Watchmen

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WATCHMEN
d. Zack Snyder, 2009

Well, it's finally here.

After spending twenty years in development hell, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's acclaimed superhero story Watchmen has finally been brought to the big screen. The film is directed by Zack Snyder, a man whose filmography so far has consisted of incredibly stylish but one-dimensional action movies such as 2004's remake of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead and 2007's swords-and-sandals blockbuster 300. He brings a lot of the same qualities to his adaptation of Watchmen (slick use of computer graphics, state-of-the-art visuals, graphic violence, etc.) except now he's working off a significantly stronger script than his prior films.

The story revolves around an alternate reality where superheroes actually existed and acted as law enforcement throughout the 20th century. The film is primarily set in 1985 (although it frequently jumps back and forth across the decades as multiple characters have flashbacks or, in one character's case, experience time in a totally different manner). However, superheroes are eventually outlawed and the remaining heroes all live vastly different lives. The film opens with the murder of one of the film's "heroes" - the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a psychopathic soldier with a brutal streak a mile wide. His death draws the attention of Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), a trenchcoat-wearing vigilante who scours the streets bringing his own particularly violent brand of justice to wrongdoers all over New York. He believes that the Comedian's death is part of something bigger and opts to tell the other surviving "masks" - the insecure Batman clone Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), feisty token female Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman), smooth-talking billionaire Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) and Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), a naked blue man with God-like control over time and space.

I've been a fan of Watchmen for a couple of years now, and the film was highly anticipated ever since I heard it was actually being produced. Of course, I went in expecting it not to match the book (because I doubt any film adaptation could actually do that, no matter how long), but I was still holding out hope for it being a good film nonetheless. I think the latter part definitely came true. Even though the film's opening scene was not actually in the book (something I hoped was not a sign of things to come), the bulk of the film followed the book to a tee. At a guess, I'd say the content of the film was about ninety percent true to the book - sure, it left out plenty of subplots and characters (which Snyder claims will be featured more prominently in an extended cut he plans to release on DVD), but as for the main plot and much of the most important character development, it's all there. Despite several small changes here and there (noticeable to a fan, perhaps, although I doubt newcomers will get the difference) and a change to the film's big twist (more on that later), it's about as faithful an adaptation as you're likely to find anywhere. The book's various techniques, such as jumping back and forth between different times and places and use of overlapping dialogue, translate reasonably well to film as well.

Of course, this doesn't mean much to people who care about the film. Is it any good? I'd say it's definitely good. Despite Snyder's tendency to indulge his own particular style (namely, adding plenty of slow-motion and violence to various action scenes), he manages considerable restraint for most of the film. He also manages to handle the special effects competently (the most obvious example being Rorschach's trademark ink-blot mask, which has a pattern that changes frequently due to CGI), and that manages to make the film much smoother. Still, I'm missing out on what's probably the most important thing about Watchmen - the characters. As with his prior films, Snyder has elected to use relatively small-time actors (although I still managed to recognise a handful from other films) and they all elicit performances that range from decent to excellent. Being an ensemble cast, you would think it's somewhat difficult to pick a "best" actor, but there's no doubt in anyone's mind after they take in Haley's performance as Rorschach. Despite spending much of his screen time wearing a mask that covers his entire face, Haley brings the character to light perfectly through his incredible voice (a voice so deep and gruff that it leaves Christian Bale's Batman voice in the dust), embittered narration that sounds like it could've been lifted straight out of Taxi Driver and his multitude of small mannerisms that serve to humanise someone who is one of the most inhuman characters in the entire film. The only problem is that it overshadows all the other performances on offer - most of them are pretty good (with the possible exception of Akerman), but none of them hold a candle to Rorschach, a performance which should go down as an example of just how damned good acting in comic book films can be (clown-faced robbers aside).

The real question I'm trying to figure out it, what were the flaws here? Granted, I liked it a lot, but it doesn't feel truly brilliant. There are parts where it drags slightly, and I'm willing to bet the film is going to confuse people who aren't particularly familiar with the novel, but hell, it's their own fault they haven't gotten familiar with it first. While it's not really a masterpiece, Watchmen is still an incredibly solid superhero flick, a faithful adaptation of an incredibly poignant story and quite simply a very good film. I can only hope the rest of 2009's filmic output is capable of matching it.

