Watchmen

728_watchmen-2.jpgWhen the original Watchmen comic-book series began publishing, with a cover date of September 1986, the Cold War was still reality. The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, a battleground where it faced off against the U.S.-armed mujahideeen, was still grinding on, and the threat of nuclear annihilation was nightmare material for anyone who lived near a big city in the U.S. The so-called “Doomsday Clock,” a symbolic creation of atomic scientists that attempted to quantify the likelihood of global nuclear war, was set at three minutes to midnight. I was a teenager in Pueblo, Colorado, living about 35 miles from the NORAD facility inside Cheyenne Mountain, where the military kept an eye out for a Soviet nuclear-missile attack. Movies like Dr. Strangelove and War Games, which were partly set inside NORAD’s war room, had a special resonance on the Colorado’s Front Range. So did Watchmen.


Watchmen took place in an alternate reality that functioned in part as political parody — the joke was, in part, that this other universe where superheroes named Dr. Manhattan and the Comedian were behaving like Blackwater agents wasn’t so much a funhouse mirror turned on world events as merely a dark reflection of them. The first issue of Watchmen, written by Alan Moore, didn’t make conspicuous reference to global politics. Aside from a few signals (newspaper headlines, a red-headed crank’s “The End is Nigh” sign visible in the comic’s third panel) scattered among artist Dave Gibbons’ drawings, there was no indication this story would ultimately hinge on the fear of all-out nuclear war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. But there, on the cover of the comic book — dwarfed by the main-panel illustration of a smiley-face button in a stream of blood — was the Doomsday Clock itself, hands set, ominously, at 12 minutes to midnight. In this way, Moore and Gibbons subtly announced that their 12 issue miniseries would deal directly with the possible end of the world.

More than 20 years later, our world has moved on. The Russian threat isn’t that the country has nukes, but that it has lost track of them. Rogue states and radical terror groups are the new bogeymen, and it took only a single, spectacular terrorist attack in the U.S. to dramatically change the tenor of political discourse in this country. Not at all unrelated, the Afghanistan story continues to unfold. But the iconography of the times, the type of fear embedded in the collective unconscious, is different. ICBMs have been traded for dirty bombs, geopolitical brinksmanship for angry dudes on planes with box-cutters. Watchmen, however, remains mostly the same. All this is just to say I can’t imagine why a contemporary audience that doesn’t have anything already invested in the idea of Watchmen — in the memory, perhaps, of what it was like to read the book in the mid-1980s, when that shit was going down for real — would relate to this wry, complex commentary on what it felt like to be alive (and hanging out in comic-book stores) at that point in human history.

Director Zach Snyder, known for his skill at transferring the images out of Frank Miller’s violent faux-historical tableaux, 300, from the comic book to the screen, has worked largely the same magic with Watchmen. Signature images from the comic are duplicated to a fault, like washed-up superhero Nite Owl’s airship surfacing out of the East River, or the bathrobe-clad Comedian getting chucked out a plate-glass window, many stories up, by his unseen assailant. (Snyder holds that moment in unreal mega-slow-motion, just to prove to fans that he got it right.) Lines of Moore’s original dialogue are transcribed wholesale into the screenplay and mouthed by the cast. The story has not been brightened up considerably and maintains its airs of rumination and ambiguity; given that this is a Hollywood studio picture, Watchmen partisans counted that as a major victory months before the movie’s release. All these things are cited as evidence, by fans, that Snyder has been “faithful” to the original comics. And then the reasoning seems to go that if the comics were a success, and the film adaptation is faithful, then the adaptation, too, qualifies as a success.

Of course that’s a ridiculous notion. If Watchmen is more or less “faithful” to the original comics, that just means that Snyder, in deciding how best to interpret them, opted not to change the main story points and often drew on the comic book panels as if they were storyboards. That’s all. The idea of faithfulness as it’s been discussed doesn’t speak to the tone of the film. It doesn’t address the way Snyder has opted to juice up the fight scenes, often depicted as just a panel or two in the source material, by adding all manner of bone-crunching, blood-gushing body blows. It doesn’t consider the casting decisions, which skew to young and beautiful where the original characters were over the hill and paunchy. It doesn’t account for the fact that, while the comic was laid out and illustrated in a fastidious and mostly unfussy manner that cemented its relation to comics conventions while making its departures from panel-drawing tradition all the more striking, the movie has a totally contemporary, HDTV-ready CG gloss, its herky-jerk rhythm determined by Snyder’s generous deployment of very of-the-moment speed-ramping techniques. Finally, it doesn’t consider the question of whether, 20 years on, a faithful film adaptation of Watchmen was worth making at all.

