Last night, one of my friends treated several of us to an early showing of The Watchmen – it was connected to a promo his friend’s company was doing. Here are my thoughts.
I’m writing this in two chunks – the first with no spoilers, and the rest with them. You have been warned.
My bias: I try pretty hard these days to judge translated-medium works on their own merits. No one could make a good movie out of the Lord of the Rings without changes, as we saw… and even then, it wasn’t a perfect translation. The same goes for most every other medium-crossing I can think of; it’s the reason most movies about game properties are garbage. So – I didn’t expect and didn’t want the movie to be a picture-perfect rendition of the comic. I wanted it to be its own thing that works as a movie.
Go see it. The movie isn’t perfect – the pacing snags a couple times here and there, there are a couple scenes where the chemistry is pretty meh, and I found the musical selections somewhat jarring at points. But overall, I think if you’re willing to spend ~$10 to see a superhero movie, this is very worthwhile.
The movie stays close to many of the questions Moore raised in the original comic – my favorite being, what would REALLY happen if there were superheroes? What happens when they start getting old? What if you were someone turned essentially into an omnipotent immortal by a freak accident – what would your outlook on life be in 5 years? 10? 50? The movie stays true to these questions (and a number of others), and does its best to create a work that is both faithful to the book and actually works as a movie.
If you have any interest in comics and the history of the superhero in American culture, both the book and the movie are worth the time.
As a final note – when I went last night, it was with three other nerds. All of us know comics at least a bit, one of us is a serious comics junkie, and one of us had never read the Watchmen. All of us enjoyed it – and talked about it all the way home. Natch, this doesn’t mean that you will lilke it – but we did.
Keeping in the theme of cross-medium translations needing to change from the original to be good, I wanted to highlight one of the things I think the movie does that I really enjoyed, and that a comic couldn’t do.
There are only a handful of combat scenes in the movie – the Comedian’s death, Rorschach’s capture, the fight in the alley with Miss Jupiter, Night Owl, and the thugs, and the fight at the end. Each one cinematically emphasizes the skill and toughness of the people involved; these people can take hits that would kill other people outright, and their combat prowess is at least an order of magnitude above a normal person. At the same time – they’re also human. They don’t shoot eyebeams at people, fly, or anything else… they’re still human. This is in stark contrast to the final fight, where Ozymandius does to these people what they did to common thugs. And then all of it is put in further perspective by Dr. Manhattan – who swats Ozymandius like a fly.
This brought into stark relief the differences between these people – the “regular” superheroes, Ozymandius the “perfect man”, and a Dr. Manhattan who doesn’t even pretend to be human anymore. And I think though the comic showed some of this, it was something that a movie could show much better.
The movie is definitely sexed-up a bit from the original – but I also think you’d have a heck of a time selling this movie to the public as anything but camp if you stayed completely true to the original 80′s style – there’s no way it wouldn’t be jarring.
The ending of the movie has been changed slightly – same overall thrust of things, but the means is somewhat different. I can’t fault that – doing it like the original comic would have necessitated a 3-4 hour movie. But some of the choices made to suit this new take definitely aren’t as good as the ones made in the comic.
My biggest complaint is that Ozymandius ends up pretty two-dimensional. From the comic I really felt for the guy on some level – yes he was an egomaniac and mass murderer, but once confronted with the shiny red button of world salvation, how could he turn away? If you do really believe that you’re the only one that can save things… at what price your cowardice? In the end, I felt he was just a bit too close to your paper Bond villain, and a little too far from a real person. And that’s a shame, since the whole thrust of the plot plays on the moral ambiguity around the final choices everyone makes in Antartica.
I’d say go watch it, even if you’re a hardcore fan of the comic who is ready to be disappointed. My reasoning is thus: my friends and I talked about the movie and the comic for the whole 45 minute ride to my house, and then I stayed up with my wife an hour more talking to her about it. Watching the movie left me with an even greater appreciation for the original work, and discussing them both helped me see some things that the movie did really, really well. And anything that makes me find new value in one of my favorite works of literature is good in my book.
Frankly, this is the first movie review I’ve ever tried to do – I’m sure it shows! It’s really more just my thoughts given some form of coherency. Please hit me with any comments you want, questions you have, or (polite, please) disagreements. I’m happy to discuss.