GRADE: B+
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Well, i saw the midnight screening of it last night, though failed to anticipate the pure amount of nerdiness that would be there. Nonetheless, the film started to a round of applause as it started rolling. I won't bother with the narrative details since Iro's already summarised them but i'm not quite sure where the graphic novel has garnered an unfilmable reputation from, Naked Lunch- that's unfilmable, Watchmen just as a multitude of differing psyches to develop and a variety of morality's to contend with. Bearing that in mind, the film could have gone two ways- a character study or the sexed up flick Snyder's delivered. I would be perfectly happy to see a less visual orientated director make another version as i'm sure (future cuts of this one withstanding) there's another film left in the book.

As Iro mentions, the film is about 90% loyal to the source, however i found the changed dialogue to stick out like a sore thumb where it glossed over intricacies that made each character so interesting, maybe it was just because it was different or maybe it was just that it was somewhat oversimplified. Talking of bits standing out, some of the soundtrack choices were cheesy as hell. And i may as well mention the changed ending while here, at first i wasn't impressed but it does give a nicer flow and more contained feel to the plot (alien invasion was a bit outlandish). In changes for the better, the costumers are a lot cooler- NightOwl II especially and i found Walter Kocak (Rorsarch's alter ego) a lot more believable. As for Nixon, now he did seem a cartoon character, though maybe Langella's earlier performance of Tricky Dick casts too big a shadow or maybe it's Futurama tainting ever taking him seriously.

As i mentioned at the start, Watchmen was greeted with applause but silence as the credit rolled. It's about as good could be as expected with a director with a fetish for sexed up violence, Snyder basically copy and pastes the action scenes from 300 into Watchmen without particularly engage with the films themes but that kinda works in the film's favour as it retains a lot of loyalty to the novel. It's not breaking ground that Sin City and 300 haven't already and i really hope the future DVD cuts change the underwritten Dr Manhattan and reinstate several of the missed minor plot details that explain the psychological development of many of the characters; as such much of the character's actions seem only to be there because they're in the book. I think a second watch might be more favourable when i won't be occupied noticing differences from the source and take the film for what it is but at present it stands as sexualised, more action orientated take on the novel opposed to an intellectual companion. Fingers crossed for these promised extended cuts.

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A system of cells interlinked
I sat down to read the comics again last night. I got to issue three and then realized I was only setting myself up for the experience Pyro listed above; sitting in a chair comparing notes on two versions of the same material. I stopped reading, and will just watch the film on its own merits. Hopefully, I am able to do this.

Great review, Iro!
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That was indeed a brilliant review, Iro. I must confess though that I hardly know a THING about the graphic novel besides a synopsis and a few notes on character profiles. I never even heard of Watchmen until all the huge fans went into overdrove once production had commenced, so I kinda feel like i'm missing out on something that's supposed to be special.

I won't be able to see this film until next week. But I ask you guys as fans, would it better to read the graphic novel first or watch the film? Originally I was just going to go and watch the film, thinking that I would be at an advantage due to the fact that I know very little of the source material, but now i'm not so sure..

It certainly sounds like an exciting film, that's for sure. And I've heard a lot about this Rorsarch guy being a fan favourite and a Humphery Bogart like character so i'm sure i'm bound to warm to him.



Standing in the Sunlight, Laughing
Nice reviews, Iro and Pyro!

I went for the midnight showing experience, because I like immersing myself in fan culture when it's something worthwhile. Last night did not disappoint. I was seated between a guy wearing a Watchmen teeshirt with a Watchmen wallpaper on his phone, and a woman who was actually reading the novel in the theater. Before the film started, there was palpable excitement in the air, and afterward, while there was no applause, the theater was decorated with clumps of people discussing what they'd just seen.

I have to say, I feel like the story telescoped on me a bit - I'd heard talk of the impossibility of bringing the story to celluloid, and didn't think it would be too much material. I see now that I was wrong there, as even with a long running time and a fairly well-paced story, much detail was missing. Sometimes, as Pyro menioned, it works better for that (the alien thing) and other times, a little more depth would have helped. The conclusion of Laurie's relationship with her mother, for instance, is prominent in the timeline of the storytelling, but would have been more impactful had there been more mention of her mother's overbearing urging for Laurie to become a vigilante. The other place that seemed really glossed over was the removal of the entire backstory on the psychologist, and all the street-corner folks. Snyder glosses over the very details that make the violence so important, and it's a disservice to Moore's work.

