I’m not really sure this should be considered a review. I cover the basics, I guess, but it’s more like me rambling in an semi-organized manner about the movie and the book and describing which of the changes I liked and which I didn’t. As such, this is your spoiler warning:
STORY & PACING – Most of the story was intact. Indeed, people will point out that many sequences were filmed panel for panel and that there were large chunks of dialogue lifted directly from the comic. This might bother those that believe the film should be an adaptation and that it isn’t an adaptation if it’s taken panel for panel, but it made me happy. Mostly. Unfortunately, the exactness of some of the scenes also made it really obvious when something was changed, however slightly. Sometimes the small deviations made sense, but sometimes, they were just so trivial that I had to wonder why they didn’t just stick to what had been written. It’s too noticeable when you follow something almost exactly.
One scene that sticks out to me in particular is when Rorschach visited Osterman and Juspeczyk following his visit to Dreiberg near the beginning of the movie — the conversation was a lot longer in the book and touched on the Comedian’s attempted rape of Juspeczyk’s mother, so Rorshach being subsequently expelled from the lab made sense. In the movie, it seemed more like Osterman getting impatient, which doesn’t fit as well, and since Rorshach never gets to mention Dreiberg at all, they reworked it to Osterman suggesting Juspeczyk go see him, which doesn’t make much sense either, even if they tried to use it to touch on his simultaneous time-seeing abilities. It’s the little things. Also, I’m probably the only anal retentive idiot who is slightly annoyed at the fact that Rorshach’s opening lines did not include the “look down” part and was therefore not word for word.
The biggest cut from the story was everything involving the newspaper vendor, the freeloading kid, and Tales of the Black Freighter, but that was pretty predictable. I’ve heard various things about the pirate side story being released with the DVD, and actually, in the commercials/previews before the showing, there was an ad for an animated version of Tales of the Black Freighter to be released on its own? Not sure. In any case, Bernie and Bernie still make various cameo appearances throughout the film, so it wasn’t like they were axed completely.
The biggest change was obviously the ending. I would not have had a problem if they replaced the alien with a nondescripit explosion of undeteremined cause, but I was kind of puzzled as to why they decided to frame Dr. Manhattan. I mean, the guy’s already left the planet with no intentions to return, so it’s kind of pointless to pin it on him — if the threat has left the planet, hell, the galaxy, why should the peace last? Maybe they don’t know where he’s gone, but eh… I dunno. It just seemed pointless to me. They could have just left it as an explosion and the world could freak out not knowing where it had come from. The only plus of blaming Manhattan is the explanation of how Veidt got the technology to do what he did without kidnapping random scientists, but I don’t feel as if that subplot would have been hard to work into the movie (I’m actually a bit disappointed the New Frontiersman didn’t play a very prominent role at all since that’d have made Rorschach’s decision to send them his journal less random).
Also, I didn’t like that Dreiberg witnessed Rorshach’s death at the end. His scream was really weird and unnatural feeling, and his beating up on Veidt afterwards just seemed forced. I think part of the reason I didn’t like it was just because I’m too used to anime pandering to the fujoshi crowd and just couldn’t unsee the slash potential of Rorshach/Nite Owl II that resulted from that scene, and that is just so many kinds of do not want. =_= The “you’re a good friend” scene was fine, but that final angst just pushed it over the line for me. I dunno. Dreiberg should have been off banging his girl again, not watching his buddy get blown up. That said though, Rorshach obviously had the coolest blood splatter ever.
Other random things: so, how about that sex scene, huh? Honestly, I didn’t have many qualms about it other than the fact that it went on for way too long. Seriously did not need that latter half with the awkward thrusting. That was just. Yeah. But other than that? The Hallelujah Chorus and flames in the sky? Sure, whatever, man. The theatre had a great time laughing it up so it was all good. Oh, and Rorshach’s backstory. I think the only reason they changed it was because they didn’t want to seem like they were ripping off Saw with the limb-cutting thing when clearly it’s the other way around. I don’t dislike what they did, but they made it seem like Rorshach just lost it then when I feel like it was a more subtle change than that. The fire was slower-acting and put him in a position to contemplate what he’d done more than just hacking the guy’s head open.
