Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Watchmen: A Review (Review #1)


The Movie Will Always Be Different From the Book.

This is one of the Golden Rules of Filmmaking, and the success or failure of a film version depends not on what was left in or cut out, but on whether both a neophyte to and a fan of the material can enjoy and appreciate the film itself.

For example, I've enjoyed both the book and film versions of 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas, Gone With the Wind, and The Lord of the Rings. While I noticed the changes and the missing characters, the adaptations worked well on their own apart from the source material.

I can't say the same about Watchmen.

Whether the filmmakers opted to stay too loyal to the source material or the marketing suggested a franchise, Watchmen left me with no desire to delve deeper into this universe. In fact, at times it had the audience laughing at what were meant to be serious, even romantic moments.

Image result for watchmen movieOne of the Watchmen, The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), is murdered. Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), another Watchmen who is on the lam, suspects it's a plot to kill off the remaining members of the group. With that, Rorschach contacts either directly or via another Watchman the remaining members to warn them.

You have the nebbish Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), the self-proclaimed super-genius Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), the beautiful Silk Specter II (Malin Akerman), taking over the title from her alcoholic mother, and Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), a man who via an accident has turned into a blue semi-god who can transport himself anywhere, can see past, present, and future, and has a very noticeable member.

Of course, the murder is really a diversion from the real plot, which involves nuclear annihilation between the Soviet Union and the United States under longtime President Richard Nixon (who in this alternate universe has been reelected numerous times).

Let's go over some of the problems with Watchmen.

Problem 1: Voice-Over Narration. I'm not a big fan of voice-overs, preferring to let the visuals tell the story themselves. It can work at times (the original cut of Blade Runner being a good example), but by and large it's a distraction and an irritant. I hate when a character is telling me what I am watching.

A part of that problem involves the voices themselves. Jeffrey Dean Morgan looks and sounds so much like Javier Bardem from No Country for Old Men that I actually thought it was Bardem as The Comedian. Jackie Earle Halie's Rorschach sounds like he's channeling Christian Bale's Batman, and Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan has a soft, gentle, monotone that gives HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey a run for his money.

I get what they're going for. I just don't accept it.

Image result for watchmen movieProblem 2: The Structure. By staying so true to the original you had backstories being told almost two hours into the movie itself. What would have been wrong with telling us all this information from the get-go? It worked for SupermanSpider-Man, and X-Men. People could come into these films and learn about the characters. One could not do that with Watchmen, due to the film's slavish devotion to stay exactly like the book.

My feeling is that a more straightforward adaptation would have upset the fans, and this movie was made for them, not me.

Problem 3: The Target Audience. A movie that appeals only to those "on the inside" won't be any fun for those who are being introduced to these characters. I've read and heard other critics who say if you haven't read the book, you won't be lost. I followed the story but felt there were things I was missing because I didn't read it. Again I felt so removed from things that I didn't feel so much adrift but disinterested.

Problem 4: The Visuals & Music. You have the Nixon War Room, which looks like the one from Dr. Strangelove. When Dr. Manhattan and The Comedian invade Vietnam, you have Ride of the Valkyries playing a la Apocalypse Now. For those who have seen those movies but haven't read the graphic novel, like me, it becomes distracting.

For those who haven't seen the movies or read the novel it becomes confusing and they don't get the references. Also, when you have songs like The Times They Are A-Changin', The Sound Of Silence, All Along the Watchtower, even a selection from Mozart's Requiem, you are taken out of the story and start to focus on the music, which is very good.

One can compliment the efforts to make this world similar to the graphic novel, but in the love scene between Silk Specter and Nite Owl, by echoing how it must have looked in the book the audience I saw it with were howling with laughter.

It did not help that with the exception of Haley the performances were rather blank.

Watchmen needed to be shorter and rewritten to have the non-Watchmen readers follow and enjoy it while keeping the spirit of the graphic novel the fans became devoted to. Something got lost in translation, and in the end that is what makes this film a failure. It didn't motivate me to want to read it and it didn't entertain me.

Watchmen is like a mixture of The Incredibles, X-Men, Cannibal Holocaust and Gore Vidal's Caligula, but in the end, the film won't inspire the devotion the book did except among those for whom the book is virtually sacred scripture. That's fine for them, but why would I bother revisiting something almost determined to keep me away?



  1. I agree with your comments, Rick.
    I don't feel as strongly as you do on the use of voice over narration in films since some of my favorite movies have at least some narration in them.
    Ultimately, as you point out, it is because of the filmmakers' desire to follow the comic book so closely that the movie does not (structurally) flow well.

  2. Some favorites that have voice over narration:
    The Big Lebowski, Raising Arizona (both by the Cohens), Fight Club, Snatch, Goodfellas, Sin City, and Double Indemnity.

  3. I haven't seen Snatch or the Coen Brothers' films and HATED Sin City, but the others are good. I don't object to voice overs, only when they are used to describe what is being seen on the screen.


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Thank you.