This will have spoilers. Be ready.
I’ll begin by saying that this is not me talking about my hopes for the movie, I watched the movie. The widely to be released version, dunno about the “Director’s Cut” version.
The short versions is: Unimpressed. Some people who left the screening (we were all comic book readers) said it was “Shit”, and some said they had a lot of fun, but the number of nay-sayers was rather large; I usually notice that people say it’s good or don’t form an opinion after watching a much awaited film, and the negativity mostly comes after 2-3 days, when they think about it, and realize what they’ve seen. I may be off base here, but there it is.
I assume most of you have read the comic book, but for those of you who haven’t, my description of the movie will be lacking, but I will pre-empt those who talk about “Reviewing the movie, and not the comic book” that I actually think it did better as an adaptation than as a movie in its own right.
Many of the points will seem small on their own, but they add up to the movie having neither a real soul nor its own cohesive identity. Aside from the thoughts on the aesthetics, which are small and petty.
They placed the movie back in 1985, cold-war era, which as nifty. One of the cores of the comic book was that it was a criticism on the culture, or at least, it was a “madman”‘s rant on what actually was wrong, but taken to the extreme (Rorschach being the “madman”, not Moore). We still have some of it, but the real criticism and political statement have shifted to fuel and energy. Resources which the consumerist society uses; these are quite anachronistic in their usage, and perhaps they portray Veidt as really smarter and ahead of the times, but it doesn’t gel. When Rorschach talks, or when he walks the streets and we see the prostitutes and bars, we get to see some of what he sees, the true corruption of the soul, rather than the markets, but it’s rather glossed over.
There is a very very over the top sex scene, it was quite out of place for the mood of the movie, and at that time, didn’t seem to contribute much (it was also made very corny by being accompanied by Leonard Cohen performing “Hallelujah”). It was then that I thought to myself, “What is the movie about? What is the message that the movie will try to pass, its identity?”
I think I reached that identity, but in general, one main difference between movies and books is the number of storylines to keep. In a book, you can keep several separated story-lines, whereas in the movie either you have many lines (Crash) or you have one, with some small ones. Watchmen started out strong, like the comic, with Rorschach narrating (after we see the murder of The Comedian). You feel like this will be a mystery movie, or at least a Rorschach movie. BTW, the narration really linked in my mind to the narration we’ve had in Sin City, both by Marv and by Hartigan. And then we keep getting spread about. It works for a book, it doesn’t work for a movie, not the same way. Just think of all the endings in LotR’s movie, how it ends, and then it ends, and then it ends, but it never ends! At some point the audience in the LotR movie started coughing and shifting, it was becoming uncomfortable.
The movie should have focused mainly on Rorschach, and Kovacs, which actually didn’t get close to enough screen time. We saw his mother slapping him and his mother having sex with another man, we saw him biting the cheek off of the older kid, and that was basically it.
I think that the bit about Silk Specter Mk 2’s parentage could and should have been axed. It did tell us about how they were all complex people, and that nothing is black and white (as opposed to what Kovacs says), but it felt extraneous. The Veidt energy part was there so we’d get to see how the end came, but carried little thematic sense, and so did other plot-lines, which all seemed to overshadow Kovacs’s.
I would also have cut most of the Minutemen sections away. Remember the part where The Comedian mocks the Watchmen? How Rorschach admires him for it, and Veidt says how important it was to his own transformation from being weak to being strong and driven? Well, in the movie it seemed like nothing more than a metaphor for the USA going up in flames, then in corruption, but in movie-wise, the fires of the atomic war.
This takes us to another point. If many super-hero comics are action-comics, some being mystery, etc. then if you look at the major genre breakdown, Watchmen is certainly a drama comic. A drama book, a novel. But since it will be released as a superhero movie, which universally means “Action” or so it would seem, we have fights! I mean, the reason they’re mostly glossed over in the comic book is that you don’t care about the fight, but about their implications, reasons, and thematic reasons. In the movie, we have cool looking fights, which give you next to nothing. The Kovacs breakout of Jail is turned into a brawl.
Another issue I have, and apparently this is not so decidedly clear in the community is that most of the characters in the comic are human-level. They are skilled and they are driven, but they are human. The movie characters are all peak-human, to the superhuman level (Wuxia characters, at least). I disliked it, it also kinda detracted from it being a story about human nature and drama.
As many role-players would say in some games, so you have a fight, but why? What does it add? Here, it added eye-candy.