The other change that I found took things down a notch was the "superhero" nature of the characters. In Moore's novel, we are looking at a band of long-retired vigilantes. They're not super-strong or super-fast beyond what really fit and well-trained humans could possess. This is important, because that was half of the social commentary that set Watchmen apart from previous tales of masked avengers.

For my part, I read the novel only once, last Summer, and loaned my copy to friends months ago, so I was fairly able to take the film on its own merits, but was aware of the basic motifs in the original work. These changes are points that, in my opinion, weren't just departures from great original material, but weakened the impact of the film. Flaws aside, I enjoyed the movie and I think the core story comes across clearly and effectively, and is visualized beautifully.

The visualizations, especially early on, really hit the mark in bringing comic book art to the screen. The acting is, as mentioned above, uneven, but fantastic in many cases. Jackie Earl Haley's Rorshach is perfect. He'll get a lot of praise for this turn, and rightfully so. Equally spot on is Patrick Wilson as Night Owl II, whose characterization brings all the sadness and longing of the character from our first glimpse of him. Two others who are positively spot on are Malin Ackerman (as Laurie) and Carla Gugino (her mother). The one weak spot, cast-wise, was Matthew Goode as Veidt, who was too young and seemed insubstantial by contrast with the other characters. Overwhelmingly though, brilliant casting of actors who brought a lot of depth to the screen that is generally lost in a Snyder venue.

As a stand-alone work, I think we have a winner though. The story itself revolves around an ethical dilemma and that is well-presented and both thought-provoking and moving when we come to it. The brilliance of Moore's novel doesn't suffer from Snyder's slick brand of steroid treatments, and visually it's a treat.
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That was indeed a brilliant review, Iro. I must confess though that I hardly know a THING about the graphic novel besides a synopsis and a few notes on character profiles. I never even heard of Watchmen until all the huge fans went into overdrove once production had commenced, so I kinda feel like i'm missing out on something that's supposed to be special.

I won't be able to see this film until next week. But I ask you guys as fans, would it better to read the graphic novel first or watch the film? Originally I was just going to go and watch the film, thinking that I would be at an advantage due to the fact that I know very little of the source material, but now i'm not so sure..

It certainly sounds like an exciting film, that's for sure. And I've heard a lot about this Rorsarch guy being a fan favourite and a Humphery Bogart like character so i'm sure i'm bound to warm to him.
Go see the movie before reading the graphic novel, since you haven't read the graphic novel yet. It'll make it so you can have more of an open mind to it.



Go see the movie before reading the graphic novel, since you haven't read the graphic novel yet. It'll make it so you can have more of an open mind to it.
I'd respectfully disagree. Obviously I can't know how it would have been otherwise, but I think I got a good deal more out of the film by having read Watchmen. Just my opinion, though.
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Let's try to be broad-minded about this
yeah same here, i think it would be mildly confusing for a while and hard to catch on to all the names and everything without having read the graphic novel first



Anyway, here's my review of Watchmen, which I caught last night. Unfortunately 90% of my thoughts on the film would probably qualify as spoilers, so I had to be a tad vague about some things, but I think it adequately conveys my reaction to the experience as a whole.

Here's an excerpt:

Watchmen



"Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" So goes the Latin phrase written by Juvenal, a Roman poet. It translates roughly to "Who watches the watchmen?" It is a phrase which encapsulates the inevitability that any leaders which humanity might have will only be human themselves, and are liable to have the same flaws and problems as the people they watch over. This one phrase is the soul of Watchmen, the famed graphic novel, and it has survived largely intact through the metamorphosis into Watchmen, the film. ...READ MORE

EDIT: made a few minor alterations to the review shortly after it went up.



Here's my review of the big show , I had mixed feelings of it - but want to see it again.

Originally Posted by Meatwadsprite
Watchmen (1 view)



A massive undertaking that has scared off the likes of acclaimed directors , fans of the novel could only fear for the worst when it was finally put in the hands of newcomer Zack Snyder. With the translation of book to film , you often lose a lot of sub-plots , characters , and themes - sadly Watchmen follows suit and though it's visual qualities are fully realized the story has lost much significance.

