By Nick Manteris · 0 Comments · Leave a Comment
March 6, 2009: I am looking at a blank page on a computer screen. The words come so slowly. Where do they come from?
August 28, 1995: I am reading a comic book …a graphic novel, actually. I am 21 years old. At some point, every single comic reader I’ve ever known has recommended it to me.
July 17, 2008: I am watching a trailer for the new Zack Snyder movie. The imagery is immediately familiar and every major scene from the graphic novel seems to be represented…also, the Smashing Pumpkins song is a really nice touch.
March 5, 2009: During the opening credits I witness an alternate world reenactment of Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famous V-J Day photo, masked crime-fighters murdered and driven mad, flower children gunned down and the man responsible for the death of JFK.
In less than twelve hours I will be writing the review that you are currently reading.
Watchmen is not the grand comic book action blockbuster that the marketing department wants you to buy tickets for, it is essentially a mystery story involving the murder of an amoral “hero.” The first real piece of action – besides the initial death – doesn’t even occur until an hour into the film and even that is crosscut with an interview. Which just happens to be the only scene with an overlapping narrative that survived the transliteration from page to screen.
In the 20+ years since it’s inception, Watchmen has been a monumental influence on everything in the genre. It was the first comic book to ask what the world would really be like if there were costumed vigilantes and a real superhero. It has changed the way that comics in general are perceived and many owe a huge debt to the series. It has also been idealized because of this reverence and was never designed to work in movie form. Snyder makes a commendable effort to film the unfilmable project, but he is too much of a fanboy to realize that he had an opportunity to make something that would transcend the graphic novel.
Any casual fan of the series will find enough to make the wait worthwhile, but anyone unfamiliar with the source material will probably be underwhelmed and possibly disappointed. Although, the general public might finally get it in another twenty years when the TV miniseries version comes out.
- Almost everything about Rorschach was handled much better than anyone could have asked for. (The scene with the cops and the lunch line scene are perfect examples of this...they were both improved from the original story.)
- The origin of Dr. Manhattan was also very well done.
- And the decision to remove the squid from the ending, which originally seemed like a terrible idea, was ultimately a much better way to end the movie…though it could have benefitted from even more deviation from the comic with Manhattan taking a more active role.
What didn’t work:
- The multi-layered storytelling from the comic is practically nonexistent in the film. The flashbacks are still there, but the overlapping narratives were just about completely abandoned. (For example, the first scene in the comic is the cops investigating the crime scene at the same time the assault is occurring, bookended by Rorschach’s journal entry and his own investigation of the apartment.)
- Snyder’s hyper-violence is really unnecessary most of the time…we don’t really need to see the exploded remains of the bad guys dripping from the ceiling onto their female companions, bones don’t need to break the skin when arms and legs are snapped and many of the characters probably wouldn’t kill so indiscriminately.
- Doctor Manhattan frequently looks pasted into the picture instead of there with the other actors and the motion capture on his face seemed to be off quite a bit as well.
- The adherence to the source material was overly fanatical…some updates in the same spirit would have been just fine. (The “smartest man in the world” has a password that can be broken in three guesses? C’mon, that’s a stretch…even in 1985.)
- With the exception of Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower,” all of the music in the film should have been rethought…even though “The Times They Are A-Changin'” worked well enough for the intro.