“Who Watches the Watchmen”
The most highly anticipated movie of 2009 (at least for us) is finally out in theaters, and of course we both went on opening night. So…what did we think? Was it everything we hoped for and more? Read on, friends, as we present you with our review of Watchmen.
Out of consideration for folks that have not read the graphic novel or do not wish to be spoiled, we are breaking the review into two parts. We’ll write our own spoiler-free review first, and then after the break we’ll include a spoilery discussion of the movie.
Ana’s Take: I haven’t been this excited for a movie for ages – if I have to pinpoint, I would say at least ever since The Return of the King premiered. I was giddy the entire day, I arrived early at the cinema to get a good place, something I haven’t done since the last Harry Potter. Popcorn and chocolate purchased I sat down and tensely awaited for the screening to begin. I could FEEL the tension in the audience – geek world, how I love thee. I could tell Dear Partner who never read the novel, was completely out of place.
The movie started and right then, I knew it was going to be awesome – the initial sequence with the Comedian and the opening credits were all kinds of awesome. The three hours flew by, I did not even feel it. I was completely enraptured by the movie, amazed at how they were able to capture the best of the novel, to be so loyal to the source material to a point where I say to myself “if all the books to movie adaptations were this faithful I would be a happier moviegoer” . Yes, there were a few points that were different, most notably the ending (ARGH. NO. I HATED IT.) and the character of Ozymandias was completely butchered by an actor who should go back to acting school or quit the profession altogether. But those weaker points are balanced by its strongest points: the atmospheric feel of the story, the almost frame-by-frame transposition from the book to the screen (it was so cool to see the images and recognize them from memory) and the most important: the spot on performance by some of the actors: Rorschach, The Comedian, Dr Manhattan and Nite Owl came to life in a way I did not expect. I loved it. I think the fans of the novel will like it (except maybe the die-hard ones that see it as holier than the Bible) but I also think the non-initiated will enjoy the movie. I know Dear Partner did (although he thought Dr Manhattan was sort of emo). Now all I wish is to watch it again!
Thea’s Take: Like Ana, I too was so very excited for this film, ever since seeing the first preview for it before last summer’s The Dark Knight. I have to admit, along with the rest of the Watchmen fanbase, I found myself incredibly excited but simultaneously terrified – inherently this is a complex work of literature and no matter how faithful an adaptation, there are some things that simply cannot be translated from the page to the screen. That said, the previews looked awesome and I was relieved to have someone who understood and appreciated the depth of the comic as director (Zach Snyder). So, I entered the theater, coffee and popcorn in hand, feeling the same palpable geek tension that Ana mentions (long live the geekdom!).
And…three hours later, I can safely say, that the film does the book justice.
It is incredibly loyal to the source material to the point where it is less a movie for the casual moviegoer and more a labor of love addressed to the fans. The movie’s highest notes were when the script stuck with the nearly frame-by-frame, word-for-word images and dialogue from the book; conversely, the weakest points were with some of the highly stylized sequences, and most notably, the changes to the ending. Because the film is so unwaveringly loyal to the book (for about 95% of the film), it’s hard to judge the movie on its own. The best gauge I have is the dear boyfriend — he refuses to read the book, and went into the theater a Watchmen virgin. While I was drooling over the awesomeness that was Rorschach and the Comedian, he wasn’t quite as into it. Leaving the theater, I overheard two girls talking about how they thought “the whole Mars thing was weird”. Once I got over my initial (ok, I’ll admit somewhat unfair) reaction (which was to punch said girls in the face, Rorschach-style, and snarl “The ‘whole Mars thing’?!?! READ THE F****** BOOK!”), I realized that this is probably a movie that will be loved by those who have read the book, and less by the unknowing moviegoer who saw cool previews and was expecting a reprise of Iron Man. As an homage to arguably the greatest comic ever written, Watchmen rocks. On its own as a film, in a Mars-like vacuum if you will, it’s not quite as good. What I will say for it, at nearly 3 hours long, the movie never feels tiresome, and I’m writing this review at 3 am having just returned home! That’s gotta stand for something.
More Specifics, If You Please!
Here’s the part where spoilers will be involved. If you don’t want to know, LOOK AWAY!
Thea: The Comedian and Rorschach kick ass. Honestly, the casting for this movie was incredible — other notables are Nite Owl and the first Silk Spectre. The Comedian, I think, takes the cake for me though. His blase, homicidal attitude, his unwavering violence towards women and citizens…well, it’s perfect. Jeffrey Dean Morgan has down the sleaze, the charm, and the brute strength but emotional vulnerability of this character perfectly. My favorite scenes were probably the flashbacks with Eddie Blake.
