Movie Review: Who’s Watched the Watchmen? (Watchmen, 2009)

Moving, engaging, modern, anthemic, tributary.

Such are words I can use to describe Zack Snyder’s big screen adaptation of Watchmen.

Zack Snyder’s work on 300 has established him as a director true to the original work he adapts.  In Watchmen, he once again displays a hint of fandom of the visual work on the comics he has rendered on film, in this instance, by illustrator Dave Gibbons and colorist Jack Higgins.  Every frame of the movie is a tribute to the brilliant art that graced the pages of the popular comic series.  Even small details, like the angle by which The Comedian’s blood-splatted Watchmen pin was taken, were created with an unfaltering attention to detail.

The soundtrack is a work of brilliance in itself.  When seeing the old costumed hero days of the Minutemen, we hear songs by artists like Bob Dylan and The Beatles.  When seeing present times, we hear fun, upbeat tracks of the 80’s (the story is set in 1985).  As scenes develop into pensive, retrospective mood, we hear beautifully sentimental music, like All Along the Watchtower, playing in the background as two modern heroes fall in love, and follow their heart’s desire, donning costumes and saving the world despite the law commanding them not to.  We hear this welcome combination of old music from varying generations to set our mood at erratic twists and turns, an indication that music allows effective means by which a movie gets through to its audience.

So many important aspects of the comic book were deleted off the movie.  There were science and literature and poetry and lyrical narratives, and a huge chunk of these were taken out.  Instead, we get a condensed version that focuses on the plot and some dramatic points of the story.  This would make for an easy reason to rant, even the comic book writer himself argued that the plot just really isn’t the most interesting thing about Watchmen, but that’s not exactly telling on the success of the movie as regards its power to entertain.

If we must stay true to the story of one of the greatest comic books of all time, why not pen and helm a trilogy?  Or better yet, produce a mini-series of 12-parts, one for each chapter of the book.  That way, we can cover every detail and even spring in the juicy, more engaging supplemental prose pieces at the end of each chapter.  But all we really have here is a two-and-a-half hour long movie made to sell millions.  That’s what we get given a stringent budget and projections for box office sales.  That is also what we get after decades of planning and what seemed like gazillions of interested film directors who just wouldn’t push through with making it.

Watchmen is a cult classic, not the best/fastest-selling book of all time.  Its fan base is maturing men with old people responsibilities (aka the teenage fanboys of 1985), not kids of all ages.  It is not a superhero story, but rather a story that humanizes heroes and strips them off any god-like superhero qualities, that comic books have given them through the years, to reveal petty, weak creatures who would take each other down if it comes to that, just like the rest of us.  These kinds of stories are written for a few select people with a taste for higher storylines, less flashy action, and more mature drama.  Transforming these kinds of stories into movies means it can only go so far being commercial, without sacrificing art and literature, so it’s wise not to expect for it to become the next Titanic of box office sales.

And Titanic of box office sales it will not become, but it will entertain just the same.  With what little time Zack Snyder has to retell, he has paid tribute to Alan Moore’s classic with a tale of simpler twists, less poetry, a lot of music (Did you wish there was dancing like in 300?  I did.), and overall a platform for a strong comeback of the Watchmen-crazed generation, by making new Watchmen fans in today’s teenage boys and girls.  Sure, it’s not slated to be remembered for all time, but it could be one of the most entertaining comic book adaptations of this year.  Not so bad then, is it?

In the movie, I loved hearing Rorschach say these favorite lines of mine from the comic book:

Is that what happens to us?
A life of conflict with no time for friends
So that when it’s done, only our enemies leave roses



14 Responses to “Movie Review: Who’s Watched the Watchmen? (Watchmen, 2009)”

  1. Movie Review: So Who’s Watched the Watchmen? (Watchmen, 2009) | Says:

    […] rest is here:  Movie Review: So Who’s Watched the Watchmen? (Watchmen, 2009) Related ArticlesBookmarksTags Watch How The Garcia Girls Spent their summer 2008 Movie […]

  2. Ade Says:

    I felt that in the transition to film, it was dumbed down. I’m not complaining though. It took 20+ years until we could see a Watchmen film that didn’t shit on the original.

  3. Reloading / Who we are as bloggers at Rob Layton© | Freelance Says:

    […] so far. Words of wisdom. Thanks CM for checking in once in a while. I’m going to read your review on The Watchmen as soon as I finish watching the film. And Rico, your comments crack me up. Bubba28871, all I gotta […]

  4. Rob Layton Says:

    Rorschach did have some powerful lines in the film. Looks like you did your research before writing this review. I haven’t read the graphic novel yet, so I wasn’t aware of all the extra themes. I also didn’t want to spend the movie thinking about what was left out. But anyway, I agree with maybe making the film a trilogy. The pacing was a bit off for me and felt longer than it should have. I could really tell the director was putting together parts of something bigger because it wasn’t as tight as it could have been. I never really felt like there was some driving force beneath it all, but different people telling different stories. Now, I definitely connected with each story and felt like everything was able to wrap up in the end, but I also felt like the relationships between each character could have been stronger. I will say I understood each character individually, though, and saw them as fully-dimensional human beings. And technically, beautiful. The compositions, the colors, and the editing were all top notch. I’m really satisfied and inspired to go into the watchmen mythology. The original artists should be proud.

