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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Watchmen (review)

Graphic Marvel

I reread Watchmen, the graphic novel [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon U.K.], which I had not read in at least a decade, just before I saw the film the other night. I’m not at all sorry I did, but I can appreciate that my supreme enjoyment of Zack Snyder’s adaptation of the 12-issue series may have been impacted by my fresh recollections of the alternative universe writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons so brilliantly invented in the comic. Snyder’s (300, Dawn of the Dead) Watchmen is probably the best three-hour version of the story that could be made, but it’s undeniably a story that would have been better served by a 12-hour miniseries — it would have been perfect for the Sci Fi Channel as long as it got a smart Battlestar Galactica-style treatment, not a cheesy-Saturday-night-movie treatment. Inevitably, much has been left out or truncated in the film, and whether too much has been lost may not be something I can fairly judge, since my brain was surely filling in any vital missing pieces.
Still… I’m not sure if that’s the case. Because even though I knew much is missing from the film, there were moments, while I was watching it, that I was hard-pressed to figure out what had been deleted. (Some of it is obvious — the Black Freighter stuff, which is coming to DVD as a standalone story soon [Region 1] [Region 2]; the missing-artists subplot — but some of it is not.) It all feels seamless… and it all feels as smart and as vital and as relevant as the source material always did. Nothing has been dumbed down in David Hayter (X2: X-Men United, The Scorpion King) and Alex Tse’s script, and that was my great fear, that it would be. (Moore is uncredited, per his own request, but so much of the language and the structure of the storytelling is his that he might as well have gotten the only credit.) The film assumes the same intelligence on the part of the viewer that the graphic novel did, assumes that you are patient enough to wait for not only the plot but the detail of this alternate universe to unfold and don’t need to have it explained to you like you were a slow child. That was always one of the great pleasures of Watchmen the comic, that it teased you with the differences between its world and our own, and slowly doled out the information you needed just as you needed it.

There was a women sitting behind me at my screening who — during the open credits, which perfectly encapsulate the alt-history of Watchmen’s world — cackled out loud, “How can Richard Nixon still be president in 1985?” I shushed her violently. If you’re the kind of moviegoer who needs to have it bonked over your head from the get-go how Richard Nixon could still be president in 1985, instead of being able to wait and trust that answers will be forthcoming, you’re going to want to avoid Watchmen. Everyone else can sit back and revel in the joy of being treated as a grownup — even those who haven’t read the graphic novel. I think.

Also, if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t understand that comic books can be grownup — like the annoying Anthony Lane in The New Yorker (the bastard also spoils the ending, for those who aren’t familiar with the story) — you’ll want to avoid this. Someone like Lane, who can decry Watchmen as merely the adolescent fantasy of someone who doesn’t understand reality, is entirely missing the point: Watchmen is its own refutation of such an idea. It is about people who have been so inspired by comic-book stories of caped crime fighters that they become caped crime-fighters themselves.

That’s the alternate universe of Watchman, for the uninitiated. It posits that those first stories of Superman and Batman are read by people who cannot tell the difference between reality and fantasy, and figure that if Batman can clean up the streets, so can they. Lane makes a snide comment about Dan Dreiberg, aka Nite Owl, being afraid of that he’ll be “sued for plagiarism by Bruce Wayne,” as if it weren’t entirely the point that Dreiberg is emulating Batman!

Now, to be fair to Lane and his ilk — who of course will never have read Watchmen, it being beneath them — it may be that the fact that the early “masked avengers” the Minutemen, in the 1930s and 1940s, were inspired by fictional superheroes is one of the details that is dropped from Snyder’s Watchmen. (I can’t remember whether that is covered in the opening credits that set up the world.) But it is unavoidably obvious that the world that we see in the filmed Watchmen is meant to be the “real world,” and not a fantasy abstraction of it. The “masks” and the villains are indisputably human: they’re complicated and deeply flawed and often not very likeable.

This is even more true in the film… and it’s one of the reasons the film is so thrilling that it actually sent chills through me at moments. Seeing flesh and blood actors bring these characters to life… they’re all even more frustratingly complex and unpindownable. The cast is, almost to a one, actual actors, not pretty-faced movie stars — which means they’re not familiar faces that can distract from the immersiveness of the experience. Tom Cruise playing a Nazi is always gonna be Tom Cruise-playing-a-Nazi… but a mostly unknown face like Patrick Wilson’s as Dan Dreiberg is simply only Dan Dreiberg. (The movie geek in me, who knows damn bloody well who Patrick Wilson [Lakeview Terrace, Evening] is enough to have been geeked to hear that he would be playing Nite Owl, is astonished to see that it’s possible to make this supernaturally handsome actor look dorky.) Billy Crudup’s (Dedication, The Good Shepherd) face may be the most recognizable among the cast, but it’s obscured by the CGI/performance-capture technique that transformed him into the glowing blue energy being Dr. Manhattan. (I’m relieved to see that the raw earthiness of Dr. Manhattan’s nudity has not been toned down for the film — that would have been an indication that other truths of Watchmen that may have been uncomfortable for some had been toned down, too. They haven’t.) Jeffrey Dean Morgan (P.S. I Love You) as Edward Blake, aka the Comedian — he looks so much like a beefier Robert Downey Jr. that early promo pix from the film once made me think that that actor, bulked up, was playing the part — really imbues with life a character that in the comic is hard to approach. And Jackie Earle Haley (Semi-Pro, Little Children) as Rorschach… Well, Rorschach in the comic is almost impossible for me to sympathize with. Rorschach in the movie, for all his sadism and extremism and volatility… half the time I found myself wondering whether he wasn’t the sanest character of them all.

