Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: David Hayter, Alex Tse
Release Date: March 6, 2009 (USA)
How do you create a film adaptation of the classic graphic novel Watchmen? If you are director Zack Snyder, you do it with an abbreviated storyline, stylistic slow-motion, a questionable soundtrack, and enough over-the-top action and gore to make the Spartans proud.
The graphic novel Watchmen is undeniably complex. Boiling down its heavy insides (filled with motifs, flashbacks, philosophical musings, etc.) into a single, coherent film is impossible. Compromises must be made, and the end result is a disappointment for longtime fans and an unsteady ride for those who have never heard of Rorschach and company. No doubt Snyder had the best of intentions when he took on the task of adapting Watchmen, but it was a fool's errand. The film has a promising start, showing reverence for the original comic panels, but it soon crumbles under its own weight. It's not long before key events from the novel begin to feel rushed in an attempt to reach a conclusion that lacks a strong and lasting impact.
No one can blame Snyder for having trouble condensing Watchmen for the big screen, but some of his directorial decisions undercut the source material in frustrating ways. Rather than adapting his direction to fit the novel, he sticks with what worked for his blockbuster hit 300. The film seems more geared toward the next brutal combat scene than the unfolding plot or deepening characterization. There are realistic and disturbing traits attributed to the Watchmen (see: the Comedian), but these adult characters are made foolish by cornball action befitting Batman & Robin. Sure, Snyder tosses in buckets of blood to secure an adult rating, but watching characters fly to and fro during action scenes separates the film from its mature themes and links it to every other cornball comic book movie that's been made. Subtlety did not survive the transition from novel to screen.
Though it's easy to gripe about the film's drawbacks, it's not difficult to imagine how much of a disaster Watchmen could have been. The film could have been helmed by a director who cared nothing for the graphic novel (who in turn didn't try to provide a visual experience for longtime fans), and Arnold Schwarzenegger could have been playing Dr. Manhattan - think about that second possibility for a moment. There is some pleasure to be taken away from Watchmen, such as Jeffrey Dean Morgan's exceptional performance as the Comedian, but it will most likely be remembered as an above-average comic book movie. Considering it stems from such a brilliant literary work, the overall shortcoming of Watchmen certainly is a disappointment.
I'm anxious. This is Watchmen, but it feels too much like 300. I'm looking for the "reality" of an alternate, dystopian timeline, not stylish fiction. In terms of artistic direction, I'm not sure if I'm going to agree with the finalized product. For those wondering, yes, I'm going to be skeptical until the credits roll. With an adaptation of this magnitude, it's not even a choice for me.
+Billy Crudup looks badass as Doctor Manhattan.
+Archimedes is solid, but the falling water effects need polishing - not too worried about that.
-I'd still prefer (a younger) Carla Gugino as Laurie Juspeczyk / Silk Spectre II and Malin Akerman as Sally Jupiter / Silk Spectre.
-Still on the fence about Nite Owl's costume.
+Jeffrey Dean Morgan may be the best casting choice.
-Ozymandias needs a new outfit His colorful attire in the comic is part of a bright motif associated with the character, reflecting his royalty, pretension, and grandeur. Think about the cover to Watchmen #11. A black, leather outfit (how is he acrobatic in that?) doesn't convey that.
+It's fantastic that the scenes we're shown reflect their comic book panel counterparts.
+I like the Smashing Pumpkins. They work for this trailer, I think.
+Thankfully, Rorschach looks great. But his voice sounds too close in gruffness to Solid Snake or Christian Bale's Batman. More monotone blankness, please - that's where the eeriness comes from.
+I like the trailer the more I watch it.
I knew this was going to be a great read before I looked at the first panel, but truly great works will still rise above high expectations. Though I read at a slow and steady pace at first, the last few chapters hooked me into page-turning more often, school work be damned. Then the climax hit, and I was floored. This is not a normal sensation, but it was only after I studied the final panel and thought over all that I had read that my appreciation for the first chapters of the book really grew. The symbolism, character development, and intriguing spin on the "superhero" genre found in Watchmen is unparalleled. I could gush about this graphic novel (which was originally released as a 12-issue limited series) for a long time, but there's a quote on the back of my copy that sums my thoughts up nicely:
This is the book that changed an industry and challenged a medium. If you've never read a graphic novel, start with WATCHMEN. And even if you have, it's time to read it again.
In reference to the quote above, it should be noted that if you begin reading graphic novels with Watchmen, be prepared to feel let down while reading subsequent graphic novels - most will fall well short of Watchmen. My more knowledgeable comic book buddies are in agreement: this is the best comic book series ever. Don't believe them? Let's look at the credentials - Watchmen was named one of Time Magazine's 100 Best Novels, and it is the only comic book to win a Hugo Award.
By the book's close I realized I had inadvertently developed a strong attachment to an anti-hero named Rorschach, a vigilante who follows his own sense of justice no matter what the cost to himself or others. Some people would call him deluded or downright crazy, and others, myself included, view him as heroically uncompromising in attempting to save the human race and defend truth. As of this point, Rorschach is right up there with Spider-Man as one of my all-time favorite comic book characters. Those who know me realize how much of a compliment to the character that statement is.
If you have never read Watchmen and have at least a passing interest in comic books, buy it now. Rorschach is ready.