Of course, Rorschach kicks all ass. Jackie Earle Haley is PHENOMENAL as the sociopathic badass that is Rorschach. The prison sequence…I don’t think it gets any better than that. Pure, unfiltered brilliance. These two were my favorite characters in the comic (no, I do not have psychological issues), and the adaptation of both on screen was everything I could have hoped for. Brilliance.
Ana: Rorschach.owns.my.soul. Which is strange for me to say, because he is not my favorite character in the novel but I came away from the movie loving the psycho. His voice was AMAZING. His journal narration. His lines were my favorites. But the best was when the mask came out and we saw the face of the actor and it was, as Thea says PHENOMENAL. Seriously. Goosebumps – in a terrifying-OMG-he is a -pure -sociopath way, a brilliant performance. Genius. Never the casting department of a movie was so right. I wanted to lick his freckles in a non-sexual way of course, just to say thank you.
Also, the Comedian. Which again, is very strange as he is not one of my favorites either! But the flashbacks with him were awesome. Nite Owl was cute and sweet and Dr Manhattan was fantastic , emotionless for most part. Spot on for Billy Cudrup.
Thea: OZYMANDIAS WAS TERRIBLE. For a film with such outstanding casting, they really dropped the ball with Veidt. Not only was he skinny and feminine, he spoke with this pseudo accent that didn’t work at all. His costume was stupid (yes, I know Zach Snyder intended it to be a parody of the Batman and Robin bat-nipple costumes, but that doesn’t change the fact that it looked NOTHING like Ozymandias’s real costume and it just looked idiotic). I was very disappointed. This actor looks like he’d fall over if I punched him, so it’s a little hard to buy him beating up everyone else (much less stop a bullet with his bare hands). Silk Spectre II was kind of annoying and one-note, but to be fair, she’s annoying and one-note in the book too. Plus, at least Malin Ackerman looked the part (boys, you’re in for a treat. She’s gorgeous!).
Ana: Ozymandias. What the hell were they thinking? DEAR LORD. I wanted to scratch my eyes out, to stuff my ears with cotton balls so I wouldn’t listen to him. I couldn’t understand half of what he was saying, his enunciation was really bad. He looked AWFUL. Man, he was supposed to be awesome, the most intelligent person on the planet, capable of incredible physical acts – with this actor? Not credible, laughable at best. I did not have any problems with any other character.
Thea: Hurm. I’m torn between the opening scene with the Comedian’s murder, and the prison sequence with Rorschach. I’ll go with the prison sequence — beginning when Rorschach is captured and he screams for his face as it’s ripped away, ending when he confronts the fat, cowering shrink for his face. Abso-freaking-lutely BRILLIANT. I just got goosebumps thinking about it.
(Another runner up would be Jon/Doctor Manhattan’s chapter when he first gets to Mars. Awesome.)
Ana:I have to echo Thea’s thoughts on this one, word by word. My absolute favorite sequence was Rorschach’s capture and imprisonment (at one specific scene people, including me, cheered in the cinema. I live in the UK, people DO NOT cheer in the movies. That gives you a measure of the awesomeness). Then the opening with the Comedian’s murder and the Doctor Manhattan’s chapter in Mars – actually this one was the scene I was most tense about. That is one of my favorite parts of the novel and I was dreading to see on screen and it was so beautifully done. I was close to tears.
Ana: The ending. They changed the ending. Instead of having the mock-up alien invasion, Ozymandias uses JON as a scapegoat! I mean, if you think outside the box, as a movie without comparing it to the book, it actually makes sense and it works. It is also rather ironic that the only real superhero become the thing the humans fear the most. BUT, 1) Why change the book if up until that point they were so faithful to it? 2) I prefer the ending of the book 3) I have a HUGE soft spot for Dr Manhattan and I HATED to see him as the “villain” of the piece. 4) Because Ozymandias is such a huge part of the ending, and the actor as we discussed, subscribes to the Joey School of Acting. So yeah, it did not work very well.
Thea: The ending. Any scene involving Ozymandias for an extended period of time. The ending. Gaah. I agree with Ana. For one thing, the film makes a few subtle changes to the overall conflict to give it a less dated tone (which is bizarre to me since everything else — from the television sets and computer screens, to the fashion, to the music — was completely within the ’80s timeframe), instead inserting a few unnecessary scenes blaming our energy dependence on fossil fuels for the root of all our troubles. The movie takes out Ozymandias’s whole genetic engineering storyline, instead focusing his research to bring about the destruction/salvation of the world on recreating Doctor Manhattan’s powers in a simulated hydrogen bomb. By itself, this does work and I understand this urge to make things current — but I really, really am not a fan of Zach Snyder’s pseudo-political applications to movies (i.e. in 300 with Iraq war comparisons; here it’s the world’s satanic dependence on fossil fuels which sits strangely against the nuclear war dilemma). Plus as a nitpick, in the ending scenes we see Bubastis Ozymandias’s beloved, genetically engineered lynx — uh…why? I guess as a shoutout to the fans who have read the book? Since the whole genetic engineering storyline was cut, to the casual moviegoer the appearance of Bubastis elicited WTF laughs.