This is the point, too, of Watchmen, a point that is even more pronounced up on the big screen: this world — this bitter, terrible world — is a result of vigilantism run amuck. It’s a fucking disaster, and it’s getting worse. To complain about the grimness of Watchmen is, again, to miss its point. It’s not supposed to be pleasant: it’s about what happens when base human drives are given free reign and hearty approval… and about how the sudden withdrawal of that approval doesn’t change human nature. (The “masks,” you see, have been outlawed for almost 10 years, not that that has stopped all of them from doing from they do.) Dan’s sexual impotence until he puts his Nite Owl costume on for the first time in years: even more so on the big screen, the connection between male aggression and male sexuality is not necessarily approved of, but neither is it denied, and in this case, it’s even more effective when it’s someone so apparently meek and sweet as Wilson’s Dan Dreiberg, who makes Clark Kent look cool.

More reality: the soundtrack, which features music by Simon and Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, cementing the story to a specific place and time (it’s not that alternate a universe). “The Times They Are A-Changin’” over the opening credits is supremely ironic; the rest of it isn’t, and makes you go, Damn, what kind of science fiction — and this is science fiction — draws on the mojo of Leonard Cohen? What kind of SF gets away with using “All Along the Watchtower”? (Wait, I take that back: we know what kind of SF gets away with that. And yeah, you can plop this Watchmen movie down into the same cultural space as Battlestar Galactica for its unshirking willingness to be harsh and honest and sour.)

Snyder’s Watchmen is extremely faithful to the source, but some things are different. The glowering sense of impending doom that fuels the graphic novel isn’t anywhere near as pronounced here: nuclear war with the USSR is still threatening, over the two weeks or so in October 1985 that the story unfolds over, but it’s probably appropriate that that feeling has been tamped down a bit — this is a movie for 2009 audiences, after all, not for one from 1985. Instead, slight shifts in emphasis play up dangers that resonate with us now: peak oil, corporate malfeasance, a promise of a brighter future being dismissed as “socialist.” And the ending is bit different, with a different heft. But it’s less preposterous than that of the graphic novel — especially when we consider the history of movies in the interim between the publication of the graphic novel and now. That aside, though, it’s stronger and more powerful, and leaves you with an even greater sense of unease about the morality of everything we see.

Watchmen is not a pleasant movie. It’s uncomfortable and jarring and pungent. Anyone who thinks it’s always easy to say what’s “right” and what’s “wrong” in every situation will not like this one little bit. It is not for children, or for anyone who sees the world in black-and-white. And everyone else will be left unsettled by it.

Isn’t that great?

(Go here for a spoiler-laden discussion of the new ending… We can chat away there without fear of spoiling anything for those who haven’t seen the film.)


MPAA: rated R for strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity and language

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine
  • PaulW

    We can at least reveal that there are end credits? Right? (gets banned for being a smartass)

  • Arco

    Great review MaryAnn (I have been waiting for it). I’m going to see it this weekend, but from everything I’ve heard I thinkg (and hope) my reaction will be along the same lines.

    From what I know of the new ending, I don’t think I will have problem with it. I’ve never been that much of a puritan with adaptations anyway. Everything else sounds so promising I’m kinda geeking out already!

    Earlier I wasn’t sure you knew the source material, but I am amazed at how many other movie critics know the book too. Most of the negative reviews seemed to complain of either not being faithful enough or being TOO faithful.

    And oh god! That New Yorker guy! I saw him too! I couldn’t believe what he wrote! Is he for real? ‘Comic strips’?? What did he think this was based on, Garfield?? And “Where did the comedy go”??? What??

    Few things are so staggering as supposedly intelligent people showing THIS level of ignorance. Astounding.

  • Alli

    Well, Rorschach in the comic is almost impossible for me to sympathize with. Rorschach in the movie, for all his sadism and extremism and volatility… half the time I found myself wondering whether he wasn’t the sanest character of them all.

