Friday, December 20, 2013

Who Watches The [2009] Watchmen: A Retrospective.

This blog post contains both major plot spoilers for The Watchmen Movie and Book. 
If you haven't experienced either and still want to be surprised by things like character deaths,
stop reading now.

You have been warned

In 2009 Warner Brothers pictures decided, in the wake of the success of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, to draw deep from comic book lore and attempt the impossible. A big screen version of Alan Moore's seminal work, The Watchmen. Known to most people as the only graphic novel to be included in Time Magazine's  100 Best Novels of all Time list as well as the book your nerdy friend keeps desperately trying to get you to read. And for good reason. Among comic book fans it's widely considered to be the best superhero graphic novel ever written,  and even those who wouldn't say that would agree that when this thing hit the shelves in 1987, it changed the way comics where made. At 101 pages, it's exceedingly long (bearing in mind of course that comics use larger pages than your average book) and ludicrously detailed with diverse, immersive supporting subplots and tangents that grab the reader by the cajones and refuse to let go. Telling the story of a retired team of crime fighters in a heightened version of the cold war of the 1980's, it raised the bar for both writing and art in comics. It's also one of my personal favourite works of fiction. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's Watchmen is peerless, and was widely considered unfilm-able by anyone who read it.

Which is why when Warner Brothers announced their plans to do Watchmen as a motion picture surfaced around 2007, all of us comic book geeks took notice, and most of us were instantly skeptical.

Warner reported that the film was to be directed by Zach Snyder, who had just come off the wildly successful 300. It seemed like a great idea at the time, he hadn't directed Sucker Punch yet at any rate. Even the trailer looked great. But when the film came out in 2009 it was widely rejected by many comic book fans who maintain to this day that Zach Snyder's Watchmen is just another example of Hollywood ruining a beloved comic book series.

But is it?

I'll admit, for a while, that's what I thought, but recently I picked up the director's cut of the movie, and had to wonder; Have we, the nerd-populace, misjudged this movie?

It's been 4 years since it came out. The initial shock and awe has long since worn off, so I think it's time to look at this movie with some fresh perspective and give it perhaps the credit it's due. Lets see how it really is as a stand alone movie, and take another look at how it stacks up against the source material.

That's right it's my first Movie Review on my Blog, I'll try to keep it mostly short.

Let's Dive into Zach Snyder's Watchmen.

If there's one thing we can say for sure, it's that Snyder clearly cares a whole lot about what his movies look like.

His films have been noted across the board as being incredibly strong in the visuals department. Everything he's done from Man of Steel to Dawn of the Dead even, Sucker Punch  have amazing visuals to them. Described by Snyder himself as "Somewhere between a comic book and a heavy metal album" (Taken from this interview for Man of Steel

Watchmen is no exception, it's visuals are incredible, everything from the cinematography to the visual effects to the costumes in this movie are nothing short of top notch. What's even better, from a fan's perspective is the direct and deliberate visual lifts from Dave Gibbon's artwork on the original comic. Things like The Comedian's legendary window exit:

Rorschach's death
Rorschach's unmasking:

The character designs themselves are also extremely well done. 

Each one of these character designs remains, in my opinion faithful to the comic itself while also updating the look for a motion picture. I mean sure Spectre's sleeves look fine in the book, but it'd look pretty impractical to have flowing 80's sweater sleeves while kicking the crap out of prison guards as soon as you turned the cameras on. Everything in this movie somehow manages to walk the fine line between updated look, and source faithful interpretation. All while keeping everything looking very 80's chiche. 

The biggest departure between the look of the movie and the book is actually the colour palate. Dave Gibbons's work has a legendary and iconic style to it. Extreme prevalent oranges, reds and yellows and he often works with as few colours as possible in any given panel. Where the movie takes on a more balanced colour wheel and instead go for a more muted metallic look. Replacing vivd colours with shine and glimmer.
Ultimately I think that's a choice for the better, Gibbon's art really only works on the page, a movie, especially one trying to welcome in newcomers has to have a palate that's... well palatable. I also really appreciate a darker turn with the colours, to me it seems to match the tone of the story really well, it's a dark, dark story, so I think Snyder's call for the colours to echo that is a no brainer.