The comics are brilliant comics. One of their most dazzling techniques is the sometimes playful manipulation of narrative space on the printed page. In one of the 12 issues, the panel layout is symmetrical from start to finish — start in the centerfold and move both forward and backward and you’ll see that the pages mirror each other as you move through the book — a nod to the mirror-image layout of the Rorschach blots from which the story’s twisted and paranoid signature character takes his name. There are multiple narratives, too. The final pages of each issue are dedicated to excerpts from books, magazine articles, and other documents that are purported to exist in the world of Watchmen. Panels from a purportedly popular comic series, Tales of the Black Freighter, are interspersed with the main narrative, with the speech bubbles from the main story overlapping the pirate drawings and material from the pirate narrative appearing in main-story panels. How does that translate to film? Well, Snyder’s created an animated version of Black Freighter that’s available for sale on DVD — and may end up interpolated into the narrative in some upcoming ultimate-director’s-edition DVD and Blu-ray release. It makes a kind of business sense. But, really, what’s the point?

Watchmen is often described in shorthand as “the Citizen Kane of comic books,” meaning it’s a high-water mark for the medium and illustrates the unique possibilities of comic-book narratives. But consider Citizen Kane itself. Could you remake that film as a comic book? Well, you could. But you’d lose so much of what made the film special — the ground-breaking special-effects technology and deep-focus photography, Bernard Herrmann’s musical score, that audacious newsreel pastiche, and of course the commanding performance by wunderkind director Orson Welles — that the deed would hardly be worth doing without bringing something new to the table. (Perhaps Frank Miller could create a hard-boiled variant on the Kane mythology in his copious free time, now that The Spirit has torpedoed his again-nascent filmmaking career.) Similarly, Snyder’s assiduously reverent film version of Watchmen was likely doomed to some degree of mediocrity out of the gate for the very simple reason that he was afraid of changing the material.

We count on filmmakers who are adapting works of literature to display some allegiance to their source material, of course. (Nobody but the slowest children expect Romeo and Juliet to live happily ever after.) But, whether we realize it or not, we count on great filmmakers to interpret that source, and sometimes that requires undermining the original work. Stanley Kubrick, for example, famously turned the grim Cold War-themed novel Red Alert into an outrageous black comedy. David Cronenberg opted for a metatextual adaptation of Naked Lunch, making a fantastical biopic that broadly fictionalized elements from William S. Burroughs’ life, including the writing of Naked Lunch itself. Zack Snyder, of course, has nothing like that up his sleeve. In fact, he’s said in interview that part of the reason he took on the project was to help ensure that another director didn’t get a chance to have his way with the material, teasing, tousling and altering the sacred text. But it’s tantalizing to think of the other directors who have been attached to Watchmen over the years — Gilliam, Aronofsky, Greengrass — and to wonder how they would have bent it to meet their own strengths and sensibilities. Would Gilliam have applied his Rococo, Munchhausen-style whimsy to the subject? Would Greengrass have sent Dr. Manhattan and the Comedian to Iraq? Those movies may well have been disasters. But they would have been fascinating disasters, and they would have been a reflection of the sensibilities of their makers — the world of Moore and Gibbons’ Watchmen seen through the prism of another singular, uncommonly fertile creative mind.

