So after some delay, today I became the last person on the internet to see Watchmen. I guess all the other internet people got in early, cause the session I went to was pretty empty, and there was a lady behind me who kept gasping during the gory bits, which suggested to me she wasn’t from the internet, otherwise she would’ve known that Watchmen was going to be rather, well, graphic.
I don’t usually do the review thing. I’ve talked before how opinions are opinions – you have yours and I have mine, and unless I value yours, it’s really not of much consequence to me. Only, I said it in more words, and perhaps more politely than that. In any case, I’ve decided that, in an effort to say more words on the internet, I’ll write about seeing Watchmen. Since, that’s what most people on the internet are doing. Or at least, they were last week. Now I think they’re writing about how much the Terminator: Salvation trailer kicked ass.
But then, I’ve never pretended to be the cutting edge. ‘Cept for (I say) in high school, but that’s a story for tomorrow. Be warned, depending on your knowledge level and how much you want to be suprised by the film Watchmen, some of the below may be considered spoiler-ific. While I don’t want to talk about plot, I’m going to be discussing the ending. If you don’t want to know anything about anything, stop reading
So here goes: Today I saw the motion picture adaptation of the collection of comics called Watchmen. It was really good. I liked it a lot. Was it a perfect film? No, not really. But that’s ok, cause you know what, neither is the book.
Now, if you need me, I’ll be hiding under my desk for fear of geek-ish wrath.
I’ve done what I can to avoid reading reviews of the film, and I don’t spend a lot of time reading other people’s views on comic books. While I’ve not read a whole lot until this point, I’m positive I’m not the first person to ever have this thought. With that, there are some things you should know before we go on:
1) Yes, I have read the trade paperback of Watchmen. Only once, and that was recently. I’d been hearing it was something I should read for a while, and when I heard they were making an (n legitimate) attempt at making the film, I thought I’d jump on board. So I bought it, flicked through and saw it had a lot of words (like, a lot), and placed it on my shelf. And there it sat for a good long while. It came with me on my travels to Cape Town, and back again. Returning unread, for the record. I made a few attempts to read it over time, but its density always felt so intimidating, and since I knew it was something that demanded my full attention, it sat waiting, patiently, until I was ready.
Then I was, so I started reading. And I read. And I read some more. And I loved it. Like, truly. Once I was in, I devoured it. Scanning pages. Reading and re-reading sections. Flicking furiously through page after page, continually kicking myself for not having picked it up sooner. Around this time, the movie had begun shooting, so I made an effort to keep out of Watchmen related discussions, for fear of ruining or revealing any details. Fox launched their lawsuit, and I despite the fact I’d not reached the end, I cursed them for jeopardising any chance of the film being released. I re-examined Zack Snyder’s other films – the “it’s ok to like it, cause it’s actually quite good” remake of Dawn of the Dead, and the gay romp that was 300, thinking to myself, “y’know, I think he’s gonna be able to do this!”
And finally, I arrived at chapter eleven of twelve. The start of the thrilling conclusion. And as I’m sure many did before me, I asked (out aloud), “huh?” So, went back and re-read, and found my initial impression was right.
The lesson here is: while I loved reading Watchmen, I did not grow up reading it and re-reading it, and I do not have it placed on as high of a pedestal as other’s might. I think it’s an incredible piece of writing that is ultimately let down by its finale.
2) I am a reader of comic books. I like them. I collect them, and occasionally, I read them. Most pay weeks I can be found down my local comic emporium, picking up my latest releases. They hold them for you, don’t you know? There’s a whole system where you have a list of titles (it’s called a pull list), and each week that title comes in, the put it in a box out the back for you. So while you might find me on a Friday, casually paroosing the isles, taking in the hundreds of varied covers, and the smell of plastic bags and paper (and incense, as is the custom at my new store), my purchases are already waiting for me in a box behind the counter, separated from the other patron’s purchases by a flimsy cardboard divider.
Yes, I am a comic book reader, but I realise that there are concepts that I have accepted, that would not translate to the motion picture format. I know, as a comic book reader, my level of acceptance in regards to the realms of believability aren’t always on a par with the general film going public. So, I know that when I’m watching a film that may have been adapted from a comic, the makers of said film are probably going to have to take some liberties with the source material, in an effort to make people actually understand and accept their film, and not feel alienated by it.
Three words: organic web shooters. If you know, you understand. If not, it’s ok. We’ll move on at this point.
What I’m trying to say is that, I realise as a comic book reader, sometimes shit needs to change when they make the movie, otherwise people probably wouldn’t go and see the movie. And if no one goes to see the movie, I don’t get to see any more comic book movies.
So, taking both points one and two into account, here’s my assessment of the film version of Watchmen.
It’s good. Like, really fucking good. Thankfully, the people making this film have understood that Watchmen is – before anything else – a story about humans, and not super heroes. It’s about people who have – for whatever reason – forgotten what it is to be human, or how to relate to other human beings. And occasionally, they dress up in costumes and fight crime, or try to help people.