    It’s interesting that you felt that in the movie but not the novel. I thought one of the most brilliant pieces of Moore’s novel was Rorschach, the most sadistic and screwed up of all the characters (besides the Comedian), was the one who may have made the most moral decision in the end. Granted, that depends on your own ethics. That’s what I loved about Watchmen: you could write a philosophy thesis breaking down each character ethics and apply it to the ending. And then you have to ask yourself what does worshiping these masked men say about myself?

    I think you’ve convinced me to see it now.

  • zids

    Has anybody noticed that critics who slammed Watchmen don’t seem to have read the graphic novel?

    This is the case where ‘the critics are missing the point’is actually true.

    Btw, I don’t mean you. MaryAnn.

  • Ken

    Hmmm… at times I thought the soundtrack was a little too prominent. Some of it could have been a little less in-your-face

  • Fuggle

    “It’s interesting that you felt that in the movie but not the novel. I thought one of the most brilliant pieces of Moore’s novel was Rorschach, the most sadistic and screwed up of all the characters (besides the Comedian), was the one who may have made the most moral decision in the end.”

    I’ve always read it as that Rorschach, in the end, pretty much the same decision as the others.

  • MaryAnn

    Has anybody noticed that critics who slammed Watchmen don’t seem to have read the graphic novel?

    This is the case where ‘the critics are missing the point’is actually true.

    But you shouldn’t have to read the book to understand the movie.

    If that’s what’s happening here, then the movie has failed

  • Just got home from an early fundraiser screening of Watchmen (here on the west coast). I’m not a fan of this movie. While it got the whole Watchmen thing right, and that’s fun for us geeks, I don’t think it works as a movie.

    My absolute biggest complaint is that I think this may be the worst use of music I’ve ever seen in a movie. From the cheesy 80s slide guitar to the overbearing use of classic songs, the audience I was with was laughing at the musical cues! Laughing I tell you!

    The awesomeness of Jackie Earle Haley should not be understated, though.

    I’m not sorry I saw it, and my money went to support the Cartoon Art Museum here in SF, which is nice. But I’m not going to go out of my way to recommend it, or to see it again. I will pull out my beat up graphic novel and read it for the 5th or 6th or whatever time it is.

  • I’m catching an 8 o’clock show in Hollywood on Saturday (the Arclight dome, such an awesome venue for an event film). Unbelievably stoked.

    The gulf between opinions on this film are leading me to believe that this one will be discussed and debated like the graphic novel. I like that many reviews, the ones that recommend the film even with some reservations, note that they want to see it again

    Roger Ebert originally reviewed the film, gave it his highest rating, stated he wanted to see it again, saw it again in Imax, and then wrote ANOTHER piece on Dr. Manhattan! I think Snyder has made an important film here.

  • Paul

    I think it is more likely that reviewers predisposed to not likely Watchmen would not have read the comic, and reviewers who would have given it a chance would have read the comic because they aren’t so down on comics in general.

  • e

    I agree on the music, but Jackie Earle Haley was on the money. I left feeling satisfied; the ending made sense, there was the ambiguity that sparks discussion. And I think having read the graphic novel before hand really did fill in if not details, just an overall sense of backstory/atmosphere, that added to the viewing. A movie that’s a companion piece to its source material instead of just trying to emulate it.

  • Firedrake

    (Haven’t seen the film, talking about the comic.)

    Rorschach’s decision (assuming that it is done in knowledge of what will happen, which seems reasonable) makes the point that the decision of the others is meaningless, a sop held out to make it easier for them to live with themselves.

  • Weltall

    The main problem was the same problem plaguing all modern comic book-based movies: no names; not repeating the names of the characters enough for people to remember them, if even mentioned at all.

    The bad guy in Iron Man? “Evil Partner in Big Dark Armour”. That’s the name of the action figure, right?

    After the movie, my friend only remembered three names: Dr. Manhattan, The Comedian, and… “Rashhok”? The girl, the guy with the cape, … did they even have names? My friend didn’t recall. I also had to explain what that Rorshach’s moving mask wasn’t a super power (since it’s origin was among the hundreds of scenes cut).

    My friend also noted how disjointed the movie was in some places. “Skipped” was the term he used, expecially concerning the end confrontation scene with everyone gathered together. Not even the music was in sync… and oh look, a mutant pokemon cat just walked on the screen. The cinema audience had NO idea where that came from, and it was gone almost as quick.

  • Russ

    The film (which probably should’ve been done in
    2 two hour parts like Kill Bill 1 & 2) should have a decent opening weekend in North America and overseas, but I suspect negative word of mouth will start hitting it fairly hard after that. It’ll have a much better afterlife on DVD, with a director’s cut that’ll add an extra 30 minutes.

  • Alli

    After the movie, my friend only remembered three names: Dr. Manhattan, The Comedian, and… “Rashhok”? The girl, the guy with the cape, … did they even have names? My friend didn’t recall. I also had to explain what that Rorshach’s moving mask wasn’t a super power (since it’s origin was among the hundreds of scenes cut).