If Snyder’s Watchmen is largely a slavish, unimaginative adaptation by a director who mistakes utter fealty for a virtue, what he’s done is still, on some level, quite impressive — there are stretches of Watchmen that work surprisingly well on the screen, not least among them the gorgeously mounted opening-credits sequence, which trips through the 20th century by placing Dr. Manhattan at the Kennedy White House and the Comedian on the grassy knoll at Dealy Plaza. Jackie Earle Haley’s incarnation of Rorschach, the kind of old-school right-wing crank who’d eat a timid publicity hound like Rush Limbaugh for breakfast, is frighteningly spot-on in both masked and unmasked versions. The long section in which Dr. Manhattan narrates his own origin story from the surface of Mars to the accompaniment of music from Koyaanisqatsi is so weird — and, for readers of the original comics, so freighted with consecutive frissons of recognition — that it’s downright riveting. In these moments, the film seems almost cerebral. And, truth be told, I’m a big fan of Billy Crudup’s Dr. Manhattan, whose sad-little-boy pout and supernatural demeanor (and glowing blue penis, I mean come on) had me expecting him to intone at any moment, “Dr. Manhattan does not make love. Dr. Manhattan is love.”

The action scenes are generic, compromised by Snyder’s decision to shoot them in nerd-cool mode rather than attempting to expose anything disquieting or, more to the point, sociopathic in the violence. The sexual-assault scene, a crucial moment in the comics series, is staged in truly brutal fashion — Biff! Pow! — a decision I questioned until I realized that the Comedian’s takedown of Silk Spectre was merely staged with the same bloody, high-decibel gusto that Snyder brought to all of the film’s violent scenes; this scene’s pure hatefulness may call the film’s more conventionally exciting body blows into question, as well. (It’s the one moment during the whole film where I felt the midnight-show audience tense up and gasp, involuntarily reacting to the ugliness on screen.) There’s also a flashback to Dr. Manhattan’s body-bursting adventure in Vietnam, where the U.S. military used him as a weapon against Vietcong soldiers, that’s scored to “The Ride of the Valkyries.” The nod to the horrors depicted in Apocalypse Now would qualify as a ballsy choice if it appeared in a more sober film. Here, it seems a bit glib. Any case Snyder makes for the pathological nature of superhero violence is undermined by his uncritical embrace that kind of rock-em sock-em action, with attendant crack bones and gushing blood, elsewhere in the film.

Worst of all, I’m afraid, is Snyder’s idea of a sex scene, which he seems to have cobbled together after attending a comprehensive Zalman King retrospective. As a proponent of more liberal attitudes toward sexuality in mainstream movies, I struggled not to cackle aloud as poor Malin Akerman arched her back, threw back her head, and elevated her breasts, which were bathed in blue light like something out of an 80s Bruckheimer film, with Patrick Wilson grinding away at her, Cinemax-style, to the incongruous musical accompaniment of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Somehow, the two of them manage not to look embarrassed. (Fleshbot has a link to the full scene, if you’re interested.)

And then there’s the squid. God, this movie could have used a giant squid. In the final chapters of the Watchmen comic books, the villain’s master plan is revealed. Long story short, it has to do with the creation of a huge, sentient being that strongly resembles a squid, with a brain cloned from a human “sensitive.” The giant squid would be teleported into Manhattan, and upon its death it would unleash a “psychic shockwave” that would kill half of New York City. And here’s the thing: all of humankind would believe that the gigantic carcass dropped in midtown is the harbinger of an alien invasion, and would draw together against the new perceived threat, forgetting the long-standing grudge match playing out between superpowers in the Middle East. The opening pages of the final issue are a series of splash panels depicting the destruction, with bodies littering the streets of New York, finally alighting on the disgusting and somehow blackly hilarious image of the squid-thing itself, its sphincter of a mouth pinched closed, its single eye uncomprehending. Utterly dead on arrival.

Maybe that would be difficult to dramatize on screen, though as imagery for the sake of imagery goes, it’s probably the single most unforgettable element in the entire original story. To me, Watchmen without the giant squid just isn’t Watchmen. As Adrian Veidt, the putative world’s smartest man, planned it, the squid’s appearance — grotesque, bizarre, inexplicable — would be the greatest, grandest practical joke ever played. And that’s why the series begins with the death of a mercenary called the Comedian — Veidt’s master plan meant that the kind of chaos and violence that the Comedian reveled in would become a thing of the past. (As an attack on New York City, it would also have an uncomfortable post-9/11 resonance, which is the kind of thing that Cloverfield, especially, made hay of. To some degree, Watchmen seems to be trying to avoid that issue.)

