After years of eager anticipation, the fan community was given a film version of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ classic [[[Watchmen]]] story. DC President & Publisher has noted that after 20 years of attempts to mount this project, the sophistication of special effects and the growth of acceptance among the general audience for the super-heroic fare have come together. After several years of successful comic book adaptations, the mass audience is now ready for a movie that essentially deconstructs the genre. They have a better understanding of the unique vocabulary and storytelling needs of the super-hero story to appreciate what Watchmen attempts to do.
Zack Snyder, having proven adept at translating a graphic novel to the screen with [[]], was perhaps the best possible choice to handle this project. He also recognized the film had to resemble the graphic novel as opposed to various changes suggested by Paramount Pictures and later Warner Bros.
Having said that, the adaptation largely works but is far from perfect. He has so faithfully replicated the dense look and feel of the movie that repeated viewers will be required and that’ll be something to look forward to. On the other hand, his fidelity is so complete that it robs the film of its flow every now and then. One such example is Silk Spectre landing on a burning rooftop and pausing, perfectly capturing Gibbon’s panel but stopping the story when she should be in motion.
Snyder has stripped the film down to its core story: who murdered the Comedian and why? In some ways, that makes it a lesser film for being a simple murder mystery and by evaluating how much screen time each Watchman receives also somewhat telegraphs the murderer’s identity. Gone all many of the touches that made the comic so rich a reading experience, from the [[[Tales of the Black Freighter]]] to the excerpts from Hollis Mason’s [[[Under the Hood]]]. These are necessary trims when considering you’re adapting 400 pages of story for a film. At 2:40 it certainly sounds long but was so riveting that it didn’t feel like it dragged but any longer, to add these touches, may prove problematic. We’ll see when the complete director’s cut is released in the future.
Other trims make sense such as downplaying the first generation of heroes and the man-on-the-street moments that added color to the comic book. Some threads such as the relationship between Rorschach and his prison psychiatrist are trimmed and are missed and the introduction of the New Frontiersmen late in the film robs the film of some of the moral issues at play.
The film is expertly cast from the celebrity impersonators to the main characters since none are that well-known you stop and recall their other parts. Instead, you see them as the Watchmen. Dramatically, Rorschach might be the toughest part since so much of it is done under the mask but Jackie Earle Haley is wonderful and imbues the figure with a sense of calm that belies his total dedication to protecting good from evil.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan clearly loved playing the Comedian. And in watching the film, I came to realize that as immoral as the Comedian is, how despicable his acts are, in every case, he was the only one speaking the unvarnished truth, painful as it is to hear. You can somewhat understand what sort of attraction there is between him and the first Silk Spectre.
On the other hand, Malin Akerman’s second Spectre required more emotional shading in the performance. As my daughter put it, “she’s a hot mess” and you don’t necessarily feel why she falls for Nite Owl. You certainly can see why Patrick Wilson’s Owl is attracted to her, though. While nebbishy in appearance, he’s not the overweight figure poignantly depicted in the book. Their scenes together work well enough and their fight in the prison to free Rorschach may be the best action sequence in the entire film and one of the top super-hero fight sequences of all. They calmly walk through the prison, exploding into action when threatened, but do so with purpose. Nothing is wasted.
The biggest quibble people will have is with the changed ending. How the world is to be denied Armageddon is altered, not the why. My bigger issue has to do with the more dramatic change to Silk Spectre and Nite Owl. There resolution is a departure from the book and not necessarily a better one.
As an adaptation, it’s entertaining and exceptionally well done. As a movie, it should satisfy the mass audience since it has a beginning, middle and an end. There’s action, violence, sex, romance, moral ambivalence and some kickass music. There’s no question you should see this whether you know the source material or not.