[[image:200903-watchmen1.jpg:L-R Peacemaker, Nightshade, Captain Atom, Thunderbolt, Blue Beetle and The Question:center:0]]The limited series comic book Watchmen was released by DC Comics more than 20 years ago. Written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, this comic was the start of a new age in the medium. Along with its contemporary, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, it deconstructs the superhero genre by showing us what extreme conditions can produce costumed crimefighters, what kind of personalities they have and what happens to them when they are considered illegal… all existing in an alternate 1985 timeline where Nixon is still the president of the United States and the world is living in the shadow of imminent nuclear war.
Because of the very rich and detailed storylinetold within the space of 12 issues and several fictional documents per issue, such as book exceprt, interviews, letters, news and magazine clippings to support the main narrative, almost everyone wants a Watchmen movie adaptation but decided that it was too complex and too nuanced to be distilled into a two hour (plus change) feature film.
How difficult would it be to translate the Watchmen to the big screen? From my point of view, the star of the Watchmen aren’t only the characters. It’s also the world which they live in, the quotable script, the story, the situations, the flashbacks, the narrative structure. They can make a thousand different variations of the origin of Superman in the movies and TV, live action or animated. But there can only be one way to tell Watchmen: the way Alan Moore written it.
Last night I saw the Watchmen movie adaptation directed by Zack Snyder, and did I like it?
Yes. It is by far the most faithful adaptation of any comic book to a movie I’ve ever seen.
It’s the best ensemble superhero movie ever – much better than Mystery Men (and way better than any of the WOLVERINE! – Featuring the X-Men Somehow movies). Each character is fleshed out fully during the main narrative as well as in a series of flashbacks. And the actors did their jobs well especially Jackie Earl Haley who makes an excellent and believable Rorschach, down to his raspy voice.
[[image:200903-watchmen2.jpg:Showdown at Karnak:center:0]]Here follows a nerdy SPOILER-FILLED review. Do not read further if you haven’t seen the movie or read the comic.
Firstly, the opening credits is an inspired piece of work. All the text pages at the back of the comic books with the excerpts of Hollis Mason’s book Under the Hood, the interviews and the articles are drawn upon to show a series of historical events in slow motion. Lots of details of the background of costumed crimefighting are revealed to the tune of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-changing”.
Secondly, the major change in the end. Anyone who’s not atively avoiding spoilers will have known that the endgame is changed from a gigantic, genetically engineered squid creature to the artificial reproduction and violent discharge of Dr. Manhattan’s powers. Somehow this doesn’t really bother me,because it made the same amount of sense for all the countries of the world to be united against the perceived threat and the filmmakers feared that the squid endgame wouldn’t translate well into live action. I would like to have seen how the the squid teleporting in, destroying a city and making millions more insane with its telepathic death throes work onscreen. But I’m a Lovecraft fan, so there.
What really bothered me was the exclusion of the final scene with Dr. Manhattan and Ozymandias. Here was a godlike creature, slowly losing his humanity. But when asked by Ozymandias if in the end he did good, Jon’s answer “Nothing ever ends” makes him realize that all his effort and sacrifice might have been in vain.
Another amusing change was when Jimi Hendrix sang, “Two riders were approaching, and the wind began to howl.” Since they didn’t use the hoverbikes like in the movie, you can’t really call them “riders” now can you? What else is missing? Notably the Tales of the Black Freighter comic juxtaposition, the fate of Hollis Mason the first Nite Owl, Rorschach returning to his apartment to obtain his spare mask after the jailbreak, most of the background character interaction in the streets, the electric cars and the funky bubble cigarettes.
[[image:200903-watchmen3.jpg:Is this the spoilerific ending to the Watchmen? Ain’t telling.:center:0]]
Thirdly, the story structure. The narrative follows almost exactly as the comic book. In fact I’d go so far as to say that the first three issues of the comic is 95% a match for its corresponding parts in the movie. The script, the visuals on screen, how the camera moves. The first time Rorschach speaks his line I got goosebumps.
Finally, there really isn’t anything I can add to it. I loved the story and the movie, and unlike other comic book movies, almost every other minute there is an iconic illustation that is made into a live action visual. For example, the only iconic illustration that was properly translated into a movie visual in Spider-Man 2 is Peter walking away from the dumpster in the alley after discarding his Spidey costume. In Watchmen, I was bombarded by these images constantly. I’d say Zack Snyder succeeded in creating 90% of these images (with the associated script) overall that I’m not bothered by the differences.
Plus there’s still the reported Watchmen Director’s Cut DVD that will be released and which clocks at just under 4 hours
If you haven’t read the comic, it doesn’t matter. The narrative and the background details are well structured. The mystery of the death of Edward Blake, which starts the story, unfolds fairly well, revealing details into the future as the story progresses, and into the past with flashbacks. This is one of the first deconstruction of the superhero mythology. You need to be a certain personality to want to wear a costume and fight crime.
Can a boy who saw his parents gunned down in an alley really grow up to wear a bait suit to scare and capture criminals? And if you really want to save the world from itself, do you really just wear a funny suit and patrol the streets at night? Or will you plan something more epic? What happens if most of you are just normal men and women trained to be fighting and performing at peak human physical capacity… and this other one guy has the powers and the perception of a god-like being? What happens when the government outlaws costumed vigilantes? Who retires and who still patrol the streets illegally? Why is there an oval-shaped blur over Dr. Manhattan’s glowy blue penis, crazy local censors?
Who watches the Watchmen?
I hope you do, to learn the answers of the forementioned questions and to enjoy the well-crafted movie.