Snyder opted instead for a more conventional ending, in which Dr. Manhattan is framed for a series of explosions that level cities all around the world. Humanity shapes up its act because it’s worried that it will be punished again by the big blue guy, and Manhattan himself agrees to play the patsy, taking the rap because it serves the greater good. (In this way, the ending of Watchmen isn’t much different from the ending of The Dark Knight. Both films feature thoughtful, largely selfless heroes sacrificing their own reputations in order to give the populace a fiction it desperately needs.) People I talk to don’t have a problem with the missing squid. In fact, most of them say they think Snyder’s ending “works better.” If they mean it “makes more conventional narrative sense” then well, yeah, maybe it does. But if we’re expected to applaud changes that are made to move Watchmen closer to a conventional Hollywood narrative, then why is the movie’s “faithfulness” to the original text being touted as such a virtue? I am sure about one thing: I’ve seen plenty of movies where a modern city is leveled by a nuclear explosion, or something very much like it. That’s one of the cinematic legacies left by the Cold War — the big nuke. But I’ve never seen a movie where half of New York is killed by the sudden materialization of a giant faux-alien squid. And I’d really like to see that movie. I kinda hoped Watchmen might be it. So I’m stuck in a somewhat untenable position — I spent most of the movie scorning Snyder for his hamstrung reverence to the original stories, and then I spent the last half-hour resenting him for changing my favorite part. With some projects, I guess, a director just can’t win.

In a Similar Vein (related by tags)

  • Henri Casanova

    Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever read a movie review with which I agreed to such an embarrassing extent :)

  • Anon

    Spot on review. Best.

  • Kelly

    No, I read the comic…and yes, the mirror flippys were wonderful…

    But I actually thought the squid was moronic and presumptuous back then? OK, lets assume a squid or a tribil or a giant fuzzy pink slipper attacks NYC or LA or Tokyo…

    Im sure each country will exhaust its armys and weapons trying to kill it. But lets assume the fake fuzzy is bigger and better than 1 army, and it takes more firepower? Great…so the country next door, or the superpower up the continent loans them planes, guns, even dozens of nukes…

    That still wouldnt necessarily or absolutely point towards societal unification, which was the presiding them of the original ending. Everyone would unite because they feared they had to in order to defeat aliens.

    I always believed back then, the russians and the americans would be shooting at each other to be the 1st to try and NEGOTIATE with the aliens. I never for a moment thought the squid/alien idea would have been enough to convince the superpowers to stop their greed and their arguing over who deserves it all…

    The movie ending probably would have…because it threated the same level of destruction, with a known and provable source…and it also PROVED and SHOWED the danger and horror of the nuclear war on a worldwide scale (since they supposedly did many major cities).

    Was it compact and quick for nixons speech? sure. Was the squid better? NO!

    Yeah, a giant squid hasnt trashed NYC yet, all weve had is a weird alien godzilla clone with infectuous offspring, a big monkey, a meteor shower, armys of vampires, and of course a big snowstorm. And thats just the past decade or so…

    The squid in and of itself wouldnt have shocked or drawn us in, weve all seen NYC blasted by so many directors…perhaps the point wasnt to watch it anymore…

    Was it a perfect movie? God no. Did it do homage to the comic? Mostly, Id say every bit as much or more than LORD OF THE RINGS, and people still kneel and hail at that work? (The army of the dead was 3 sentences in the book, and not mentioned as a factor in the battle of Minas Tirath…Aragorns return and flying his banner was what turned the tide, because 10s of thousands of people showed up that Sauron never expected…when they heard the King had returned and was leading the army). All movies change source…they have to because you cant deliver the same message in 2 completely different mediums. And especially not a book that may take average readers weeks or even months…in 2 hours?

    It was a good movie. A bit dark. I didnt care for the casting at all ASIDE from Rorshach, and the banter and the mood of the interpersonals was lost alot (hell, ozymandias is hardly seen till the end?). Will I watch it again, yes. Will I rent the extended edition. Yes. Do I recommend it to everyone? YES. Do I tell them its the best movie of all tyme and they will wanna see it twice? No of course not…it wasnt perfect. 20 years too late, poor casting, some rough edges, a bit darker than needed most of the tyme. But its definately an experience, and worth seeing.

