skip them (although I don’t think there are any spoilers):

The characters having powers or not was ambiguous in the film (except Dr. Manhattan)–although it seemed like to possessed extraordinary strength and speed. I think this was a minor point though. What threw me off about their lack of powers–or pretty boring powers if they had any–was that most comic book heroes do have powers and the powers are pretty interesting. Indeed, I think that’s what makes them appealing–the nature of their powers, how they got them and use them. But here, the powers are irrelevant or non-existent.It’s hard for me to comment about Rorshach’s investigation. I think the book makes Moloch’s identity a bit clearer, but I don’t know if that would have helped or not.The thing about the Comedian killing JFK was not in the novel (unless I missed that). Basically, the act falls in line with Comedian’s character and his attitude.The Comedian doesn’t have any pretense about good guys or superheroes. My sense (and this is not explicit in the novel) is that he feels like the super-heroes are a joke: they’re not really “white knights,” but people who are bored, troubled and their decision to be super-heroes comes more out of desires other than altruism. The Comedian is aware of that, and he just jumps on the super-hero bandwagon to profit from it. Actually, each of the characters are a way of looking at the super-hero phenomena from different angles. I haven’t worked them all out yet, but it might be worth it to do so.

If I had to guess, you wouldn’t be enthuisastic about the graphic novel, but I think you would appreciate it in many ways. In my opinion, it is worth the time.

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