    The fact that your friend didn’t know what a Rorshcach test was wasn’t the movie makers fault. And from what I hear, they make it abundantly clear that only Dr. Manhattan has super powers.

    Why does everything have to be spelled out for people? Why can’t people say, “Oh his name is Rorshach. His mask moves like a Rorshcach test. Cool,” And leave it at that. Have peoples abstract thought development been hindered that much over the past decade?

    As for the reviewers, from what I’ve seen a lot of the negative reviews are from hardcare fan boys who don’t think it lived up to the novel.

  • JasonJ

    Stupid Today Show Gene Shalit just got done ravaging this movie. He absolutely flailed it, and it just further cements my belief that a critics opinion is irrelevant (no offense). And what I mean by that is why on earth should some hairy ignorant out of touch old fart affect my wanting to see a movie I have been anticipating? His “review”, just like the other negative commentary will cause the movie to have difficulty in the theater like it did with “Cloverfield”, but thank God for DVD and Home Theater. The upside is it will get to DVD faster so I can see it sooner if I don’t go to the theater to see it.

    My opinion is if a critic falls out of touch he/she needs to retire. MaryAnn is, as far as I have seen, the only critic that has a grasp of what is considered a good movie regardless of genre. Critics who only give praise to arthouse obscure indie flicks that no one has heard of are severely out of sync with society and need to pursue a new career. Like Fast Food Management.

    Sorry. That inept hairy bastard got my hackles up. I don’t care if he doesn’t like a movie that I am interested in, I care that he does not do his job in a fair and balanced manner.

  • Hypocee

    I’ve always read it as that Rorschach, in the end, pretty much the same decision as the others.

    Did you see the last panel?

    Weltall, it’s worrisome to hear that they cut out Rorschach’s mask origin story – do you mean Kitty Genovese, the dress story or the dogs? If the latter…Hmm. That might be quite a speed bump for those who haven’t read the book.

  • Sara

    Thanks for the review, MA. I’m going to see this movie tonight. The fact that MaryAnn gives it a good review yet others aren’t raving totally about it makes me want to see it all the more. The fact that it’s not black and white, either/or thinking is compelling, too.
    I’ve read parts of the graphic novel, not the entire novel, but will do so after I see the movie. Everyone (almost all reviewers) raved over TDK and I didn’t care for it. This movie seems to be different–hope so. I might even like the music. But then again, I’m older, and recall a childhood vacation in Florida during the Cuban missile crisis. My mother isn’t afraid of much, but she was afraid there and I picked up on it. So maybe I’ll connect with this movie on several levels.
    Sara

  • MaryAnn

    they cut out Rorschach’s mask origin story – do you mean Kitty Genovese, the dress story or the dogs?

    The dogs are in. The dress and Kitty Genovese are out.

  • JoshB

    And what I mean by that is why on earth should some hairy ignorant out of touch old fart affect my wanting to see a movie I have been anticipating?

    It shouldn’t, and I doubt that Gene Shalit thinks it should.

    It’s not a critic’s job to tell you what you want to hear. It’s your job to listen to what they have to say and decide if it’s worth something to you. I’m sure there are plenty of moviegoers who will agree with Shalit, and they would do well to heed him.

  • Mike

    Typo (or paste-o) alert –

    (The “masks,” you see, have been outlawed for almost 10 years, not that that has stopped all of them from doing from they do.)

    Should be?

    (The “masks,” you see, have been outlawed for almost 10 years, not that that has stopped all of them from doing what they do.)

    Thanks for the review. Feel free to delete this when you’ve read it.

  • Now, to be fair to Lane and his ilk — who of course will never have read Watchmen, it being beneath them — it may be that the fact that the early “masked avengers” the Minutemen, in the 1930s and 1940s, were inspired by fictional superheroes is one of the details that is dropped from Snyder’s Watchmen. (I can’t remember whether that is covered in the opening credits that set up the world.)

    The characters’ direct Batman/Superman inspirations were absolutely referred to in the opening credits, though only obliquely. In the first shot with the original Night Owl conking out the bad guy, there’s a rack of early Batman comics behind him (complete with the Bob Kane artwork). Lane might not have spotted that–it’s easy to miss and the pertinence can be quickly loss–but that doesn’t make his review any less asinine. (And the asininity, to be sure, comes from not from the fact that he disliked the film, but because he clearly failed to grasp what it hoped to achieve. Criticizing the movie is fine, but at least have some basic understanding of its intent.)

    That little throwaway detail brings up another pertinent point about this film. It’s extremely dense, both visually and thematically and should hold up very well to multiple viewings.

  • MaryAnn – I did not read the graphic novel, but I feel I understood the movie quite well. And, yes, I am a bit unsettled. Want to see it again, but might read the graphic novel first.

    Regarding Rorschach – why should the movie explicitly explain what a Rorschach test is? They did have a psychiatrist who gave Rorschach a test. Either people get it, or don’t, it shouldn’t affect how they enjoy the movie.