  5. doublethinkgeek Says:

    Thanks very much for your input, Rob. It is refreshing to hear the words of someone who saw the movie before reading the novel. You are spot on with the thinking that the director was putting together parts of something bigger, actually the novel had really developed its story into something really big, something that would put the reader to think an all-out war was looming in the horizon, and that this war was to be participated by more people than President Nixon and the faceless Russian government, as the movie put it. The end, however, felt just the same as the comic book experience, that the ghost was created by the main characters themselves, and all the big enemies were just red herring. That is not to say that the end looked exactly like the comic book ending. Dystopian New York, for one, looked a lot yuckier in the comic book than in the movie. I won’t spoil anything for you but just to make you want to read the novel, there was something big, living, pink, and non-human involved. Lol. You were right again when you said the characters could have had stronger relationships with each other. Even the characterization is stronger in the novel, but I guess it again boils down to the little time it took to build these things up. Alan Moore really put content on all 12 chapters of the book, that it is impossible to cram all into less than 3 hours.

    Ade, I feel you man. Just imagine Alan Moore’s frustration over that span of time. I’m sure he’s said meaner words than “dumbed down” about this particular adaptation, well he’s actually said meaner words about most other adaptations of his work.

  6. Rob Layton Says:

    @Ade and CM, the part of me that enjoyed the film wants to say that critics are being too critical, even Moore. But then when I put my opinions aside and analyze the film… I hate to say it, but there’s also a part of me that understands that this one 3-hour film was incapable to doing justice to all that the watchmen encompasses. But then again, does it have to? I can say that I am more interested in reading the watchmen graphic novel after watching the watchmen film, than I was in reading the 300 graphic novel after watching 300 the film. It’s ironic, but it’s true. 300 transitioned a lot more efficiently. In terms of making me want to buy the book, a little too efficiently. No matter what Moore has to say about the film, I am sitting here with his graphic novel in hand for the first time, purchased, hard-cover and everything, thanks to the film. CM, if you post anything else about the Watchmen, I’m there, ready to discuss.

  7. doublethinkgeek Says:

    Rob, that’s incredible! That is one of the best purchases you have made of any book in the world.

    It’s become sickening to read indications that Watchmen the movie did not do Watchmen the comics justice on every review that’s been published online (including mine, unfortunately), but I’m afraid the success of adapting the original material is part of the success of a movie. And based on popular opinion, the movie just was not able to deliver on that ground.

    I’m a little cynical though and wonder the reasons one who’s seen the movie might have been encouraged to buy the book. Could it be the plain movie or could it also be the hype surrounding it?

    Right on the mark too with critics being too critical. I’ve read a few reviews and now think it’s time like to kill myself if I were involved in any part in making the movie. Even NYtimes review lambasted the movie on so many aspects that I think it could murder the movie for its remaining screen time in the theaters. I thought the movie could use a break from all this hate, mostly sprung from all of the history surrounding the comics and the movie’s apparent failure to reincarnate the 80s comic hype into the 2000s movie craze. Die hard fans of the comics are just way too discerning. Well, die hard fans of anything classical are just way too discerning these days, that one can’t really tell if an opinion was formed about an adaptation before anyone even experienced it. In this case, I am being skeptical as to whether all of these fans were right to hate the movie because as a movie it failed them, or if they have started hating the movie even as the movie hype started, therefore carrying their bias to theaters blinding them of any good qualities at all that the movie might have impressed on the average non-comic fan.

  8. Terry Bowman Says:

    Hey DTG,

    I just saw the movie yesterday. I have not read the book, but would be inclined to do so. As far as the movie goes, it was visually impressive, but I would not recommend it for people who are not fans of the graphic novel. I left the theater feeling unfulfilled, thinking that a 6 out of 10 would be the best score that I could place on it. I gave myself time to sleep and reflect on it and that is still where I am at. SIN CITY and 300 were much better films IMHO.

  9. Terry Bowman Says:

    Sorry- about the music. I found myself many times distracted by it. One of the things that I dig about movies is the way they fit together and are segments of the whole. This reminded me more of a succession of music videos as prefaced in the opening scene with the Comedian watching MTV (my favorite scene in the movie). Perhaps it would have been better for me had a read your review first and realized that there were 12 chapters to be told. I thought that PULP FICTION and to a lesser extent RESERVOIR DOGS did a better job of using music in a way that wasn’t so distracting as to take away from what was happening on the screen. Just my two cents… Thanks.

  10. doublethinkgeek Says:

    Terry, apparently even fans of the graphic novel would not recommend it to anybody. Most of them said that it was better than 300 though. I myself did not like 300.

    I thought you might like the song selections!

    Thanks for your input. Another dissenting non-comic fan.

  11. minjie Says:

    haven’t watch it….im still reading reviews and ive seen a lot of negative ones…. ill just wait for it to be released on dvd probably

  12. minjie Says:

    ei ei…the plurk account is really mine..and i just signed up today, and sadly there’s something wrong with their server…haha i can’t confirm my account, probably update it tomorrow…. so my account is temporarily not working!!! wahahhaha….
    ill just update you if my account is good to go haha


  13. minjie Says:

    ei ei its working now!!! haha


  14. minor Says:

    i was to planning to watch it on big screen, but on the last minute i decided to wait axxo rip instead :)

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