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Watchmen (2009)

watchmenAll the cool nerds are weighing in on Watchmen, so I figure I might as well, too.

Up front, and as a big fan of the graphic novel, I’ll say I liked it quite a bit, but I didn’t love it. Director Zack Snyder clearly worships the source material and makes his movie as uncompromisingly faithful as any $120 million movie could ever be, but that doesn’t mean it’s a great flick. To be honest, I’ve never really bought into the ideas that (a) no work of art is complete until it’s been made into a movie; and (b) fidelity to the source material is a sensible criterion for success. It always seems to me that the supposition is that the film is somehow supposed to be taking the place of the original, but of course, it never works that way and it seems disrespectful both to the original work and the idea of film as its own artform. With Watchmen-the-comic, you can take your time with the many dense, expository pages, and take in the details, but use the same pages as a storyboard and put them up on the screen, and it seems congested.

Also, in spite of the fidelity to the plot, there are a few major changes. The one that bugged me most was more tonal than anything, and that’s the whole slow-mo, violence-is-cool Zack Snyder-thing. Anywhere the book could have had an action sequence became an action sequence. And anywhere there was an action scene, it became both physically implausible and gory. The comicbook Comedian doesn’t go face-first through a granite counter and come up fighting, and the comic Night Owl and Silk Spectre don’t enthusiastically snap necks and cut throats. It’s the same aesthetic that puts “Hallelujah” in a sex scene and “All Along the Watchtower” into a scene involving a watchtower. So that, I found jarring. At the same time, subplots that don’t move the main story forward were jettisoned, which speeds the action along, but gives the story even less room to breathe. Especially since the missing material is mostly about non-costumed characters. The world of the film seems to be entirely populated by superheroes and Richard Nixon, which robs the ending of a lot of its impact.

On the plus, side, though, the one completely new scene — the credit sequence showing scenes of alternate history — was pretty damn brilliant. It hints at what a looser, less reverent adaptation might have been like. And the one major change — the squid-less ending — may (blasphemy!) work better than the book’s version, which felt awkward pre-9/11 and naive post-9/11.

I’m actually looking forward to the supposed 4-hour DVD version, which would restore a lot of the missing material. It might be long, but you can spread it out over a couple of evenings, just like reading the book. I almost felt the movie was striving toward that, and I wonder if the DVD version might, in fact, be Snyder’s ultimate goal?