  • Sara

    I just saw The Watchmen, and as a person who hasn’t read the graphic novel (have skimmed through bits of it), I had no problem following it at all. The large movie theatre I was in was totally full (mostly with those in their 20’s)–whether they will care for the film or not I don’t know. The few groups I heard talking afterward (late teens) were complaining that they didn’t get “what the hell that movie was about.” Which goes right to Mary Ann’s point that this isn’t a movie for kids. It is an adults’ movie for the most part with complexity, great pacing, music from the time period, and much nuance. Definitely not black and white remotely which might frustrated some younger viewers who are used to a extremely fast, furious, plot-based movies with little nuance.

    The film was also made with no care for box office records, no conscious efforts of trying to pull in “families”. Truly an R rated film for adults. It was refreshing to watch strong female characters (a few of them) who lasted the whole way through the film without being killed off. The male characters (while having some anxiety as displayed by the intial sexual scene with Nite Owl and Silk Spectre II) struggled to incorporate female characters in their lives, even if it was uncomfortable. How great the part with Nite Owl when he is impotent and only when he puts on his costume does he feel protected enough to move forward with Silk Specktre II. My guess is that younger audiences might completely miss the import of this.
    Roschach was great. And byw, the “Pokemon animal” fit in well with the whole Egyptian theme–right into the mythology of the sacred cats of Egypt.
    Comments that Mary Ann wrote that I agree with whole- heartedly are the following:

    “The film assumes the same intelligence on the part of the viewer that the graphic novel did, assumes that you are patient enough to wait for not only the plot but the detail of this alternate universe to unfold …”

    “Seeing flesh and blood actors bring these characters to life… they’re all even more frustratingly complex and unpindownable. ”

    “Dan’s sexual impotence until he puts his Nite Owl costume on for the first time in years: even more so on the big screen, the connection between male aggression and male sexuality is not necessarily approved of, but neither is it denied…”

    “It is not for children, or for anyone who sees the world in black-and-white. And everyone else will be left unsettled by it.” (or I would add won’t “get” the film or will be bored by it, wishing for more speed, less complexity and less dialogue.)
    Sara

  • Althea

    My 3rd post on Watchmen topics, this’ll be enough: I was almost blown away by it, and that was plenty. Having read the book probably it was knowing what to expect (or hope for anyway) that kept it from blowing me away completely (like, say, The Dark Knight, which was all new imagery.) But in any case I want to note that what DID blow me away was Jackie Earle Haley. Knew practically nothing about him before, and now I read that he was the fan favorite for Rorschach long before the movie was made, and by George they were right. It’s probably too much to hope for him to be nominated for an Oscar but I believe this performance was every bit as good as Heath Ledger did Joker. More. It was a study in depth. Holy Moses.

  • Sara

    Althea,
    Agree completely with your comments about Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach. Fascinating and as you say, “a study in depth.” Best character acting in the movie. Both with his mask on and with it off. I think, actually, far better and more complex than Ledger as the Joker as you also mention.

  • JasonJ

    It shouldn’t, and I doubt that Gene Shalit thinks it should.

    It’s not a critic’s job to tell you what you want to hear. It’s your job to listen to what they have to say and decide if it’s worth something to you. I’m sure there are plenty of moviegoers who will agree with Shalit, and they would do well to heed him.

    I don’t expect a critic to tell me what I want to hear. I do expect a critic to come from a place of intelligence even if he is basically voicing personal opinion for profit. He did not review this movie, he bitched about it like your grandfather would because it was “confusing and loud”. I have never allowed the opinion of anyone to dissuade me from anything, and I am thankful every day for that.

    Really, what is the point of a movie critic? What purpose do they serve? It’s not like a car is being tested and the results mean the difference between wasting thousands of dollars on an unsafe piece of junk or a quality machine. Movies are emotional experiences, why on earth would anyone even vaguely be interested in what someone else thinks about something so personal as emotional experiences?

    Okay, to answer the next question, why do I come here if I think the movie critic profession is irrelevant? because I enjoy the way the reviews on this site are written regardless of how much or how little I agree with them. I don’t come here to be told what is good to watch or confirm that what I like is good or not. I do not seek out any other reviews and the only reason I heard that useless hack Shalit is because I had the tv on for background noise and heard the word “Watchmen”. The rest of the Today show cast were all looking at each other and saying “it looks pretty good to me” and such, with looks on their faces like “Uh-oh Grampa soiled his diaper again”.

    If every critic on earth said I would develop a rash on my man bits if I watch this movie, I would still go and watch it and get whatever creams are needed if a rash does occur…

  • Kevin

    Nearly a dozen films have opened in NYC and this review is the only one that you were able to muster? It’s as if no other movie matters to you this weekend but Watchmen. How about some variety of reviews for a change?

