So I saw Watchmen the other night. Here are my thoughts on the movie:
Back in July 2008, when the first trailer for Watchmen made its debut before The Dark Knight, I didn’t really care. You see, I never was a huge comic book geek. Although I was a big fan of the Spider-Man and X-Men cartoons and video games and whatnot, I never really got into the comics themselves. As such, I had never read the original graphic novel by Alan Moore. Sure, I had heard from numerous sources that it was some wondrous tale that stands head and shoulders above all others, but I never went out of my way to read it.
Luckily, one of my roommates ended up acquiring the book in the Fall of 2008, so ended up reading it then. And upon reading it, I could only come to one conclusion:
The movie would suck a huge pile of monkey balls.
I thought there would be no way that they could cram everything that made the graphic novel what it is into a movie. Too many sublots, too many stories, too many narrative elements that just wouldn’t work well in the filmic medium.
And in that sense, I was right.
To their credit, director Dan Snyder and screenwriters David Hayter and Alex Tse somehow managed to boil down the essence of Watchmen and create a streamlined story that fits into a somewhat reasonable length of time — mostly by cutting or ignoring all of the extra sublots that don’t have much (or anything) to do with the main storyline and the central characters (such as the newstand guy and the Black Freighter comics, the psychologist and his wife, Rorschach’s landlord, the cops, etc.).
While the fanboys weren’t pleased, this was the right decision, in the end.
In doing so, however, I wonder if the people that had never read the original comic actually understood everything that happened, and if they really had a full appreciation for the characters they were supposed to be supporting.
For example, the Keene Act is a pretty significant element of the Watchmen mythology, yet it is glossed over pretty quickly in the film. The Comedian mentions some bill being pushed through by Congress, and the word “police strike” is uttered once, but beyond that … nothing. Without the “extraneous” backstory and elaborate details that could be afforded in the printed form, it is certainly possible that “Watchmen Noobs” might be under the impression that Nite Owl and the rest quit being superheroes simply because they wanted to (and utterly confused as to what the hell “the Kleenex” has to do with anything).
The comic also did an exceptional job in fleshing out the superhero fraternity through the “Under the Hood” book excerpts. You really got to know what made the two generations of heroes tick. Without this information, though, the characters in the movie — and the world they inhabit — lose a lot of the life and personality that truly make the comic book what it is.
I do give big props to whoever decided to change the name of the superhero group from “Crimebusters” to “Watchmen”. I cringed every time I read the word “Crimebusters” in the book. So very, very, lame.
Speaking of changes, this wouldn’t be a Watchmen review without some sort of mention about the revised ending. A lot of hardcore fanboys are up in arms over the changes that were made, but if anything, this was the best thing about the entire movie.
The ending of the comic left a really bad taste in my mouth. Alan Moore spent page after page building up his cast of “realistic” superheroes and the psychology that goes into being a masked vigilante (Dr. Manhattan notwithstanding, of course), and then he wraps things up with an alien squid monster destroying New York? No sir, I don’t like it.
Yes, I understand the rationale behind the squid uniting the planet, but in my opinion, the new ending works just as well. By having every major city in the world brutally attacked, including New York and Moscow, it just makes sense to have the USA and USSR declare peace and pledge to de-escalate their arms race.
Look at it this way. Their major cities are already destroyed, and millions upon millions have been killed. Thanks to Ozymandias’ plan, the world leaders have seen what the outcome of a nuclear strike would be, and not surprisingly, they don’t have the desire to pull the trigger anymore. Plus, the fear that Dr. Manhattan could still be watching them and ready to make them pay (even if he really isn’t) is an impressive nuclear deterrent.
A half-materialized dead alien squid monster, on the other hand? Not so much. With that scenario, there’d probably be an explosion of scientific curiosity, which would most likely spark a new space race between the USA and USSR as the two countries try to reach the alien race first on behalf of their respective ideologies. The new space race would then lead to a new arms race, which would bring the whole thing back to where it all started.
Either that, or seeing that New York had been decimated by the squid, the Soviets would use this moment of weakness to swoop in and finish the job while America is still distracted by the devastation wrought upon them by the intergalactic calamari. No matter which scenario you choose, the movie ending still makes a lot more sense than the book ending.
In conclusion, the movie adaptation of Watchmen greatly exceeded my expectations. I was expecting a pile of suck, but walked way entertained and amused. Sure, Ozymandias’ character could have been fleshed out a bit more (considering the major role he plays in the end), but overall, I felt that Snyder and the crew did a pretty bang-up job in making the “unfilmable” comic book come to life on the big screen.
It didn’t hurt that Rorschach was such as awesome badass, either. Who wants to bet that Rorschach will be this year’s Joker when it comes to Halloween costumes?