Kyle's Watchmen Review

It should have been shorter.

First: Here there be spoilers.

There seem to be two camps of those who have seen Watchmen, those with more of a background in movies, who think the film should have been less beholden to the comic, and those with more of a background in comics, and think the film should have been more beholden to the comic. I seem to fall into the former group, even though I am less a movie guy and more a comic book guy (but not THE comic book guy).

I think those who wanted it to be more like the comic are missing the point or, at least, are really fooling themselves when it comes to adaptions. This movie didn't need to be more like the comic because it ISN'T the comic, and never will be. It is a completely separate creature. As an adaption, there are certain qualities that need to be there, like maintaining general theme, specific points, and the integrity of the characters. But beyond that, it doesn't need to resemble the comic at all because it ISN'T A COMIC. It's a movie, and to expect it to be anything like the comic ultimately disparages a medium that comic book fans claim to love to the point of being reduced to a sub-culture.

In other words, any comic book fan who wanted or though this movie would be just like the comic (or even really close to it) is doing comic books a disservice because they are implying that what happens in a comic can oh so easily be done in any other medium. And that's just not true. Personally, I'm glad for adaptions like this, because it just serves to underscore that comics are NOT ready made story boards for movies.

Going into Watchmen, then, there were a few things that needed to stick around, if they were going to maintain the core of the book. The characters needed to stay true, the alternate timeline needed to be established, and there needed to be a sense of impending doom. On those three points, I would argue that the movie did a fairly good job. Unfortunately, it tried to go beyond those points and then it got...questionable.

The most obvious example, for me, was the issue of who Silk Spectre II's father is. I found it completely unnecessary to the movie. It is, perhaps, one of the more explosive storylines in the book, but, again, we're not dealing with the book. It does inform both who the Comedian was and who the original Silk Spectre was, but there's plenty of other moments to establish the type of person Eddie Blake was, and Silk Spectre's character in the movie is irrelevant beyond "made her kid follow in her footsteps," and even that is summed up in all of one sentence.

For that matter, the movie ultimately botches the storyline. Aside from any kind of depth to it (from Hollis revealing the story in his book, to Sally Jupiter attempting to explain it away), the climax falls entirely flat. In the book, Laurie's realization of who her father is hits the reader hard. It's an intense, emotional experience, the first in a series of revelations to come as the book reaches it's climax. But it was so poorly set up in the movie that she can't even figure it out on her own; she needs Dr. Manhattan to zap her into awareness. Even worse, the pieces she puts together come out of left field, having been left out of the main portion of the movie. So it's not even a revelation that leaves people going "oh, I totally should have caught that."

Then there's the matter of Blake's death scene. It is a complete waste of time. The story they are focusing on is "who killed Edward Blake?" And while it's a nice, entertaining fight, it's overly long, particularly since it's simply a teaser. It also takes away from the fact that Blake, at that point, is a defeated man. He has already lost the will to go on because of what he's discovered (I'll get to that in a minute). He shouldn't have put any fight -- and it's more meaningful if he doesn't. The poignancy of his defeated "just a matter of time, I suppose" is lost by the extend fight sequence, clearly put in there to look cool.

And, yes, it's pretty obvious which scenes were added to the movie, as they tended to feature clunky dialogue and statements of the obvious.

Surprisingly, I had no problems with the changed ending, but I did have problems with the changed ending. Wha? Well, I had no problems with the removal of the giant psychic alien squid or making Dr. Manhattan the unifying threat. I was fine with that as far as how it served the movie. What I DID have a problem with was all the changes they made to the ending beyond that point, most of which seems nonsensical to me.

The whole point at the end of Watchmen, the comic, is that Dr. Manhattan is finally done with our world. This actually works perfectly fine with the movie's new ending, but it's subverted by Dr. Manhattan's sappy good-bye to Laurie. In the book, Nite Owl doesn't see Rorschach's murder because he's busy getting it on with Laurie. They are finding comfort in one another because they are the only two people who will have to live with this lie, or at least the only people who have to go against their very nature to do so. Jon finds them afterward, asleep on the ground, and smiles to himself, because Laurie really was his last connection to our world, but she's moved on, which means he can, too, or at least he can without regret. It's IMPORTANT that he sees her like that, just as it's important that his final conversation is with Adrian. It's Adrian that says to him "But you'd regained interest in human life..." Because that's what it is now: interest, not involvement. So when Jon says "I think perhaps I'll create some," it's meant to be taken as a scientific experiment. There's nothing mushy about it, which the movie completely gets wrong and, honestly, ruins.

And losing Jon's parting words to Adrian, "Nothing ends, Adrian, nothing ever ends" is really unfortunate.

But all of that is lost for...well, angst. We get angsty Nite Owl attacking Adrian. We get angsty Laurie saying good-bye to Jon. We basically get angsty Jon saying good-bye to Laurie. It's way more angst than needs to be there -- it's choosing yelling and screaming over the quiet, sincere ending that we should have gotten to the story.

All of that comes after Rorschach's death, of course, which was perhaps one of the most potent moments in the entire movie. I was thrilled when I heard they'd casted Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach. I thought he'd be perfect, and he really was. His part could have been a joke, but his death scene was really affecting.

Sadly, though, they botched his origin, going right for the "Rorschach" part of it and ignoring the wonderful set-up of the "Walter pretending to be Rorschach" part. They obviously weren't going to go into detail with his doctor, but what we did get wasn't even really his origin, as there was no indication of why he started putting a mask on to begin with.

I was also really surprised at how affecting Jon's story was. I was really skeptical about Crudup's portrayal of Jon at first, but over time it developed layers that I would argue aren't nearly as clear in the book. In the movie, Jon very obviously wants to care about humanity, but no longer has the capacity. In the book he comes across as completely detached almost from the start, his origin story more of a filling in of the gaps than a sad stroll down memory lane.

Yes, if there was a weak link in the cast it was Malin Akerman, although Matthew Goode's weird phasing in and out German accent nearly trumped her. Laurie in the movie lacks the bitterness of Laurie in the book, and I think that's a real shame. I think the fact that they cut out her smoking was actually part of the problem; she lost that bitter housewife vibe just in her appearance.

Overall, I'd say I enjoyed the movie far more than I thought I would, which is saying a lot. But, again, I think it should have been shorter.

Quality aside, Watchmen's length also seems to account for at least some of its dismal box office business. Not only are people unwilling to sit through a movie that's nearly three hours long, people are almost completely unwilling to sit through a movie that's nearly three hours long TWICE. Those who might be on the fence as far as the subject matter are pushed into the "no" category by the prospect of having to sit through a three hour film. Those who liked it enough to see it a second time won't because its so damn long. They'll just wait for the DVD.

But what does Watchmen's failure as a film mean, anyway? Well, not much. You could go on and on about how Hollywood's love of comic books parallels the comic book industry itself, in that only traditional superheroes with well known, well branded names seem to succeed. But Watchmen won't affect the next Wolverine movie or the next Batman movie. No, its failure guarantees that the budget for Preacher is going to be really small, that a Transmetropolitan movie will never be made, and that any Sandman adaptation will be PG-13. Beyond that, though, it means very little for the comic book movies Hollywood (and the movie-going public) already love.

In the end, though, this is all that matters to me: there were nearly 1 million copies of the collected edition of Watchmen sold leading up to the film's release. That's nearly a million people who (in theory) read the book as a direct result of the movie. That's a win in my book.

And my fiance read it, which is icing on the cake.