  • c wayne

    I agreed with most of this, and your central argument I thought was spot on.

    The thing about Snyder’s adaptation is that he left out so many things, but left in the effects of those things. You really have to have read Watchmen, I believe, to get what’s going on. Otherwise I think the movie would seem nearly incoherent in terms of plot, a really dumb action hero flick that fails to a general audience because they aren’t emotionally invested in these characters, as they are in Bruce Wayne or whomever. Now that was why the novel worked. The movie fails, though, because it pretty much turned out to be the antithesis of Moore’s vision. (That’s why I am stunned so many commentators are speaking of Snyder’s faithfulness to the text).

    For example, by changing the ending and leaving out the backstory about the island, the artist, the “alien” (etc.), the movie is completely changed. A better director would have checked continuity, but I feel Snyder just said, “Ah, fuck it, everybody knows the book ain’t perfect anyway” and just forged on. So when you now have the Comedian crying to Moloch over a conspiracy that, in the movie’s reconstructed plot, never takes place, that MAKES NO SENSE… Why would Comedian be crying over Dr. Manhattan and Adrian Veldt collaborating over a global alternative energy solution? Why leave the “your name was on the list too,” when you change the entire conspiracy that served so crucial to Moore’s plot? Snyder should have done what good directors do, and that is to treat the film like his own work, with an eye to balancing continuity, and not just letting it ride and hoping the audience can put this mess together. I can truly understand why Moore would have nothing to do with this. When I had heard Watchmen was being adapted to film, I was like, “Oh, how the hell are they going to do [insert half the novel’s plot here]?” And then I heard what Snyder was going to do, and I was like, “Meh, the movie will probably suck then because there’s no way you can rewrite Watchmen.” It’s too bad.

    There are a lot of continuity errors like this that I noticed, but that is definitely a big one. I also found that I didn’t care about the psychiatrist or the people at the news stand now that Snyder has seen fit to take their backstory out, but still leave them as characters. They are just amorphous New Yorkers now. On top of that, Hollis Mason’s role is so cut back now that one wonders what he even adds to the plot at all. A drinking buddy for the new Nite Owl? Why bother? Hollis’ murder at the hands of a petty gang of rightwing vigilante kids is such a gripping and meaningful part of Watchmen, a small metaphor of Moore’s entire abstract message about society. The film is sorely lacking because of its absence. Also, to leave out “Under the Hood” (or to replace it with an opening montage) radically alters the story. Instead of balancing that with the new vision of this film, Snyder just forges on. That was just the tip of the iceberg. I felt like the film (had I not read Watchmen and already had a frame of reference) unravels the longer it goes. It’s almost as though it leaves out/leaves in the wrong information.

    So I enjoyed the movie based on knowing what it was trying to accomplish, but as for my wife or friends who have never read Watchmen, I know now I am going to have to defend myself against, “What’s so great about this? You’ve been going on about this piece of crap for years. I didn’t even get it…” And I’ll have to once again tell people to read Watchmen (which, as you mention, is beginning to get a little dated anyway–people under 27 will have no idea about the Cold War or its dynamic) and take the movie with a huge grain of salt.

  • “So when you now have the Comedian crying to Moloch over a conspiracy that, in the movie’s reconstructed plot, never takes place, that MAKES NO SENSE… Why would Comedian be crying over Dr. Manhattan and Adrian Veldt collaborating over a global alternative energy solution? Why leave the “your name was on the list too,” when you change the entire conspiracy that served so crucial to Moore’s plot?”

    Isnt he crying over the conspiricy to give a bunch of peopel cancer and, stead of a psychic squid, to detonate manhatten energy signature bombs around the world? its a slightly different conspiracy (and bombs arent as nasty as massiv egenetic experimentation on sensitives) but its still a conspiricy. And cancer would still seem a heck of a lot meaner to a good old fassioned `beat and shoot’ kind of guy like comedian. Or am I filling in gaps with my own mind?

