“None of you understand. I’m not locked in here with you! You’re locked in here with me!”
The Scoop: 2008 R, directed by Zach Snyder and starring Jackie Earle Haley, Billy Crudup and Malin Akerman.
Tagline: They watch over us, but who watches them?
Summary Capsule: Alan Moore’s ‘unfilmable’ magnum opus gets filmed.
Kyle’s rating: “You’re in the wrong place, my friend, you better leave”
Kyle’s review: Watchmen is one of those rare films where I was completely entertained by it, I never want to see it again, and I’m especially glad it “failed” at the box office. Now that it’s over, we don’t have to worry about it, and because of its perceived lack of cultural relevance we don’t have to worry that the next ten years of superhero films will be striving for that dark, R-rated comparison in its wake. Although I certainly wouldn’t mind more (female) nudity in my superhero films, know what I mean?
I think of Alan Moore, acclaimed author of Watchmen and other seminal comic book works, to be wholly overrated. He deals with fairly simplistic stories and characterizations, which is fine, and delves so deeply into relevant research and writerly glosses that you can only dismiss his work outright or shower him with awards, and early on that ubiquitous ‘they’ chose to go the awards route, and so on and so forth. I say that with both love, since I think his V for Vendetta book is absolutely genius and a lot of his other work is pretty good, and with utter jealousy, since he’s a lot better than I am at this point. Rragh!
That said, while I consider the Watchman graphic novel to be similarly overrated, I certainly respect it. And even if I didn’t, I would have to respect its influence, since there is not a single person working in comics (and very few hardcore readers) who have not read Watchmen at least a handful of times. It is The Beatles of comics, the book that even non-fans nod knowingly at the mention of because you never know when a fan with Bowflex muscles is willing to fight about it being “the best graphic novel of all-time, man!” Hipster bar fights always start over the weirdest things, have you ever noticed?
So I had a horse in the race, so to speak, in seeing Watchmen adapted for the big screen. Morbid curiosity played a significant role, but even the biggest hater should show up to support something up his alley; at least that’s the argument that got me and a massive bag of 50-cent tacos for both The Unborn and The Uninvited. So of course I was going to see Watchmen. I just didn’t expect to see the 3:15 a.m. Imax showing because my friends were determined (determined!) to see it as soon as possible.
First off, if you can see a film after 3 in the morning, part of me wants to implore you to wait. You’ll be so much happier with some sleep and after some delicious scrambled eggs. That said, why not do it? It is an experience unlike most not found in Las Vegas, and if you’re with a big group of similarly psyched though groggy friends and a big backpack of contraband goodies, even a nearly three-hour film will be a bonding experience. Hooray!
So basically the deck was stacked for me to enjoy Watchmen despite myself, and really that’s what happened. Which isn’t to say that Watchmen isn’t a really solid adaptation of what was thought to be an unfilmable work, because it is. But it seems like in trying so hard to make sure no one got too offended in what was filmed and what wasn’t, there was no room left for any kind of innovation. So what is left is a film that proves Watchmen could be adapted as a film, but makes no kind of argument for why it should be. Definitely worth your time, and I would even be up for viewing the inevitable unrated director’s cut DVD that should push the four-hour mark out of added curiosity. But if they were intending for this film to be anything more than a solid entry into the overall superhero film oeuvre, they missed the mark.
Although if they intended me to get beat up by every single one of my peers when I boldly and without a hint of sarcasm tell them the best thing about the Watchmen film is My Chemical Romance’s cover of ‘Desolation Row,’ I say BRING IT ON.
Lissa’s rating: There are times and places for ‘Hallelujah’, and this is NOT it.
Lissa’s review: This past Friday, I finished reading Watchmen for the first time. This represents the culmination of years of a mind changing process.
I am a total geek. We all know this. Come on, I write for a website called Mutant Reviewers — what else would I be? But despite that, I clung to my belief that comic books (and yes, they were ALL comic books) were lesser art forms. Meant for kids. Archie and Jughead and anything else was just sort of unthinkable. Over the years, I’ve made friends (about 90% of them guys) that read graphic novels. I politely ignored their love of them and mentally patted them on the head much the same way they probably did the same thing when I waxed poetic about Harry Potter. Then I saw V for Vendetta.
V for Vendetta is everything I love in a story. End times. Dictatorial regime. Persecution. Desperation. Tight bond between two characters that is not necessarily sexual. I loved the movie, and actually considered reading the book. Hey — for me, this was a big leap forward. I really started looking at graphic novels differently, understanding what sort of stories they could tell.
