The World Watches the Watchmen
* Possible Spoilers*
This review is at the request of a few friends who have asked for a more in-depth opinion than I can give with a few words or simple sentences. The scope of the movie and the book is too large, and I feel like I’m doing both a dis-service to sum my feelings about them up in a few phrases like “it’s good.”
I felt like the movie did the book justice in almost all of the areas where it should have. It eliminated bits that would NEVER have been able to work on film. The inserts of “Tales of the Black Freighter” would have added at least 30 minutes onto the three hour run-time, and confused the hell out of the audience. I’m not ashamed to admit I still don’t appreciate what purpose it served in the book. I’m sure if I really took the time to examine, it would become apparent to me – but at this juncture…*shrug*. Maybe one of you can better explain it to me than I’ve managed to discern for myself.
But really – the directors and writers and producers obviously took great care in determining what should be kept and what shouldn’t. And that is much appreciated by fans of the original source material. Well, this fan at least.
One bone of contention I had was with the gratuitous sex scene in the middle of the movie. It was alluded to in the graphic novel, but in a wise move, was not shown in needless detail. I’m going to chalk the inclusion of it up to the director Zack Snyder‘s penchant for sex scenes – re Dawn of the Dead 2004 and 300. I watched both Watchmen and 300 in the theatres – and both sex scenes played out to giggles and chortles with the audience. Completely destroying the mood it seems to intend and drawing the audience out of the film.
I’m going to intervene on the behalf of sex scenes with the excuse that – we just don’t see them anymore. Around the mid 90’s sex scenes dropped off the map, but they used to be featured in most action-adventure films, thrillers. Some of the most memorable to me are Terminator and Top Gun – but you just don’t find love scenes like that anymore. Sure, there might be thrusting and rolling around under the sheets and a bit o’ hip movement…but sex scenes used to be the norm, and now they are almost distracting, especially for a younger audience that has grown up without a visual display of this on-screen carnal knowledge.
But in this particular film, the indication of sex occurring would have sufficed just fine for the majority of us.
One more aspect which has stuck in the craw of many fans is the ending. It used to include the somewhat unbelievable twist of aliens taking over, and the world uniting to defeat them. The aliens completely took me out of the gritty noir-ish world of the Watchmen in the original ending, and I remember actually being disappointed with the inclusion of this plot element. It seemed like a Deus ex Machina unworthy of what had gone before it.
The idea of Ozymandias using Dr. Manhattan to create a device together, and ultimately Dr. Manhattan taking the blame for the destruction resonated with me. And to be honest – it had been over a year since I read the material, so that ending seemed about right in my brain. The dramatic irony for the film audience is there – we all know John is innocent, but the people of his world do not. It gives John more stake in everything.
And it also gives him more of an incentive to leave. It further demonizes the down-trodden heroes in the eyes of the public and completely writes off the idea of their future usefulness. Visually – it was much more stunning and emotionally impacting – especially the scene where the kid and the newspaper stand vendor hug as the shockwave rumbles towards them. Unfortunately, audience members who haven’t read the book won’t be as impacted by that moment as people who already have a knowledge of that relationship.
And it could be argued that the world would then blame the US for Manhattan’s going ape-shit…but the US is attacked as well. It works. It increases the drama and doesn’t lose the emotional signifigance of the deaths.
Another fan brought up how Nite Owl II was able to take the moral high-ground with his beating of Ozymandias, but I would have to disagree on that end. The audience is able to see just ineffectual his anger is, and he ultimately caves and says nothing about his knowledge of the destruction. He becomes just as much a supporter of it as he does in the graphic novel. Indeed – he and Silk Spectre II are not given much sympathy in the movie. In the novel, they discuss the implications and share an intimacy – sealing their compact with their own immoral acceptance of what Ozymandias has done.
In the movie – Dan doesn’t follow Rorschach into the snow to make a stand against the deaths. His punching of Ozymandias is useless, and that is shown by Ozymandias taking the blows and not responding in kind. It’s obvious to the audience that these characters accept what has been done.
Another thought I had about the movie/novel is how dated it appeared on the screen. What I enjoyed about V for Vendetta was the aspect of timelessness – it could have been taking place in the future or in an alternate present. Watchmen takes place in an alternate past, and is a victim of some horrendous aspects of the 80s (mostly in wardrobe). Though it would have caused endless controversy with the fans – I would have liked to see all reference to a time period eliminated. So precisely dating material chips away at it’s ability to be relevant to everyone. I’m sure what I’ve uttered is pure blasphemy to many…but I’ve given this position quite a bit of thought.
While comic book storylines don’t have to be dated – their visual representation on the page is always going to be trapped in a bubble of the time period is which it was created. I wince at the artwork from 1980, I wince at the bad costumes and hair…and am thankful that even though the X-Men adaptations didn’t include their costumes or accurate representations, they weren’t stuck in the 80’s representations of themselves. Although Storm in a mohawk would have probably been better than any of Halle Berry’s wigs.
The rest of the elements of the film – the visuals, the capturing of the nihilistic vibe, the pathetic-ness of many of the characters, the bad-ass fight scenes, and even the score – were enough to satisfy me as a fan of the novel. The soundtrack sort of bled through in some points of the film in an uncomfortable way, and it would have been fine with an absence of a few songs.
But the flashbacks were handled well, the opening credit sequence delivered a lot of the backstory and exposition which needed to be in place in order for the audience to grasp who these characters are and get behind them. This is a great use of opening credits, and I wish other comic book flicks would pick up on this – that way eliminating the need to spend more film time than necessary focusing on backstory which could easily be told in a few key scenes.
Look – this could have been much, much worse. This is coming from someone who watched a beloved cast of characters with the chance at a decent plot suffer through the shitty bullshit that was X3. If your favorite book is ever perverted in that manner, than you have solid grounds for bitch-festing.
What I’m going to suggest is that fans of the graphic novel watch the movie before denouncing it. And that those who’ve watched the movie – read the graphic novel as a more intense supplement to what they’ve seen on the screen. The best part of this movie is that it’s a love-song to the book, and will encourage a new audience to pick it up and better understand the source material. Which is what any good book-to-film adaptation should do.