    As to the review. Yeah, kind of agree, kind of dont, onyl just saw the movie, have to think about it more.

    Although… I think the `amped’ up violence is as much a responce to super-hero movies as anything. Watchmen was a comic abotu comcis, in many ways, so making a watchmen movie has to be abotu comic movies too in my mind. Subtly altering rorshach to be a bit more wolverinish than even his original question/darker aspects of batman shtick was. Cheesiing up Nite-Owl just that little bit more. `Modernising’ his, silk spectre II and ozimiandez’s costumes all fit under that banner too. And I liked the barefaced honesty of making them all a little more `super’. A non-powered human, even an excellent martial artist, shouldnt be able to beat more than 3 thugs let alone 20 (sure the alley scen where Lauri and Dan beat the gang in the comics was what, a half page? (dont have the book with me), but they were still ridiculousy outnumber and a fight that they shouldnt realsitically be able to win) so just flat out admiting that the things they do are really impossible and just going with that, kind of worked in my mind.

    I might even give a similar appology to the addmitedly clunky soundtrack. Maybe Snyder is amking a comment about action movie soundtracks general heavy handedness? Again, possibly just me `wanting’ to like the movie more than Ia ctually may have. Hmm, I think Rorshaqs narating style has effect my commenting technique.

    Earl

  • Joshua Campbell

    You suck.

  • Sandra D. M.

    My story is this: First of all, I’m 21 and a fan of comics (and female, if you care). I’d heard of Watchmen before but never read it, but when the movie came out, I borrowed the book from the library and got to read only the beginning of it before seeing the movie. When I did see it, I LOVED it. I’ve seen it twice so far, actually. And I’ve just finished reading the book.

    So, this goes to show that not only do you NOT have to have lived through the Cold War to appreciate the story, you also don’t have to have read the book to appreciate and understand the movie. In fact, I think the trap a lot of you graphic novel fans are falling into is watching the movie while expecting it to be just like the book. Watch the movie again. There aren’t as many plot holes and inconsistencies as you seem to think. (For instance, as stated elsewhere here, The Comedian is crying to Moloch over a real conspiracy which he uncovers in the movie’s plot, not over a conspiracy that only exists in the book’s plot.) If you pay attention to the dialogue and forget whatever pre-conceived notions you have from the book, you’ll find that the movie makes just as perfect sense as the book did, except it does so more economically. It gets rid of elements that don’t need to be there and streamlines elements that are crucial to the plot.

    And why all this fuss over the altered ending? The movie’s ending makes more sense, not because it fits some contrived Hollywood formula but because–and I mean this–dropping a dead squid on top of New York is stupid. I facepalm to think that people thought that was brilliant, serious storytelling back in the day. (No offense to the writers, of course. Preventing global annihilation is a tall order, and you did your best and pulled it off. It took a couple decades, after all, for someone to figure out how to make a better ending.) I think, Ozymandias, that your name was well chosen, because I don’t see how an empire built on a comical alien octopus can last very long.

    In short, Watchmen the book is dated and imperfect. What the movie did was try its best to tell the same story while appealing to modern sensibilities, and I think it did a brilliant job. The negativity I see expressed here strikes me not so much as unbiased, objective opinion on the movie’s merits and faults but as baseless complaining of fans who didn’t want their comic to be made into a movie anyway.

    P.S. Kudos to Jackie Earle Haley for being an amazing Rorschach.

  • Bill

    I didn’t have the benefit of reading the graphic novel, so all I can comment on is the movie.

    What a mess.

  • Anonymous

    Zach Snyder’s a Michael Bay who thinks he’s making ‘cinema.’

  • John

    I saw this movie for the second time tonight, along with my wife.

    We are 23 and 22, and have never read a comic book in our life.

    This movie completely blew me away.

    I rarely enjoy movies. I see a lot, because my wife likes to, but I’m very critical. A single bad line can pretty much ruin a show for me. A weak acting performance can as well.

    The characters were complex and consistent, the visuals were great, and the dialogue was just enough to fill me in on enough of the story to convey the most important themes.

    It seems like the genre served as a conduit for an examination of complex themes that are not so accessible in another format.

