Watchmen – the film review
In September of 1986, DC Comics released a series that would forever change the face of the comic book industry: Watchmen, one of the most well-known and well-loved comic books ever. Like LOTR, Watchmen is a book they said could NEVER be turned into a film…
Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and John Higgins worked together as writer, artist and colourist to create Watchmen, one of the most well-known and well-loved comic books ever. To to this day, Watchmen is the biggest-selling graphic novel every year – and for once, biggest-selling really does mean best.
The twelve issue series told the story of an alternate United States in which the Americans had won the Vietnam War and were sitting dangerously close to nuclear war with the Soviet Union in the 1980s. In Moore’s alternate history, superheroes fought crime freely and openly, with much support from the public and the government until 1977, when an act was passed to outlaw them. Any exceptions were either government sanctioned or operating against the law.
The story followed an investigation of one well known government hired superhero, The Comedian. As two fellow superheroes, Nite Owl II and Rorschach, learn more and more about the strange circumstances surrounding The Comedian’s death, they uncover a disturbing plot that could end the threat of the nuclear war but only at the cost of millions of lives.
Since the series was such an incredible success, it’s no surprise that there have many attempts to turn it into a feature film but none of them had been successful until 2005, when 300 director Zack Snyder was approached to direct the film.
Snyder took on quite a challenge and succeeded in bringing the movie to the big screen. The 2009 release of Watchmen has given us a film adaptation that’s a solid blend of authenticity and accessibility – a blend that should keep both newbies and diehard fans happy.
The movie is engrossing from the onset. I’ve heard more than one person say that the opening credits of Watchmen are among the best opening credits of any film, and I agree wholeheartedly – they roped me in from the onset, which is something that’s increasingly difficult for the media to do with waning attention spans and an addiction to channel-hopping (okay, maybe not so much in the cinema). The choice of songs for the opening credits and many of the other key scenes were brilliantly atmospheric and added much to the feel of the movie.
When adapting a comic book like Watchmen, dialogue is one of the most important parts to get right. Moore is one of the most critically-acclaimed writers in the industry and he filled his work with many well-known lines that are frequently quoted by die-hard fans. While one key portion of dialogue from the comic got a rather unfortunate makeover, the movie is on the whole, jam-packed with scenes and words ripped straight from the pages of the comics. The overall faithfulness to the text makes up for the minor missteps here and there. Moore’s already stellar concepts and ideas are beautifully done justice in the film and will have even those who’ve never heard of Watchmen in awe of the larger than life scenes and effortlessly cool dialogue. Combining Alan Moore’s original great dialogue with stunning special effects and visuals throughout, the film manages to keep the spirit of the original Watchmen alive.
A testament to the incredible special effects is the manifestation of Dr. Manhattan (played by Billy Crudup), the only hero in the story who actually has superhuman abilities. He’s blue, he’s naked and he has the ability to change matter at will. Such an out of this world character definitely ran the risk of looking cheesy if not done correctly, but they managed to make Dr. Manhattan look amazingly realistic throughout the film thanks to stunning computer graphics.
Watchmen’s characters are among the most-loved characters in any comic book – which made casting integral to the film’s success. Thankfully, the casting was done well with a few exceptions. Both Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan and Matthew Goode as Ozymandias fell just slightly behind their fellow actors. Neither went above and beyond in their portrayal – which is especially disappointing when you consider that Crudup plays a superhuman and Goode plays a retired superhero who is the smartest man in the world. Their characters are among the most powerful in the entire story and yet their performances were entirely ordinary. Though a few actors missed the mark, Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl II, Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian and Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach were all cast perfectly. Each really captured the essence of their characters and sold their performances beautifully with nuance and conviction.
Though Snyder opted to keep the movie set in the 80s and not update the time period, he did make a few updates to the film. The costumes of a few of our heroes got a much-needed makeover, breathing new life into the persona of each character. Many of the film’s fight scenes were extended or changed to highlight the action and inevitable visceral display of the original comic.
One of the biggest changes (and, I’m sure, one of the most controversial among Watchmen fans) was the nature of the plot uncovered by Rorschach and Nite Owl II. Although many Watchmen purists might believe otherwise, any changes made to the original storyline of the comic book were necessary in order for the film to work. Snyder truly tried to keep the movie as true to the comics as he could and made changes sparingly and thoughtfully to give us a slightly more realistic take on the plot, given that he was cutting out much of the sidestory that gave the original endgame plot its depth and moral residue.
Though they’ve clearly tried to make the film as accessible as possible for those who are totally unfamiliar with Watchmen, the movie can at times be a bit confusing. While watching the film I occasionally heard a few of my fellow audience members question what was going on. Though some of them did seem like they were having some trouble keeping up, the majority of the theatre seemed to enjoy the twists, turns and standout moments of the film and there were plenty to keep them occupied. Though it’s a very different viewing experience for those who’ve never read the comics, it’s still an enjoyable one worth checking out.
All in all, Watchmen’s film counterpart is an incredibly faithful adaptation that manages to keep the spirit of the story and its characters intact while making important changes that make the movie more accessible and believable for the everyday movie goer. Although the movie is clearly not perfect, it’s as close to a perfect adaptation of the groundbreaking comic as humanly or, perhaps more appropriately, superhumanly possible.