  • JoshB

    I do expect a critic to come from a place of intelligence even if he is basically voicing personal opinion for profit

    You must go into anaphylactic shock every time you go to rottentomatoes. How do you even function with such a condition?

  • JasonJ

    You must go into anaphylactic shock every time you go to rottentomatoes. How do you even function with such a condition?

    Now that’s funny. Like I said, I don’t seek out movie reviews. I have never been to any review site except this site, and I can’t remember how I got here. I started reading this site back in 98 or so, but have no idea how I got here. The snark was beyond exception I do remember, and I had to read and read and read….

  • Chris

    It took me a couple of days to finally see it, but here we go. I will appluad Mr. Snyder for trying to be true to the source material. There are several moments in this film where I recalled images from the pages of the novel. Also even though the ending is different as far as there being no squid there was no changing of ideals such as there was in I Am Legend. Snyder knew this was a dark tale and he never once let up from it, and I must say it is nice to hear a whole audience gasp everytime a bone snaps. That said, the movie just doesnt work. Yes there are moments that it does work but on whole the movie is just pushing too much for a two hour time frame. For a person that hasnt read this graphic novel, they dont know why there is a riot in the prison, they dont know just how much work Adrian put into his plan and most importantly as soon as they grasp what is happening with one character they are thrown to a completely different surrounding with characters they may not have seen for 20-30 minutes. One minute its a murder mystery, next its a nuclear war, after that its a debate of what it means to be a hero. It is a lot to take in and that is the problem. There were several times during this film I thought, you know if this was just a mini series and this whole character’s storyline had been mapped out over an hour, this final moment would have me going like the end of an episode of Lost. But instead it’s just another random beat in a 3 hour movie. Hollywood has avoided making movies based on actual graphic novels that are from the comic universe, and it’s simply because there is just too much information to congest into a 2-3 hour movie. Lord help us if they ever attempt Infinte Crisis or Kingdom Come. Also was I the only person who didnt like Billy Crudup’s performance? I imagined him always having a really solid deep voice, not a light, i dont really care about anything voice that Billy had. Sure he didnt care but he is playing a character that is God like and according to Charelton Heston, God like characters have to have he-man type voices.

  • MaSch

    Chris: “according to Charelton Heston, God like characters have to have he-man type voices.”

    One part of me thinks you should never ever direct a movie about Jesus of Nazareth. Another part of me would have a somewhat perverse delight in a Jesus with a he-man voice.

  • Hypocee

    I always thought Dr. Manhattan had a light, nerdy-but-calm voice except, obviously, when breaking through Veidt’s fortress wall.

  • Seen the movie this Saturday, overall I like it, because part of me knows the filmmakers had tough choices to whittle the storyline down to manage a movie’s time limits, and because some of the performances were well-done, but still and all, the geeky need to nitpick must be satisfied:

    1) If the damn director had cut back on all that damn slow-motion, we’d have had a 2-hr movie and not a 3-hr one. And then they could have added a little more character moments (maybe the two Bernies as Rosencrantz/Guilderstern sideline commentators) to fill it back up to a 3-hr movie.

    2) Certain ubercool comments and dialogue that were in the graphic novel but not the movie: the bit where Rorschach is approached by the prostitute had Rorschach musing about American Love like green glass Coke bottles (“They don’t make it anymore”); and another scene where Laurie and Dan have to wait for Rorschach to use the prison bathroom, which allows for a funny bit in the novel where they talked about the problems of being costumed up and then needing to take a bio-break. In the movie, without that side-dialogue, the scene goes flat. Sometimes it’s the little things…

    3) Silk Spectre’s origin story gets a little short-shrifted: we don’t see the animosity she develops towards the Comedian, and the anger she has towards her mom pushing her into a role of heroine she didn’t want as a young woman got downplayed. As a result, when she pieces together the realization that Vader was her father… oh, sorry… well, there’s no emotional release there. It kinda hurts that the actress didn’t show a lot of emotional range to begin with.

    4) I wasn’t too impressed with the guy playing Veidt either. Not so much the accent making it hard to understand half of what he said, but the lack of emotional range as well (my friend who saw it with me thinks the lack of emotion is more the director’s fault than the actors’, but still I think the actors have some say in their performances…). The script did try to cram in too much towards the end, and tried to force Ozy’s origin story in kinda the wrong spot in the script.

    5) The soundtrack was sublime at some points (Dylan over the opening credits, alongside the backstory that showed how the hero fad altered the fabric of that alternate Earth, was fitting and totally awesome), and jarring at others (I’m seeing other online criticisms suggesting a moratorium on “Hallelujah”, and I agree).

    6) There should have been more Matt Frewer!

    Other than that, I liked the movie. It wasn’t great, but it was fun to finally see it on the big screen.