Then that survey started going around on LiveJournal and Facebook. The one that asks how many of the Times Top 100 books have you read? And Watchmen was on that list. Okay, that gave me a kick, especially since a lot of the other books struck me as pretentious, and frankly boring. Shortly after I saw that, I wrote a story that I really, really liked, and someone illustrated part of it like a graphic novel. Seeing my own work brought into imagery that way… I suddenly got it. Completely and utterly got it. I now understand what graphic novels can really be if done well, and just how valid an art form they really are. So I picked up Watchmen, and needless to say, I adored it. Add me to the fan list, even if I’m the most recent name on it. (I suspect I’m not.)
So, Friday I finished reading Watchmen. Saturday I went to see it.
Now, one of the best parts about being a newly converted fangirl is I haven’t had the time to soak up all the details and the intricacies and the implications. So when I went to see the movie, I just really, really enjoyed it, especially given how freaking faithful it is to the novel. I completely agreed with what they cut, was amazed at how much they kept in, and was okay with the change at the end, although I know other people weren’t. (I’m not going to say they’re wrong. I spend too much time ranting about Harry Potter and Battlestar Galactica to tell them “hey, it’s just a movie and they just streamlined it a little.” I get that frustration. But I haven’t earned my spurs as a Watchmen fangirl, so I’ll leave that analysis and rant for someone else.)
For the uninitiated, Watchmen is a superhero story, but it’s a different take on superheroes. Instead of making these people out to be mountains of nobility, Watchmen starts with the premise that it takes a very specific mindset to dress up in a costume and go out fighting crime, and chances are these people are lunatics. Well, come on. Do you dress in latex and patrol the streets? I didn’t think so. But the idea that it takes a very extreme personality is very plausible. And then to put these personalities into proximity of each other… it’s like an especially, incredibly dysfunctional forerunner of the X-Men family. And it’s awesome.
It’s a fantastic story, yes. How is it as a movie? I wasn’t at all disappointed. The effects are beautiful, particularly those on Mars. (Although I would have liked to have seen more of Mars, just because we’ve been reading books about the planets with Ducklet.) The acting ranged from acceptable (wasn’t that impressed with Matthew Goode as Adrian Veidt/Ozy) to stellar (Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the Comedian were complete standouts). There was some really neat cinematography, especially the pauses during the fight scenes where they basically shouted “Look how perfectly we’re recreating the novel!” and the “The Times they Are A-Changing” sequence at the beginning. I wasn’t even all that phased by the naked Dr. Manhattan, although when I mentioned that fact Duckie was suddenly relieved he didn’t go see the movie on the IMAX screen.
It was a bit long, I have to admit. However, I should lodge that complaint more at the people who make the movie seats than the people who made the movie. I wasn’t bored — my butt just started hurting, that’s all. (But boy, let me tell you how grateful I am that they cut the monologue at the end down a bit!) In fact, I can’t wait for the director’s cut, because I’m dying to see the stuff that got cut out.
So, yeah. I loved it. But as I said, I’m a brand spanking new fan, and I’m still in the infatuation phase, so take my review with that in mind. I’ll certainly reread the novel, and I’ll certainly buy the DVD and watch it that night, and probably several more times. Really, unless you truly despise any sort of fantastical elements whatsoever in a plot or are very, very squicked by violence or are under a certain age, there’s no reason not to see this one.
Mike’s rating: This movie is afraid… I have seen its true face…
Mike’s review: I’m unique among most sequential art (that’s comic books to you lay people) aficionados, in that I don’t deify Alan Moore or his creepy magic beard as the second coming, and while I was just as blown away as anybody by his ridiculously intricate and layered storytelling in the Watchmen graphic novel, I was never of the opinion that to make a movie based on said masterpiece would ever be akin to heretical blasphemy. Now that the movie has been made, I want you to go look out the window, taking note that the world has, in fact, not stopped spinning, then pick up the dog-eared copy of the graphic novel and you’ll find it’s still there and did not burst into flames in a show of unbridled outrage. See? Everything’s ok. Now take a deep cleansing breath and go back to making fairy tale porn, Mr. Moore.
Alright, now that I’ve snarked at a comics legend, let’s talk about the movie. Set in an alternate 1985, (anybody else flashing back to Back to the Future Part II…? Not just me..? Awesome.) in which America and Russia stand on the brink of nuclear armageddon, costumed vigilante cum government spook The Comedian is thrown to his death from his penthouse apartment. Fellow crimefighter Rorschach takes it upon himself to investigate the murder, convinced that the trail will lead to a serial killer picking off costumed heroes. Said heroes, who have been forced into retirement since 1977, include Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, a couple of second generation heroes who find themselves falling back into adventuring, Ozymandias, the “world’s smartest man”, and Doctor Manhattan, a near omnipotent (and uncomfortably naked) superhero who is losing touch with humanity.
