Watchmen/ dir. Zack Snyder/ 2009
Well it was a fun week of blogging. Watchmen week comes to its conclusion with this review of the live-action Watchmen film.
Many thanks to those who came to dinner at Sea Garden to celebrate the birthday of a certain Art of the Cartoon blogger. Many more thanks to the 10 folks who also came out, waited in line in the freezing cold for about 3 hours, just to indulge my geek ego and watch the midnight showing of Watchmen.
Now for the main event.
Ever since the end movie credits started to roll I have been trying to think of what to put in this review. At the very end, I just sat there trying to process what just happened on the big screen and in my head doing a quick comparison to the legendary comic book. Here are some of the questions that raced through my mind when Watchmen was over:
“Was it complete? Were the characters okay? Did this capture the essence of the graphic novel? Were the changes significant or were they easily overlooked? Did the film feel right? Was the original messages from the comic book also on the big screen? Should I take into account those who have not read the book? Do I compare this to the book? etc….”
For those who want the bottom line, here it is:
Go see this movie.
Be forewarned. You should read on though, because the reasons why you should see this movie is different from what you would expect. (I will try to keep the spoilers to a minimum, but there may be some minor spoilers ahead… hit the jump!)
First off I want to state that I think this is a good film.
I wanted to start off with that statement because the rest of this review might sound like I didn’t enjoy the Watchmen movie, which believe me is far from the truth. Since I have already read the comic book several times and I would say that knowing the original source material truly enhanced my viewing. It’s been said that Watchmen cannot be translated to the big screen, and based on this movie that statement may have been debunked. There is a caveat though, for those who have not read the graphic novel and cannot commit a full week’s worth of blogs to said comic book (=P) there may be some growing pains when watching the Watchmen. But don’t let that deter you, there is plenty for both familiar and unfamiliar to enjoy.
I won’t bog down this review with the synopsis of the story. If you want one, head to wikipedia. The movie, Watchmen, is beautiful to look at and matches the look and style of the comic book pretty spot on. All the main story elements are there and in the right order, mostly. Yes there were liberties taken here and there, but only minor ones, and even the slightly altered ending I didn’t mind. The characters were good. And the themes and messages of the comic book were mostly there: Dealing with “superheroes” in a “real world” society, check. Power politics (read corrupt),fear, and paranoia as a means of societal control, check. Morality in dealing with justice, check. Gray areas in the definitions of justice, hero, villain, right, and wrong, check.
Everything seemed in order with this Watchmen movie, but after it was all said and done I couldn’t shake the fact that I still felt empty and unsatisfied about what I just saw. In a sense, the form was there but the essence was lacking. It wasn’t until the car ride back and a brief discussion with those in the ride that I realized what the major flaw of this movie was. It was too much, too fast, and not enough perspective. Meaning everything was there, but it was crammed to fit into an 180 minute film. Yeah, there were thought provoking moments but they went by so fast, so they could move on to the next thing, that you couldn’t stop and contemplate the magnitude of what was going on. That’s the beauty in the form that is the comic book/ graphic novel, you could stop and think about each panel.
Additionally, the side stories, “Under the Hood,” “Tales of the Black Freighter,” “New Frontiersman” articles, psychological reports, etc. that were in the comic that seemed like filler, became more appreciated after I saw the movie. These “fillers” served as pillow moments to help you, the reader, understand not only the characters in this world, but also give you an analogy of the choices many of the “heroes” had to make. Their omission from the film was necessary for time (who wants to see a 4 hour movie?), but came at the expense of the flow and rhythm of the narrative.
Lastly, the Watchmen film had a very narrow perspective. The point of view of the whole movie was from the modern “superheroes” perspective, which was fine for the main story, but with Hollis Mason’s role diminished, no “Tales of the Black Freighter”, the newspaper attendant and kid practically non-existent and in exactly two scenes only, and Rorschach’s psychiatrist role paired down to basically just the psychiatrist, there were NO opposing/ parallel thoughts and points of views to bounce the main story off of.
That in a nutshell was my take on the movie with a background in the Watchmen comic book. For those who didn’t read the comic, I could only assume that they might get lost in the shuffle of the (what could be confusing) narrative and jumble of messages (of course there are smarter folks than me, so what do I know).
I bet you’re asking, “Why did you state go see this movie then?”
Well, as you can see this movie made me think. I appreciated that and I appreciate the cartoon art form that is the comic book even more now. I understand the Watchmen graphic novel a little better, and I will never tell anyone to skip those “side” or “filler” stories ever again. Watchmen (film) is a great supplement to Watchmen (graphic novel), that is why I told you to go see this movie. It will make you think, it will make you read, and after you watch it, you can form your own opinion, which will probably be a helluva lot better than mine.
It’s been said that Watchmen cannot be translated to the big screen. Well, guess what… now it has, but now, don’t do it again.
PS: Tales of the Black Freighter comes out March 24 on DVD, I wouldn’t mind seeing a 4 hour director’s cut of Watchmen.