Overall the look of this movie is a stand out. Even at the time of release amongst all the fan commotion about it's inaccuracies and the absences, everyone seemed to agree that Snyder at least got the look right. 


Just for funzies lets do a quick rundown of the main cast, complete with some IMDB links so you can dive even deeper into this internet hole you've dug your way into.

Laurie Jupiter/ Silk Spectre II- Malin Akerman
John Osterman/ Dr. Manhattan- Billy Crudup
Adrian Veidt/ Ozymandias- Matthew Goode
Rorschach- Jackie Earl Haley
Eddy Blake/ The Comedian- Jeffery Dean Morgan
Dan Drieberg/ Nite Owl II- Patrick Wilson
Sally Jupiter/ Silk Spectre I- Carla Gugino

Each one of these actors is relatively unknown, having maybe one or two notable roles before this movie. Not complete Unknowns but largely supporting actors. There's not big "Stars" in this movie and I think that works for the best.

The acting in this movie is great across the board but there are a few stand outs, Billy Crudup's Dr. Manhattan is as detached and seemingly cold as I'd imagined from reading the books. I think Jeffery Dean Morgan knocks The Comedian out of the park, the nihilistic narcissistic scumbag anti-hero from days gone by could have easily been hammed up to the point of absolute camp. But, Morgan gives the character a huge does of believability. Jackie Earl Haley's Rorschach is fantastic as well, it's a character who's face we don't even see (or at least don't realize we see) until the last third of the film. Instead, just like the book, we're treated to monologues delivered to both deliver exposition and develop character, and Haley kills 'em, his dark and malevolent vocal performance is a real treat.

The rest of the cast do very well with their roles as well. A lot of the time poor performances can really take me out of a superhero movie, but, not for a moment was I ever taken out of Watchmen by a performance that was either too over the top or just plain bad like in other superhero movies. 

I was actually most surprised by Malin Akerman's performance. Last time I saw her was as the bimbo blonde southern housewife in Harold and Kumar go to White Castle. In which she was.... well clearly only there for one reason... or, two... But in Watchmen I think she gives a great performance, she gives Laurie a lot more strength than I read her as having in the books, which was a positive change in my opinion. 

 Music and Score

This movie all the way through, uses some awesome, period accurate songs. First off take a look at the opening credit sequence, all done to Bob Dlyan's Times They are a Changin' Right Here.

Snyder also throws in some Simon and Garfunkel...

Leonard Cohen... 

I couldn't find the actual scene on youtube... well I'm not surprised... given it's content...

Jimi Hendrix...

Nat King Cole sings his way through the opening fight...

There's also songs by Janis Joplin, KC and the Sunshine Band, and a whole bunch more as well. Snyder really knows how to put songs well into his movies. Watchmen and Sucker Punch are both great examples of how he likes to use licensed songs as a score for the movie, instead of the more traditional strings 'n' things that make up the majority of summer movie scores.

Watchmen also leans pretty heavy on Bob Dylan as well, it uses three of his songs.

And more Bob Dylan really is never a bad thing.


It's tough to adapt any great book into a great movie. And during this film's production Hollywood seemed to be having a lot of trouble adapting comics. Sure, Ironman, and The Dark Knight were good, The Incredible Hulk seemed to hold a story together, but we were also getting... well... these:

I could go on... and on... oh boy, I just stirred up some bad memories there.

Anyway, we were getting those, movies written by people who seemingly never heard of the source material for the characters, OR of the idea that movies shouldn't be the worst thing to happen to your week. 
Hollywood seemed to still be on pretty shaky ground when it came to doing adaptations, and the nerds, we were hurt too many times. We all paid money to see Ang Lee's Hulk. Which is why I think a lot of people lashed out at Watchmen when it came out. We were like scorned lovers. We'd be damned if we were gonna let that dizzy harlet walk out of the house with our favourite book. 

Of course we didn't factor in that perhaps this harlet (...Snyder) was maybe just getting all the food stains and dust off of it so we could show it around like we used to.