When I first viewed the trailer for Watchmen, I was gob-smacked at how pretty it was, but a bit worried as well. The original comic was, after all, better known for it’s mind-blowing epic story and zillions of intertwining sub-plots. I feared that the story would be back-burnered in favor of sheer spectacle. As it turns out, Zack Snyder does an amazing job bringing Moore’s four-color creations to the big screen. It’s a shame that Alan Moore insisted on having his name removed from this one, actually, because it really is a great film that offers some terrific action sequences and special effects without sacrificing any of the essentials of the story. The characters are larger than life, yet flawed and believable at the same time. They’re human beings, whose motivations are explored and fully realized. Rorschach’s story is exceptionally scary and heartbreaking at the same time, and his character definitely got the most cheers during the opening-night viewing I attended.
Perhaps the biggest triumph of the movie is the way it portrays just how cool it is to be a superhero (being able to take a room full of tough guys, playing with ultra cool tech gadgets, getting the girl), while at the same time showing how such a life can eat away at your sanity. In a world where we have flicks like Batman Begins and Dark Knight, the superhero deconstruction myth is not exactly a new idea, but Watchmen did it first and this movie proves that it did it the best. The fight scenes are brutal and well choreographed. The effects are gorgeous and various scenes are almost perfect recreations of the comics book panels. The soundtrack was especially well done and made for a great time stamp of the era being portrayed, particularly during the opening credits sequence. Even the infamously tweaked ending elicits the same shock and speculation. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it even makes more sense than the original and makes the comic ending seem a little silly. That being said: please send all flames to Cheshirekat5865@gmail.com.
The only real complaint I’d have is that certain scenes seem overly lascivious and ultimately gratuitous. I know I might run the risk of being labeled a prude here, but do we really need to watch two characters have graphic sex in slow motion for a full minute? That same scene was dealt with discreetly in the comic with silhouettes and I felt that to sit through this unnecessary scene for so long took me out of the story a bit… and yes I found the inclusion of Doctor Manhattan’s package more than a little distracting.
If that kinda thing doesn’t bother you, or if you don’t mind staring at the ceiling for a couple of scenes I highly recommend this, whether you’re a fan of the comic or not. I’ll go so far as to say this is the most intelligent superhero movie made in recent memory, and this is with Dark Knight still fresh in my mind.
Justin’s rating: Up and down and all around the place… That’s not a very good superhero slogan.
Justin’s review: There really are two completely separate audiences for this film, represented by my wife and I:
AUDIENCE #1 (played by me): Has read the Watchmen comic… er, GRAPHIC NOVEL several times, appreciates its intricacy, was somewhat worried about the adaptation of an “unfilmable novel.”
AUDIENCE #2 (played by my wife): Was asked to see this “superhero movie” and went in expecting the same sort of intensity and fun of other PG-13 superhero flicks. Ended up cowering behind her fingers at the graphic brutality, the depressing tone, and the 180-degree shift from traditional superherodom. Also ends up saying, “What the HELL was that all about…?”
Now, there’s probably an even smaller subset of Audience #1 that I also belong to, the “I’ve read Watchmen enough times to understand it, but I’m not really sure if I LIKE it” group. We tend to be a quiet sort, because Watchmen fans are some of the most rabidly illogical followers you’ll tend to find in geekdom. Their shrines to Alan Moore pulse in anger at any slight change from the comic to the movie, and they are always, always on the prowl for ignorant savages to preach to – possibly with fists – about the perfection that is this book. I’m just not those guys. It’s like English classes, where they made us read a ton of “classic” novels from way back when. Some you like, some you don’t, and many you’re apathetic about. You understand why you have to read them and understand their place in literature, but there can be a league of difference between understanding and head-over-heels love.
As a film, Watchmen is many things. It’s remarkably faithful – with certain notable exceptions – to the graphic novel, probably far more so than any fan had any right to demand. Director Zack Snyder set himself up for a lose-lose situation (or did he?) by trying to balance the expectations of the fans with the blank slate presented by the larger portion of the audience. Cuts had to be made. Changes had to be made. Some of the visuals could remain, some were updated for 2009 sensibilities. But by and large, the story remained intact, a murder mystery/conspiracy that serves as a vehicle for examining why people might dress up to be “costumed avengers” – and whether or not these “heroes” might also be quite psychologically disturbed.