Things from the book we missed the most:
Ana:Actually I will have to say, I did not miss anything much. I mean, yes, there could have been more background about Rorschach and about Nite Owl for example. But I think the Black Freighter stories would not translate very well to the screen even though they were awesome on paper.
Thea: The Tales of the Black Freighter! Ok, I’m being irrational. There’s no way that could have been squeezed into this movie. On a more serious note, I wished that Rorschach’s chapter was longer; I wish that the film had explored more of Rorschach’s past, his issues with women, and most importantly the origin of his mask. Again, dear boyfriend is my yardstick here — he had to ask me to explain why Rorschach’s face kept shifting (pilfered from a dress with material created by Doctor Manhattan). I wish the alien monster was kept at the end of the film. I wish that Hollis’s death was shown (but I hear this will be in the director’s cut on dvd). I wish that more of Veidt International was shown subtly in the background of the film, as it was in the comics; besides that first Nostalgia commercial, there wasn’t as much of a presence throughout the movie.
But mostly, I’m just being nitpicky. All in all, the film does a fantastic job of capturing the essentials of the comic — beyond my highest hopes. Bravo.
Ana: Fantastic. The opening credits with Bob Dylan were mind-blowing.
Thea: Another fanboy goodie — one of my favorite chapters of the book is Chapter X, “Two Riders Were Approaching…”, which has a line from “All Along the Watchtower” as its quote. In the film, when Rorschach and Nite Owl are tearing down to Ozymandias’s lair in Antarctica of course the song is blaring. (Granted, it’s the Hendrix version instead of the Dylan version, but it’s all good! The BSG fan in me stirs happily)
Ana:I thought it was brilliant and well-done. Dr Manhattan was incredible, very real. But I have one huge gripe. Speaking from a unsuspecting moviegoer point of view they were all kinds of awesome. I am a fan of the slow motion punch and throw thing (a la The 300) BUT this serves only to amplify the power of the person throwing the punch. It looked as if Nite Owl and Silk Spectre were super strong when they are not. But a super hero movie without some cool action sequences would be lame right? So I guess I can take it.
Thea: What Ana said. Doctor Manhattan was brilliant, the special effects were breathtaking — and a lot of the point of having Jon work is the incredible acting ability of Billy Crudup. The nuances of his movement, his voice….it humanizes what otherwise would have been merely a big blue naked dude.
As for the punching…I’m ok with it. I am not a fan of Zach Snyder’s super-slo-mo, heavily stylized shots but thankfully, these are toned down here significantly (as opposed to 300, in which two thirds of the movie were shot in super slow motion). It was a bit strange for leggy, thin Silk Spectre to be kicking all kinds of ass, and the femme Ozymandias throwing the Comedian out a plate glass window…but it was cool by me.
AnaThe Comedian and Rorschach got the very lines (as in the book as well) but my favorite was hands-down the one uttered by Rorschach in prison:
I’m not locked in here with you, YOU’RE locked in here with ME!!
Thea: Ok, Ana took the cool line. But here are a few of my faves (and yes, Rorschach and the Comedian totally get the best lines). I guess I’ll go with two other Rorschach quotes:
Shorp. Lep. Hello, Daniel. Got hungry waiting. Helped myself to some beans.
And, the more morbidly wonderful:
Hurrm. Never disposed of sewage with toilet before. Obvious, really. Two-nothing. Your move.
Ana: OK. Because my mind is in the gutter: I loved the sex scene between Nite Owl and Silk Specter , it was HOT. And I was not averse to oggle Dr Manhattan’s naked blue glory.
Thea: *snorts* You would! I thought the sex scene was great too, a nice blend of funny and touching, especially with “Hallelujah” playing in the background.
Ana: Parts of it deserve a 10 (the acting, the editing, the narrative that is so close to the original), but Ozymandias, the ending, some of the dialogue (the lines that are NEW and not the ones from the graphic novel. Lesson here: stick to the original, you bozos) bring it down to an 8. Overall? Because I felt so good after watching it, a 9!
Thea: I agree. There were moments of BRILLIANCE, certain aspects were a pure 10 — especially when the frames from the comic were used for the storyboard, and the dialogue was directly from the book. However, like Ana says, whenever the movie tried to do something new, it wasn’t very good — the ending in particular. And Ozymandias sucked. I concur with Ana; overall I give Watchmen a 9, for sentimental value and how exhilarated I felt leaving the theater. What are you waiting for? GO WATCH THE WATCHMEN ALREADY! I’ll be back for another viewing.
Any other opinions or fans in the house? What did you think of the movie, either as a fan of the graphic novel, or as a Watchmen virgin? We wanna know!