    And someone tell Alan Moore to lighten the bleep up?
    ;)

    P.S. PvP webcomic just did a hilarious spoof of Watchmen using aging comic STRIP characters (Popeye as Rorschach! Charlie Brown as The Blockhead!). Maybe that was what critic Anthony Lane was thinking of…

  • Tim1974

    I have grown so tired of this continual double standard of showing male frontal nudity but no female frontal nudity. With the constant male nudity the director could have at least shown some female frontal nudity but choose not to. This a definite, blatant, pathetic double standard. It is long past the time for equality.

  • Bill

    I never read the book and I don’t know anything about Watchmen that I didn’t see in the movie. It’s a great flick and I enjoyed the hell out of every second. I did leave wondering about some origin stories and I was a little thrown when it looked like some of the superheroes didn’t have superpowers. But I kinda dug the fact that I wasn’t sure exactly what I was looking at. It only took a few frames of blue penis to convince me that I was watching something unique. I know I’m just repeating what others have said, but Watchmen did a fine job of working in a grey alt-reality.

  • MaryAnn

    Kevin wrote:

    Nearly a dozen films have opened in NYC and this review is the only one that you were able to muster? It’s as if no other movie matters to you this weekend but Watchmen. How about some variety of reviews for a change?

    Yeah, cuz I *never* review *anything* but blockbusters. It’s weird how there’s no variety of reviews here at all.

    This question has been dealt with in this FAQ:

    http://www.flickfilosopher.com/blog/2008/06/frequently_asked_questions_how.html

  • stryker1121

    Chris, when I first read Watchmen a couple years back I actually imagined Manhattan having a “light” voice…adds to the aloofness of this godlike character IMO.

    However, I didn’t like the movie much either.(Forgive me if I repeat anyone’s comments here. Have not read the entire thread) For awhile Snyder’s able to duplicate the grimness and nihilism of Moore’s “terrible world.” But at some point, (SPOILER), I think the scene of Jon and Laurie meeting on Mars, the film just emotionally flatlines. This is partially due to Akerman, who I found painfully wooden. I also didn’t like Matthew Goode as Veidt, not only for his limp performance, but his actions are not given enough explanation–he actually has to do a Bond villian-type speech to explain why he’s doing what he’s doing when Rorschach and Nite Owl show up at his ice pyramid. The last act, so mesmerizing on the page, dies on screen. I found the last 30 minutes agonizingly slow, even confusing if you haven’t read the source material.

    Snyder did not put his own stamp on the movie. It seemed he was really straining to make it just right for fanboys, instead of making it his own as Peter Jackson did for LOTR and Raimi did for Spider-Man.

  • doa766

    something I want to add about the minutemen inspiration

    the first image of the brilliant title sequence is a wonderful homage to Batman: the first Nite Owl is puching some guy in the face while on the background you can clearly see the young Bruce Wayne with his parents coming out of the opera, and the name of the opera is german for “the bat”

    I found it frustrating that even fans of the GN say that while they love most of it still doesn’t work that well as a movie, I hate that, movies are not supposed to be anything, there are no rules, the movie adaptation of Watchment is not easy to describe or understand or to find similar movies and it’s not easy to watch, and that’s great

    some critics are critisizing the movie for refusing to adapt itself to established conventions and mass audience expectations

    when I read things like that I start to symphatize with Ozimandias more and more

  • Well, that’s interesting.
    –Tonio Kruger’s last ex-girlfriend

    Okay, she wasn’t talking about this flick when she said that but that’s the most neutral quote I could apply to this flick that I could think of.

    I could say more but I’m still shocked that the Spy Kids’ mom is already playing old lady roles. And it seems like just last month that I saw her in The Center of the World. (How’s that for an contrast of roles? “Why are you talking to me like I’m beneath you?” vs. whatever she said in this movie.)

    And anyone else think it was funny that the director’s idea for “improving” the source material was to show the Comedian being attacked by a mysterious masked assailant in the opening sequence and then less than ten minutes later, to show a certain key character wearing almost the exact same costume? That would make sense if this was a Columbo episode but it’s not. (And yet some people who hadn’t read the book were still mystified by the ending…)

    That said, this movie was probably the best take on Watchmen that we’re likely to get–and it was a lot more memorable than I expected.

  • Althea

    “…already playing old lady roles”? Tonio, honey, did you take a potty break when Carla Gugino was playing Silk Spectre from the 40s through the 70s? They didn’t offer her the role so she could play an “old lady”! Geez!

  • Hdj

    How can anyone not sympathize with Rorschach he’s the only one who actually cared about keeping the team together, event if he got twisted, he still was one of the more dedicated watchmen. It seems like theres alot more people sympathizing for the Comedian, which makes no sense because he was a major dirtbag. Several people in the crowd were whistling at the pool table scene.
    Rorschach was someone who I sympathize, he reminds me of what kinda costumed person I would be if I decided to hit the scum of the streets, I can see why his character may be to dark for most taste, he could be compared with Dark Knight’s Joker, with out the impulsive use of saying ” why so serious” over and over. Thats what separates Rorschach from villains, its a thin line , but the difference is he uses his dark mind to find the criminal minds and brings them justice.

