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That was a very loyal adaptation of the comic book, which did not improve on or shed new light on the source material. So hm.

I’m not sure how you do either of those two things when you’re talking about Watchmen. It’s pretty close to perfect. It already bears within it its own criticism and commentary — quite literally, in fact. The things that can be said about Nite Owl and Doctor Manhattan and The Comedian have been said. So it’s not like I’m posing a reasonable standard, here.

It is also undeniably a good and nearly great piece of craftsmanship. Snyder’s use of slow motion to capture the feel of comic book panels is superb; the set design likewise. He nails the feel of the graphic novel almost completely.

I think the one place where he missteps is his use of graphic violence. The movie is fairly bloody. When I went back and looked over the original again, I realized it was pretty gory too, but the impact is different on the page; the movie preserves the amount of blood and by rendering it in technicolor, enhances the impact.

This isn’t the biggest deal in the world, although I think it hampers the movie in a couple of places. E.g., when we get to the slightly altered story of how Rorschach becomes what he is, there’s an overall loss of effectiveness. What he goes through there doesn’t seem unusual compared to what we’ve seen throughout the movie.

(Parenthetically: the story was altered because Saw used the original story, I think. This is a decent reason to tweak things a bit.)

That aside, the tone is right on target. Even the expository lumps work. Thanks to some really lovely design work, the long conversation between Doctor Manhattan and Laurie Jupiter towards the end of the movie takes on a mythic feel.

Still, though, it’s not a transformative work; it’s just an elegant retelling of a story I already know very well. I guess another saving grace might have been the acting. In the hands of great actors, the story might have been imbued with more power. What we get is a couple of pretty good actors — I mean, the general standard is way above your average blockbuster — and some OK actors. But it isn’t quite enough.

I sort of felt like the casting was for looks first, and ability second, maybe? Because the appearances are spot-on. Again: Snyder really wanted to make a faithful movie, and fought hard for the right to do so, which is pretty awesome. Still and all, no matter how much Patrick Wilson looks like Nite Owl, I would have loved to have seen what a motivated John Cusack might have done with the part. Or Joaquin Phoenix? Man.

Then again, Jackie Earle Haley and Jeffrey Dean Morgan deserve all the kudos they’re getting. It wasn’t award-winning work on either of their parts, but it was really solid.

I did enjoy the movie. I especially enjoyed the opening fight scene, which was a lovely portrayal of an older warrior outclassed, and I couldn’t say enough good things about the credit sequence. Come to think of it, I liked all the fight scenes: the superheroics were unrealistic in a completely reasonable way. I read them, hm, as a window into the depths of obsession reached by our protagonists. It’s a whole crew of Bruce Waynes, unhealthy natures included.

But it’s not a great movie, just a decent one. When compared to the book, the depth just isn’t there. There’s not time! Terry Gilliam decided he could only make this movie as a miniseries and I think he was right. It’s not just the lack of the pirate substory, it’s the lack of any substory. Rorschach’s psychiatrist is reduced to his direct interactions with Rorschach, and as a result he goes from being a semi-tragic figure who also serves as a counter to cynicism to a funny authority for Rorschach to mock. The story is lessened as a result; the superheroes don’t mean quite as much without Moore’s foundation of humanity.

Again, I’m setting a brutal standard. Snyder did avoid compromise, and he did get nearly three hours of this up on the screen, and he did a good job. He might have made the best Watchmen anyone could make barring an alternate reality in which Terry Gilliam was allowed to make a ten hour movie with infinite funding. I guess I don’t think this movie needed to be made, when you get right down to it — but I also don’t think it’s a shame it was made.


  1. mony mony

    I thought the soundtrack was really amazing.

    I hadn’t read the graphic novel going in (gasp, I know), so I don’t have anything to compare it to, really. It was interestingly atmospheric and thoroughly enjoyable. I agree about the goriness… what was probably full of impact on the page became something fairly gratuitous in the movie.

  2. Excellent review. You’ve really put my finger on what’s been nagging at me a bit since I saw it earlier today. In fact, thanks for clearing that up for me. 🙂

    It was definitely a good movie and honestly I will probably buy the DVD that has all the swank features on it (like the pirate substory and so forth.) But it’s a bit like that Scott McCloud analogy about the gorgeous apple that’s hollow inside, isn’t it?

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