Most of the performances are spectacular. In particular, Patrick Wilson’s Night Owl II is amazing. As is Jeffery Dean Morgan’s Comedian, and Jackie Earle Haley’s Rorschach. Nailing the look of these characters – which they’ve done – was always only going to be half the battle. Besides that, it’s someone else’s job to dress them and do their make-up. Without trying to trivialise the process, that’s the easy part. After all, there’s a 250-odd page book sitting right next to them with pictures of the characters, so just follow that, yeah? And yes, I know the process is much, much harder than that. What I’m trying to say is that, you can look like Rorschach all you like, but if you don’t act and move and talk and walk like Rorschach, you’re not going to make me want to sit through the one hundred and sixty minutes of a some guy in a Rorschach mask.
Thankfully, they all did. So that’s a win.
In the middle somewhere is Billy Crudup’s Dr. Manhattan – one of the most tragic characters in the book, or any book for that matter. Dr. Manhattan was always going to be hard, and in fairness, I think reason he didn’t ring as true for me as the others was more to do with his most significant chapter being cut considerably. In the end, I don’t feel I saw the same Dr. Manhattan on the screen as I did in the book. While I loved what I saw, I did miss what was missing.
Which brings me to my next point – even at one hundred and sixty minutes, there is a lot missing. And while there’s a lot missing, it still feels long and a little laboured in parts. As if their want to stick as close to the source material as possible in some parts, meant that other stories and characters had to be sacrificed. Let’s not mince words – the book, at times, can drag on. I don’t think anyone would’ve minded if some of the exposition heavy scenes were cut back in the film. There are things you can do on screen to get around having to just tell people information. Sometimes, they do this successfully. Other times, they really don’t. Watchmen has at least three or four interweaving stories going on at any one time, so translating that to screen was always going to be hard. But, rather than just shortening what is there, they’ve just removed the less important side stories and kept everything else. Like, everything. For instance, one of my favourite chapters in the book deals with Rorschach’s court appointed counsellor. And when I saw him in the film, my fan-boy self cheered and internal clap. But while he is very much in there, his story is not. Did I expect to have that whole chapter told out as it reads in the book? Well, no, not really. But there were times where I thought they could hurry up a little more, and if they had, then maybe I could’ve had more counsellor character.
But then, I wasn’t the one who got finance and backing to make the film in the first place, so I know at this point I should probably shut the fuck up. The point I’m trying to make is, at times the film feels so much like a step-child trying desperately to win the approval of a father who refuses to even acknowledge his existence. It cries “Look Daddy, I took your writing and made an amazing film!” While the father sits at his desk, ignoring the cries of glee, writing hate mail to Sean Connery.
Finally, the finale – yes, they’ve changed the ending. Did I go still go, “huh?” Well, no, I didn’t. Did I hear any of the audience in my session go “huh?” Nope. Not audibly, anyway. A few of them were making loud, exasperated ‘sighs’ by that point though. Seems people don’t check the running time when they go to the cinema these days. Does the new ending make it more credible? Yeah, I believe it does. Does it make the ending better? Well, based on my reaction to the book, I say yes. Yes it does. I got more out of the ending of the film than I did the book, and I felt the changes made the reaction and fate of the characters from there on in, a lot more believable.
I’m not sure if there are still people crying foul at the change of ending. I don’t know if there are still fan-boys screaming out, “but the ending was perfect! Why did they change it?” If there are, I’d have to ask them – “Was it? Was it really perfect? Was there absolutely no other way that the book could’ve ended besides… well, that? Sure, the concept and theory is sound, but the execution? He did what? He made what appear? Really? That was the best ending, ever? That they could ever come up with? Ever? Huh?”
And I realise I’m asking this to blank stares with unshaven faces – five-day-growth peppered with Burger Ring dust. I realise that this is a gigantic, geekish, brick wall I’m asking. I realise that I’m not going to get much back. But I still ask. Cause really… that’s the best ending?
In short, I thought Watchmen was a great film based on a great collection of comics and if I had a two-for-one voucher I would try and find a friend to go and see it with me again. Mostly so I could get the cool Watchmen cups and popcorn boxes, which are only available in a Watchmen pack – which consists of one large popcorn and two large cokes. Two cokes. Not one, two. All I wanted was the cool fucking cup man. Why you have to go and make it only for people with friends, huh? That hurts Hoyts. That really hurts. I mean, I paid sixteen-fucking-fifty for my ticket. You should be shovelling popcorn in my slack-jawed gob, at my request, throughout the course of the film. And you wonder why people don’t go the cinemas any more? Fuckers.
Four stars out of five.
 In amongst all this talk of the ‘graphic novel’, it’s often forgotten that Watchmen was originally released as 12 separate comics over time. Much like Spiderman, or Batman or X-Men comes out (kinda) monthly, so too did the 12 issues of Watchmen. Somewhere in all the marketing speak, someone decided that it would be better to use the phrase ‘based on the graphic novel’ as opposed to ‘based on the series of comics’ , as it adds more legitimacy to the work. As if the people who wouldn’t normally go and see a ‘comic book movie’, might be more inclined to do so if the source material sounded more like a ‘novel with pictures’. This irks me, somewhat.
 See also: The reason the idea of a Green Lantern film scares the shit out of me.
 And I’ve read, well, several books. Some of them didn’t even have pictures.