Snyder really doesn't know when and where to place violence and sex - which are abundant here probably more than anything I've seen , instead of overloading us with grotesque killing - I would prefer all the characters be introduced properly instead of being crunched together to make a 3 hour deadline. Many concerns over the length of the movie forcing the numerous cutting of corners , I think the novel could be done in three hours - obviously you can't waste time on numerous slow motion fights and must have at least 2-3 different events occurring at once (like the book).

Lots of my favorite scenes were absent from the film , so you really have to detach yourself from the book and realize that it is not what you are seeing on the screen. I was not able to do that with my first viewing of it , I really wanted all my favorite parts of the book fully uncompromised and animated. Maybe on subsequent viewings I can appreciate this on a film basis , but the sting will always be there that the movie could have had so much more in it - the news vendor , the deeper backgrounds of the characters , all the regular citizen characters which are almost completely absent.

There are so many problems I have with the story , that I'm forgetting to tell you about everything else. The acting was superb for most part , the visuals are so dynamic you stop appreciating them just because there's so many brilliant parts , and the music was appropriate most of the times , unnecessary some times , with the occasional perfect moments ("two riders were approaching"). All of these things are the benefit of the film medium , you don't get them in the book - these are the benefits of making a movie about the novel.

Perhaps it's not a shining adaptation or film , Snyder is often unable to create awe and suspense through dialogue or words - he relies on the violence to do the talking. Alan Moore's Watchmen is certainly not about violence or sex , it contains them and focuses on a much bigger picture. Snyder's Watchmen borrows from Moore's , but has it's priorities all mixed up.

Perhaps it's brilliant and I wasn't able to notice all the small tidbits of information fed throughout the film. Maybe I under-appreciated some of the film only moments and wasn't accepting what I saw , rather what I wanted to see. Maybe the movie was able to tie all these events into a nice knot rather than jam them into a small space , I'll only find out upon my subsequent viewings of it.

It wouldn't be the first movie to become a favorite of mine after an "unfavorable" first viewing.

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Prestige, i'd always go for source material first otherwise you'll be comparing the book to the film and not the other way round. With the prior knowledge from the book, it certainly adds far more depth all round to characters and their deeper motivations.



Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
That's true, but if the depth and motivations aren't on screen, why credit the movie for what the book does?
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Well, it's a film representation of Moore's work and i think if you can fill in the gaps Snyder missed, it makes for a more satisfying viewing knowing the subtexts. The film is just a simplified version of the story ultimately, it's good to go on knowing all of it imo



Standing in the Sunlight, Laughing
interesting discussion re which to do first: read or see the film...

I'd read first, wherever possible. The book may color my viewing of the film by adding details, but the film can only detract from my reading by taking the surprises out, and sometimes supplying an actor in a role where I'd be better off picturing someone myself, to start out with at least.



Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
I'm just looking at all movies compared to all novels. Older movies didn't seem so obsessed with adapting the source material so religiously, and since I've seen far more movies than I've read novels, I tend to rate the movies as movies period. You guys are just a lot more sophisticated than I am because you actually read still. But my point is that many movies have completely changed the themes and plots of some plays and novels, while others slavishly tried to reproduce the novel and never lived and breathed as movies. That's why I'm discussing what I am. I'm sure you can understand the characters better by reading the novel, but if the moviemakers change the characters, then you're dealing with a completely separate animal than the book. You have every right to compare/contrast the novel to the movie, but the movie still has to stand or fall on its own because no matter what book you pick, there's a 99.9% chance that more people have seen the movie than have read the book.



I'm just looking at all movies compared to all novels. Older movies didn't seem so obsessed with adapting the source material so religiously, and since I've seen far more movies than I've read novels, I tend to rate the movies as movies period. You guys are just a lot more sophisticated than I am because you actually read still. But my point is that many movies have completely changed the themes and plots of some plays and novels, while others slavishly tried to reproduce the novel and never lived and breathed as movies. That's why I'm discussing what I am. I'm sure you can understand the characters better by reading the novel, but if the moviemakers change the characters, then you're dealing with a completely separate animal than the book. You have every right to compare/contrast the novel to the movie, but the movie still has to stand or fall on its own because no matter what book you pick, there's a 99.9% chance that more people have seen the movie than have read the book.
I agree with what you're saying Mark but in this case it's basically a live action reproduction of the GN, i wouldn't call the film Snyder's intellectual property by any stretch- it's not another artists interpretation of a source, Moore retains near enough total authorship of the film so i wouldn't say they are two separate beasts.