I thought the movie was about human nature, about what it means to be human, so it seemed mostly through the movie, but some things that came up later sabotaged it, and it really didn’t feel defined enough. It seems nothing else got more weight than this, and that this didn’t get enough weight either.
Rorschach would have been key to this, showing his history, how he became, or was shaped to become Rorschach and not Kovacs. My friend Michael said that for this reason The Comedian is important, because he made a choice to be this way. Anyway, we have a bit at the end, the “real ending” where Veidt is left standing in his temple in Antarctica, with snow falling down from his shattered roof, while the others leave, looking back at him with contempt. I think it would have been much more suitable to stop here than show us a mushy moment later with the Spectres. Also because of how the movie is filled with barren lands (Mars, the dream-scape of Nightowl which also seemed like Mars), and because if Jon left Earth because he was no longer human in mind, then so did Adrian, who stopped being able to think and relate to humans, had been left in the cold.
If Jon could see where each thing went, ala the “If I knew where all atoms were in one moment in time..” and as such views humans and all objects as pieces to be moved, then so does Veidt. He uses the psychological plane to control others as if they were chess pieces, and he makes their choices for them. He robs them of their humanity, of their choice. He is accused of doing so at the end by Nightowl and Rorschach, when he decides for humanity, he is robbing them of it.
And that is a reason why Kovacs killing the kidnapper by splitting his head and not by giving him a choice chafed. Perhaps they didn’t want to get linked to “The Saw” (like people who’ve watched the LotR movie and thought it stole from D&D?), but this was a good bit, this is also why I like The Saw series – it’s not about gore, it’s about suspense and choice. Also, if you had him tell the shrink how he became Rorschach and not Kovacs, would it have hurt to add the one line with the eyes opening and closing?
He really changed the ending in many ways. I have no problems with that. My best friend said it removed a lot of the moral nuances, but I didn’t see that. I think the ending was fine.
Aesthetical points: I thought they all looked too good, the actors. I wanted them all to look more washed up, more flaccid, etc. Veidt actually didn’t look muscular and strong enough, he looked kinda sickly. I actually liked the commentary I felt, or as Michael said, the “Anti-superheros comic book”, in regards to Nightowl’s lame outfit, originally. Laurie looked too young, too fresh, and even more so for Nightowl.
I really liked that Rorschach’s actor looked and sounded decidedly Clint Eastwood-esque, in his younger days. Especially fitting since Rorschach is very “Man with no name” kinda dude. He did look a bit too tough without his mask, but in the movie, where not enough of his meekness without the mask was explored, it was probably the right decision.
Great soundtrack, great.
In the end, I think the movie was a pretty good adaptation. 80% or so of what was there in the comic, in about 150 minutes of movie, of a huge book. I think that was part of the issue, as more had to be cut. If I look at it as a comic book adaptation, it was pretty good. If I look at what it adapted, then it had the structure, it had all the characters, but nearly none of them had their weight, their history, their nuances. The soul of the comic (say, about the corruption, about choice, about black and white versus grey) did not really pass. It also had no cohesion and statement as its own thing, as a movie without roots.
But, the important thing is “Fun”. If you enjoyed it, then I’m glad for you, because what you think of it couldn’t matter less if you enjoy it. To me though, a movie has to bring something extra beyond form for me to really enjoy it.
It wasn’t bad though. So probably 3/5 stars, or 2.5 if I’m feeling unkindly.
Edit: In contrast with say, Ironman, which was empty fun (like popcorn), but which I’d give about the same rating (but more solidly 3, perhaps a bit more if I’m kindly), this movie has a lot to think about, it just doesn’t add up to anything coherent.
Avner Shavit had reviewed the movie for “Achbar Ha’ir” (The City Mouse) for the paper Ha’aretz, and it seems he had taken some of my words ;)
His review can be read here, in Hebrew, but let me translate a paragraph or so, from the summation.
“But every time Rorschach abandons the screen for the others [Phrase equivalent to “Dereliction of duty”], Snyder has difficulties maintaining the balance. Watchmen is a very jumbled movie and especially very strange. [snip of dichotomies in the movie] But why beat around the bush: Watchmen consumes 163 minutes of our lives, but most of the time is not enjoyable, and worse – in the end it has a hard time imparting the feeling in the watcher that they had underwent a siginificant experience. [short snip] And so I also predict a failure at the box-office for the movie: It will obviously fail to satisfy the desires of all the graphic novel’s fans, and on the other hand, is not coherent or cohesive enough to get it new fans.”
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