That's what Watchmen feels like to me. It's not the book, but it's an easy to digest way to introduce someone to what comics maybe can be.

I think the movie's plot moves really well, the pacing is right where it needs to be, although it's much better in the Directors Cut. The movie's not the book, and I think it knows it. Things like The Tales of the Black Freighter or the alien... mouth monster aren't in it. We don't get to read passages of Under the Hood or really spend much more time than we need to with the Minutemen, there's no inclusion of the Rorschach's psychiatrist's story and we're missing Captain Metropolis II entirely. Ozymandias' plan has been altered from kidnapping scientists and artists, and making them create an alien... mouth monster... on a deserted Island to instead be just hiring scientists to create "Dr. Manhatten Nukes" and then just murdering them after. 

There's a lot missing here. I would have liked to see more, I think we all would have. BUT I think we always would have wanted more. You couldn't have put "enough of the book" into the movie to make it into the book without making a shot for shot recreation. And that would actually be pretty tiring to watch. How do I know that? Well, they actually did it just after the movie came out, sort of, you can watch it here if you want to kill your afternoon off (Please don't). A movie can only really be about 3 hours at the most, and how much can you do in three hours and STILL have a watchable engaging movie? 

Well I think Snyder's film answers that question for us. It is exactly how much content you can do. It's got almost every iconic moment you remember, played well and with an incredible earnestness. It's got great character work, from the characters you loved form the books, all portrayed well, and it's got this sweet-ass action sequence:

All in All

All in all, I think it's a solid movie. And one of the better Superhero movies out there (the best of which I think is Man of Steel another Zack Snyder film). Snyder's Watchmen is made with so much clear love for the original work, something not always seen in a superhero movie. It's also the only comic book movie out there to be a direct  adaptation of a single graphic novel. That makes it actually unique. I can't think of a single other superhero movie that's a direct adaptation like this. Sure Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight draws heavily from things like The Long Halloween and Year One but it's not those books it's a totally original story. Watchmen strives for a lofty, lofty goal here by attempting to do justice to the most celebrated graphic novel of all time without creating a new story from it.

Does it achieve that?

That's still a matter of opinion, but mine is that Snyder's Watchmen is not the book, and not as good as the book is, But I think it comes pretty close. Furthermore I think it's as close as one can get to doing the book justice in a film. Alan Moore's original work defined an entire genre of art and fiction, as well as being one of the truest examples of it, how could a movie ever replicate that? It's like trying to do the entirety of the A Song of Ice and Fire series two or three movies. Not do-able.

Watchmen, the movie, as a movie though, for someone who hasn't read the book? 

Great. Really it is. As a stand alone film it works from beginning to end. It's engaging and full of great action, great visuals, awesome characters and a plot that's more than you'd expect from your typical hollywood superhero movie. 

And at the end of the day isn't that what really matters?

Who watches the Watchmen?

Maybe we all should.


p.s. If you are going to check out this movie, and I recommend you do, make sure you pick up the directors cut. It's a vast improvement over the theatrical release.

1 comment:

  1. I agree whole heartedly with your well moderated, and thoroughly referenced opinion. I'm actually rereading watchmen for the first time since the movie came out, and I've got to say, I'm enjoying it more now that I've seen the movie than I did the first time I read it. Don't get me wrong, it was great back I'm the day, but I feel it is testament to the quality of the adaptation that it has so coloured my experienced of the story. Its been a long time since I've seen the movie and yet I find myself reading Rorschach's lines in his voice.
    Movies cannot and should not surpass their source. The most we can hope for is that the original vision is done justice. What autobiography has ever fully expressed the depth of their subject's experience; what novel has ever been entirely recreated on the screen? If the movie fully encompassed the book then we would no longer have need for that paper back, and that would be tragic. As Matt mentioned there is history and legacy in that book, and to replace it would only deprive future audiences from experiencing that influential work. The book is always supposed to be better than the movie, but Zack Snyder does a damn good job trying. As for the major plot change with the "Dr. Manhattan Nukes"; I
    Think that a new and terrifying form of WMD is way more pertinent given the political climate than a giant alien mouth monster. So to that end I prefer the movies plot. Sue me.