    I could talk about what the story says, but I think you all know. I’m just saying that as someone with no previous knowledge of the story the movie was sufficient to carry me along and bring me back for more.

    Additionally, I HATE graphic violence, and this was one of the more violent movies I’ve seen. I loved it in spite of the violence, and can’t imagine it being successful without it.

    I almost immediately sensed that the writers knew exactly what they were doing, and that I could trust them with every detail. I started paying very close attention as a result, and was rewarded, I felt.

    The weakest acting in this show, I thought, was the girl, silk specter II. and the weakest point was the porn-like sex scene. But she was not that bad, and with other characters giving me so much to think about – like the comedian, silk specter I, John, Daniel, adrien, Roshrack -I apologize for butchering names and spellings- I didn’t need lauri or whatever her name was to be anything more than she was, essentially a glue holding some of the other characters together and highlighting aspects of their personalities.

    I liked it just as much the second time around, and my wife said she liked it 100X more the second time, once she was thinking more about the complex ideas driving it.

    I’ll definitely be reading the graphic novel now.

    – one last thought. I’m about to start a grad program in creative writing, and I think all the forced examination of stories I’ve experienced as a creative writing undergrad probably served to help me out in appreciating this story. I’ll say though, that my experience as a (quite poor) writer generally results in less satisfaction with movies. This was a rare experience in which the writing absolutely never let me down. Not even for a second, not even in the weakest points.

  • Dave

    Perfect review. Wow.

  • Anonymous

    Dude, this film is for young 20-somethings, not post-cold war fogies who wouldn’t pay $10 to see a cheap action film. The fight scenes were for adrenaline rush, the dialogue spruced up for drama, everything made a little more glamorous because that’s what the DEMOGRAPHIC wants. If Snyder would have made the film for you, he would have made no money. I went to see it twice, I’ll admit, the film had a lot of turn-offs, but it was far from the failure disaster scenario you portray it as. No one wants to see movies about fat, over the hill, paunchy people. If we wanted to see movies about real life, we’d save ourselves the cash and go outside.

  • Anonymous, I know all about the demographic and I don’t have a problem with that. My question is, why Watchmen? Why not develop a similar R-rated property full of sex and violence that isn’t about fat, over-the-hill, paunchy people? Take bad-latex Nixon out, leave naked Malin Akerman in. I’d go see that movie.

  • You contradicted yourself in this review of WATCHMEN.

    First you slam Snyder for being so faithful to the original comic (!). Then you whine that the ending was missing the dead squid.

    Also, what’s with the remark about casting “young” actors for the film to play characters in the comic? Which actors exactly didn’t match the ages in the book? I don’t remember seeing Zack Ephron playing The Comedian. Again you seem to switch arguments when it suits you.

    Make up your mind.

    I usually enjoy your detailed reviews and agree with your opinions. But you, like many people, just didn’t ‘get’ the WATCHMEN movie. I love the comic too. I suggest you see WATCHMEN again, this time without the reviewer’s hat on.

    -Rod

  • Sharon

    Love all these comments. Love seeing all the people getting all riled up over Watchmen. Especially love the eloquent “You suck” comment, and love you for including it!

    Great review, as always, Bryant.

  • Anonymous

    It’s not embarrassing to agree. It’s OK not to disagree.

  • Steve

    Great movie, even greater comic book and a damn fine review here. IMO, the ending change could have been so much better and more relevant and more true to the spirit of what the original ending was trying to say.

    With that said, let me touch upon what I think makes the ending of the Watchmen comic so important to the central theme of the story itself and how I think the movie could have better incorporated these themes, even with an alternate ending, i.e. no squid.

    That is to say the implication that very own watchmen (those who are supposed to protect us, our government) can be, and may be complicit in creating the illusion of a massive attack on NYC for the so called greater good. 9/11 anyone? Any great book or comic is made even greater over time by those who someday read it and feel it foreshadows future events which are now known because they have come to pass. The Watchmen is no different here. The squid is symbolic of many people’s beliefs about 9/11, (it’s tentacles piercing the buildings so symbolically in the comic) and Adrian Veidt is somewhat symbolic of George Bush, (though Veidt and Bush may have had different reasons for what they did…both are pacifists willing to kill others for their agenda)…think of it that way, and suspend for a minute whatever you might believe about 9/11.