    I thought it was great despite some of the sides plots being cut. I really honestly havent seen a movie this good since last summer.

    I didn’t care for having to witness so many blue dongs though, I coulda used less of that. I liked the soundtrack but , I wouldn’t not agree that it was a bit to much with the oldies.

    But yeah I’m going out on a limb here but I felt the Watchmen was better then slumdog Millionaire, the reader, and milk combined. I might go see it again

  • EnemyInside

    I have a few quick questions for anyone who is familiar with the Watchmen graphic novel.
    From what I’ve briefly read on sites promoting the film, I am to understand that the modern day Watchmen group have no special abilities with the exception of Dr. Manhattan.
    Now I saw Watchmen last night and it’s hard for me to believe that the others have no superpowers when they’re punching holes through walls or catching bullets with their bare hands. What gives? And how are they all so incredibly skilled in martial arts? This was never explained or even hinted at.

    On a side note, I’m noticing that “cover up” themes are becoming more prevalent in comics 2 film adaptations. Remember V for Vendetta? In V, we are to learn of an engineered virus that was used specifically to eliminate certain branches of humanity; the lengths taken to keep this all a great big secret is evident. In Dark Knight, there is a clear effort made to protect Harvey Dent’s squeaky clean image when it is anything, but that. Now we have Watchmen to add to the list. Is Hollywood trying to tell us something?

    EI

  • Spencer

    People were whistling during the pool table scene? God, I hope not.

    Just got done seeing it, and feel great about the movie, but have a sneaking suspicion that the graphic novel will be more for my taste. I nearly always read the source material before seeing a movie treatment, but I wanted to see if I could follow it all and understand the thrust of the movie without priming. It was really quite easy, but I think that’s due more to my media exposure lacking reality TV than my intellect being so grand. There were times that I was actually pissed at the scriptwriters for forcing the actors to say post-reveal what should have already been obvious– i.e., “So-and-so is you-know-who’s father!” No shit. You just told us that, but not using that sentence.

    Overall, I got the sense that the “Zach Snyder treatment” (registered trademark of Fanboys, Inc.) ill-fit the source material. If we’re trying to humanize and deconstruct the superhero genre and superheroes, don’t make a slick movie with stylized slo-mo and perfect complexions. I would have loved to see Christopher Nolan do this movie. Think about it; you’ll see how perfect it is.

  • RogerBW

    EnemyInside: per the original comic, Doc Manhattan has superpowers, Adrian Veidt is the smartest man in the world and trains very intensively in martial arts and gymnastics, and the others are basically competent normals – Laurie was brought up with intensive gym training to be a costumed hero, but one gets the impression that Dan mostly relied on his gadgets (it’s never gone into in any detail). Presumably they were training more back when they were being active costumed heroes, but Veidt (and I guess Rorschach) are the only ones who’ve kept that up into the “now” of the comic.

  • Greg

    As it appears negative word of mouth has hit the movie strongly, this would be a huge disappointment for Warner Bros and Paramount (who are distributing the film outside North America), especially since the drop off overseas has been a huge 50% and that the film cost $US 200 mill (including marketing and print costs, as they opened the film pretty much day and date around the world, that costs about 100 mill to do). Since the film doesn’t have any big name actors, I assumed it would’ve cost less than that to make.

    ‘Watchmen fell a hefty 67% in its soph sesh, although many had expected the drop to be even higher. Pic grossed an estimated $18.1 million from 3611 runs for a cume of $86 million. Overseas Watchmen fell 50% to an estimated $13.5 million for a foreign cume of $49.5 million. Pic’s worldwide total of $135.5 million in 10 days eases concerns that it’ll be a pricey financial loser for Warners, Legendary Pictures and Paramount (Par is distributing overseas). Pic cost north of $200 million to produce and market’.

  • Given DVD, TV, and the remaining theatrical run, I’d say that the numbers on Watchmen are going to be perfect–enough to make WB a profit, and so not totally discourage another gamble in the same vein, but not so much as to encourage a sequel…

  • shedd

    @EnemyInside:

    You note V, Watchmen and The Dark Knight as examples of cover-ups in superhero adaptions. I can’t help but comment on the fact that V and Watchmen were both Alan Moore graphic novels, so it isn’t all that surprising that similar thematic elements run through both. But in general, I wouldn’t say it’s that uncommon for superhero stories to revolve around cover-ups. Iron Man did it too. Most superheroes are cover-ups themselves after all.

  • Hypocee

    Any thoughts on the Director’s Cut, anyone? That’s quite a price difference, but more importantly this seems like a film that could take a big step up with more directorial freedom…or down. Or is it irrelevant because the DVD gives you the option to just run through the theatrical stream? That seems like the kind of thing that would be a given, but this is Hollywood and I don’t see it mentioned anywhere.

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