Hitting bookshelves in 1987, Watchmen has since become one of the greatest achievements of the comic medium. Now, in 2009, Zack Snyder looks to bring Alan Moore's and Dave Gibbons' book to life. Does Snyder do the book justice, or does he destroy the hopes of comic fans everywhere?
First off, I will say, I regret having never reviewed the graphic novel of Watchmen prior to this, because it's going to make discussing this much harder, bear with with me. I mean, really, it's your own fault if you plan to see this without first knowing the source material. Anyways, he's what you need to know: the was a costumed, crime fighting team in the 1940s called the Minutemen and people loved them. Come the second generation of heroes, called the Watchmen in the film (but actually the Crime Busters in the book) who end up being hated under the stress of the Cold War and banned by President Nixon's Keane Act.
The story starts of with the mysterious death of The Comedian, who murder is investigated by fellow hero, Rorschach, who in turn informs other fellow heroes: Nite Owl II, Silk Spectre II, and Dr. Manhattan; with Adrian Veidt a.k.a. Ozymandias getting mixed in the mess as well. It's one part murder mystery, one part action film, and most parts drama; don't expect this to be like any other superhero movie you've seen before, because it's based of a comic unlike any you've read before. That's pretty much as summarized as I can make it without making this a book review.
One thing that I want to make clear, this movie is a near perfect comic to film adaptation, visually. Not to say it's the perfect film, but as a fan of the source material, it was really awesome to see parts of the film look exactly as they did in Dave Gibbons' artwork; and to be honest, it'd be stupid for a director of a comic book film to not use the source material as a ready made storyboard. It should be noted though, that this is not a frame by frame recreation though. As fans will notice, after the film opens with Edward Blake's murder, viewers are treated to a vignette that basically shows off defining events from the history of the Minutemen all the way up to the 1985 Crime Busters (sorry, I can't call them the Watchmen); all completely new, but won't in anyway detract from the film. Scenes from the book are also omitted however, with things such as Holis Mason's murder, the home life of Dr. Malcolm Long, and The Tales of the Black Frieghter missing from the final film. Not to mention there's an alternate ending from the book; and being that Watchmen's final chapter may be one of my most favorite things ever in comics, I'll give the movie the benefit of the doubt to say the new ending works, but I'm still slightly disappointed inside. But hey, at least Dave Gibbons was the one responsible for storyboarding it.
From my observations of the crowd and just from watching the film, I think I can safely say that this really isn't intend for the casual viewer. Unlike Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man, Watchmen isn't about characters that the average person just happens to know about. True, you could say the same about Snyder's previous film, 300, but that film doesn't have the superhero film design that people come to expect, so it worked. With the theatrical release of Watchmen clocking in at over 2.7 hours, it feels quite lengthy when the film keeps its pacing the same as the book, which many movie-goers may be disappointed about. However, personally, since I read and enjoyed the book some time ago, I was fully engaged to the film the entire time and I'm sure other fans would be and will be as well. But don't go into this thinking it's the next Dark Knight, because honestly, it's just not that type of film.
Another key aspect of the film is bringing the book's characters to life, and that can only be done with good casting. In my mind, Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), Edward Blake/The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), Jon Osterman/Dr. Manhattan (Billy Krudop), and Walter Kovacs/Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) really stood out for me as perfect adaptations from the book. Maybe not visually, at least in terms of Nite Owl's suit, which gave off a young tough guy look instead of the retired, chubby guy look from the comics; but as a character, and my person favorite at that, I think Dan's portrayal was spot on. Other characters however, especially Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias (Mathew Goode) and Laurie Jupiter/Silk Spectre II(Malin Akerman) I don't were good comic to film translations. With Goode, I just don't think he visually fits the part, he just looks too young, and I have no idea what was with his on/off European accent; I read him as a smug, white American man and not a young, European guy ... and his costume was completey different. As for Akerman, I think as an actress she did a decent job, but there was just something different about the character, maybe it was the fact that she wasn't always smoking like in the comic or she just sounded less bitchy, but it just didn't seem the same.
With a good cast, you also need a good director, and Zack Snyder believed he was the man for the part. With his only comic adaptation prior being 300, I guess you can say expectations for Watchmen were high. But, I never read 300, so the film really flew over my head. Watchmen however, I read, and have been a fan of for sometime, so really this film had to be faithful, for Alan Moore's sake. The end result is good, and is, if anything, truly faithful to the source material, which I'm very thankful for. As stated before, the translations of scenes from the page to the screen are really nice to see, and something I wish comic movie directors did more often. However, I think the film is a little too "Snyder-ed up" in that there's a lot of unnecessary slow motion, and over the top violence that isn't really needed, but I guess in the end it's just capturing the attention of those looking for a good time, and not analyzing the film like me.
In all fairness, Watchmen is a good film, and probably the most faithful to its source when it comes to comic-to-film adaptations. And I'd certainly go see it again, but this time in IMAX, as I wouldn't need to study the film anymore. But, it's not the type of film I can recommend to those who haven't read the actual graphic novel, because without prior knowledge, I think the average viewer may feel a bit bored siting through 2.7 hours of book paced story. It won't reinvent the superhero film genre, but it certainly shows that when the right people are behind the wheel, a good adaptation can be made ... let's just hope Alan Moore can learn that too.
Overall Score: 9/10
Personally, I wish the film was longer just so I could see more of the book come to life; and I can tell you now I'll be first in line when Tales of the Black Freighter, as well as Watchmen's Director's Cut release.
For a non-reader's look at Watchmen, read our article: Watchmen: A Non-reader's Perspective