    Let’s assume that it actually was an inside job which fooled the people into thinking it was a “squid”, an act of terror created to fool people into thinking that it was carried out by an “Al-Queda Squid” so to speak. The motivations for such a fake attack are known only to those who planned it and carried it out, much as is the case with the motivations of Adrian Veidt who in the story wants world peace at the expense of human lives. If that is too much of a leap, consider that in the film, The Comedian is put on the grassy knoll and is shown to be responsible for the assassination of JFK. This was the world’s greatest conspiracy issue prior to 9/11 and if Comedian can be on the grassy knoll, I suggest that Adrian Veidt can be the mastermind behind 9/11, in some way pulling the strings.

    So instead of the ending that was shown in the film, they could have wrapped it all up better, IMO, and in a way that the current audience would more fully understands and feel threatened by, through suggesting that 9/11 (and actually showing the cataclysmic event at the end to be the 9/11 attack we saw it, just as Vietnam was referenced but twisted and also the assassination of JFK) was a fake act of terror, in the end pulled off by Ozymandias (and the film shows how he did it and why they all chose to cover it up except whistle blower Rorschach) for whatever his reasons were, most likely because he thought it would unite the world’s superpowers against the terrorist scapegoats, who even though they exist and are terrorists, were blamed or used as semi-participating scapegoats for the sake of the story, and for world peace.

    Better ending?

    I think so.

    Too scary though, and maybe too threatening if 9/11 really was an inside job. I’m not sure it was, I have my doubts about the official story but as an eager fanboy who bought my Watchmen comics back in the day in the comic store, I think comics are supposed to be bold and threatening to the status quo and at that time in 1986/87, The Watchmen was all that. The movie isn’t but could have been more so. Keep in mind also that these are all my own ideas, original thoughts and are not inspired by anything I read anywhere, so if there is a thread or a website somewhere that describes similiar themes s I’ve discussed there, I’d be interested in reading it and would appreciate a link. Thanks.

  • Anonymous

    For anybody who saw Stephen Kings “IT” you know a Giant squid only works in print. I thought the character Rorschach

    stole the whole movie. The fight scenes made you not ashamed to watch a superhero movie as an adult.Personaly i could do without the graphic sex scenes i think it narrowed its demographic. The movie ran a lil long an couldve done a better job fleshing out Ozymandious why is he super fast ? Is he geneticaly altered? his assasin a great character was not explored enough. Too much egyption myth not enough Genetic tampering to the destruction of mankind themes.It wouldve melded well with Dr Manhattans existential cavilling. Great soundtrack casting fit the Camp of the comic without being rediculous. Lets face it when has a Book or Comic ever translated verbatum to screen? Think of the Shining or even Jaws great books great movies completely different stories. Squid lovers wake up ! its all bout the “bomb” in the 80s.

  • Anonymous

    I see the squid thing in the comic less as a serious story telling mechanic, more as a subversion (like the rest of the book is: A SUBVERSION) of comic books at the time.

    I mean come on, giant squid teleported into new york city which would give out some sort of psychic mindblast when it died on impact which would then unite the world against a supposed alien attack, thus preventing nuclear war? It’s a moronic plot device slap bang in the middle of a book nearly completely devoid of, well, moronic plot devices.

    To me, that is EXACTLY why the squid needed to stay. It’s consistent.

    The rest of the book, and the movie, are a subversion of comics (and comic book movies.) No real “super” heroes, flawed people with fetishes for dressing up in strange costumes, bright colours against the dark plot (except in the film, but I personally think the film wouldn’t work any other way.) You look at the cover and see fairly typical looking superheroes and you get what is essentially a character drama.

    You get a tight, serious plot complete with existential noodling and moral grey areas and then all of a sudden you get a giant ****ing squid. It all makes perfect sense to me.

    Anyway. Us UK-er’s haven’t been bestowed the privlege of a release of the director’s cut yet. It’s out in the US, right? Anyone seen it yet? Any good?