Before the awesome opening credits slam down on us, a superhero is brutally murdered in his apartment by a stranger – a small drop of incident in an alternate 1985 USA where Nixon is still president and nuclear war is about to become a reality. A bit like how Twin Peaks’ Laura Palmer was the catalyst for unraveling the dark, quirky secrets of that small Washington town, this murder is all it takes for the seedy underbelly of masked adventurers to be exposed.
Watchmen wasn’t so much about superheroes who have great power – in fact, only one character in the film, Dr. Manhattan, has any power beyond technology and fists. While an accident turned him into a being with god-like powers who’s almost completely disconnected with humanity, the rest of an old hero squad (superheroes having been outlawed in the 70’s in this world) are just guys and girls who are pretty messed up in their own way, but ultimately trying to do the right thing.
There’s the uncompromising Rorschach, who is easily the highlight of the film with his constantly-shifting inkblot mask and absolute anger toward immorality; Silk Spectre II, a pretty thing in vinyl who’s trying to live up to the family legacy; Ozymandias, who’s traded in his superhero legacy for a commercial empire; The Comedian, a brute who is both completely despicable and also sympathetic; and Nite Owl II, a chubby has-been who misses the good ol’ days of crime fighting. Some have retired from this second life, some have not, but all get drawn into events that quickly spiral out of control.
Snyder deserves praise for creating a visually stunning film and for not compromising, at least for certain parts (although, inexplicably, they caved when it came to a female smoking – guh???). If nothing else, this is not a film that was run through the Hollywood template, cleaned up for family-friendly PG-13 funtimes. It might’ve gotten into a couple scrapes with the template, but I think its soul survived just fine. As I said before, they really were damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t with much of the movie, and the fact that it kept me thinking about it a few days afterward – even though, as with the novel, I’m not sure whether or not I liked the film – means that they did something right.
There is plenty to complain about, from both audiences’ perspective. For Audience 1, the changing of the ending, while perhaps easier to plug into movie format, created a sterile, blah finale to what was in the book a stunning denouement. For Audience 2, the most egregious failing is that it’s simply far more gratuitous than it – or the novel, but they wouldn’t know it – had to be. The violence is ratcheted up to a point where action scenes are absolutely wince-inducing, and oh my the bad sex scenes. Zack Snyder did the same sort of drawn-out, gratuitous nudity sex scene in 300 that he does here, where he’s about three heartbeats and a bad music score away from pure porn.
For both audiences, the final sin might well be that this is too long of a movie that fails to really make an emotional connection with those watching it. You don’t really sense the fear of nuclear holocaust, many of the characters fail to become real, and the direction keeps veering wildly between gory action, somber pontification, and depressing atmosphere so that you simply don’t end up with anything. It’s a monolith of a film that falls through the cracks in your fingers as you try to handle it – something impressive, no doubt, but failing to be any one thing as it tries to be everything.
So, passing grade on Watchmen, and at least we can put it all behind us. Oh, and give Rorschach his own spin-off, please!
- Nathan Fillion was considered for the roles of The Comedian and Nite Owl. Darren Aronofsky and Paul Greengrass were both previously scheduled to direct.
- The first official image from director Zack Snyder – a test shot of Rorshach holding The Comedian’s button – was actually hidden in a trailer for Snyder’s previous film, 300. It features the film’s associate producer, Wesley Coller, wearing a makeshift mask in front of a composite New York backdrop, and was created as an experiment by Snyder to establish the mood and look of his proposed Watchmen project. Snyder’s wife, Deborah Snyder, bet him $100 that no one would discover it, while he was convinced that someone would find it almost immediately. He won.
- Did you notice Ozymandias’ German accent when he’s not in public?
- Nite Owl and Silk Spectre look a lot like Clark Kent and Lois Lane.
- Tears for Fears “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” playing in Veidt’s lobby? Brilliant.
- Soundtrack is a series of amazing songs, although it’s debateable how well they fit together as an album. Bow to the power of “99 Luftballons”!
Nite Owl: At least I’m not the one still hiding behind a mask.
Rorschach: No, you’re hiding in plain sight.The Comedian: Here I am spilling my guts to my arch enemy. Truth is, Moloch, you’re the closest thing I have to a friend. What does that say?
Silk Spectre: Breaking into a national security prison is not the same thing as fighting a tenement fire.
Nite Owl: You’re right. It’s more fun.
Lee Iacocca: And we all know ‘free’ is just another word for communist.
Rorschach: Funny story. Sounds unbelievable. Probably true.
Rorschach: You keep calling me Walter. I don’t like you.
Dr. Malcolm Long: Oh… why not?
Rorschach: You’re fat.
If you enjoyed this film, try:
- V for Vendetta
- Sin City