I didn’t like that they made “Watchmen” the name of the second generation superhero group. Sure, it’s infinitely better than “Crimebusters,” as it was originally, but it takes away from the ambiguity of the title, which could be a reference to a number of things, from the Doomsday clock to a quote from Einstein. It’s one of those changes that makes perfect sense but doesn’t sit well all the same. Don’t you hate no-win situations?
Changes aside though, I wasn’t all that fond of the pacing in the movie. It seemed really choppy, especially when we were bouncing back and forth between characters. I never really got a sense that anyone was the “main” character, which is fine I guess, but that made it harder to focus. It was a lot of character and story elements strung together — I didn’t get a very good sense of time passing, which was odd as well. The whole movie could have taken place in two days, but it really should have been more like two weeks. A lot of the logic didn’t follow very clearly for me either. Like, why did Dreiberg decide he wanted to spring Rorshach from prison? Not sure. Juspeczyk’s whole parental subplot? Didn’t feel relevant at all, and honestly, it felt kind of misplaced when it finally dawned on her.
Hum, seems like my disjointed rambling is already leading into the character section, so let’s go there. D;
CHARACTER & ACTING – First off, Jackie Earle Haley as Rorshach was mindblowingly perfect. His voice, his face, everything about him was spot on. I think his face freaks me out the most because of how much it fits even though Walter Kovacs was probably supposed to be quite a bit uglier than Haley. The acting and characterization was fantastic though, and I’m really not even sure how to express how happy I am that Rorshach translated so damn well into live action. I really appreciate that Haley is also a fan of the book and worked hard to get a convincing portrayal down. The black and white nature of his character was clear. I did feel like he was a bit more emotional in the film — there was more feeling in his voice than I’d have expected when he told Dreiberg “[he] quit” and he almost looked/sounded like he was pleading in that last scene with Manhattan. That was fine though, as the point of his character wasn’t lost. Nevertheless, I do wish they could have incorporated more of his backstory and daily life — I don’t feel they were that effective in capturing his philosphies and moral views, and I did not get the impression that there was a stark difference between Rorshach and Walter Kovacs despite various scenes hinting at such. I guess I can understand the cuts to the psychologist scenes; after all, it isn’t Rorshach’s movie, but it was still a little disappointing.
Patrick Wilson as Dan Dreiberg was also pretty good. As far as acting goes, his awkwardness and sincerity was well done, but sometimes his interactions with the other characters felt forced. The characterization also didn’t feel very solid or in-depth, but that’s more a matter of script than acting. I didn’t get as much a sense of his past with Rorshach, and the progression of his relationship with Juspeczyk felt rushed because the pacing of the movie in general felt rushed. I also didn’t get a very clear sense of his inner conflict with superheros and vigilantism, partially because I don’t think anything involving the Keene Act was well explained. The flashbacks and such dealing with the police strike felt jumbled and focused more on the Comedian as a character than the moral questions surrounding the subject. So in the end, I guess this made Dan a pretty flat character, which really is a shame because the acting wasn’t bad.
Speaking of the Comedian, I didn’t like the opening of the movie. I didn’t like that we caught that glimpse of him while he was still alive when he’s otherwise portrayed entirely through flashbacks. Honestly, I think that opening bit was more of a bone tossed at the fanboys than anything substiantial storywise — it was a good place to sneak in references to Nostalgia and other things that I can’t seem to remember right now, but we had that later montage where there were references up the wazoo anyway, so it’s even more pointless that way. Rather than spend those ten minutes watching the Comedian die, I would have preferred they be invested in better developing one of the other characters. Eddie Blake wasn’t badly characterized though. Every bit of him we saw in the film was pretty much taken straight from the comics, so it felt pretty solid. I think his scene with the pregnant woman in Vietnam would have been better if it had stuck more precisely with the book, but that might just be another on the long list of things that stood out because they were done almost exactly.
Malin Akerman was an okay Laurie Juspeczyk. I have to say that I never really liked the character to begin with though, even in the comic, and it seemed like all of her imperfections were more obvious in the movie. As I said before, her entire subplot with her parents seemed frustratingly irrelevant, though this could partially be blamed on Jon Osterman’s poor film characterization. Her conflict with her mother and the fact that she had been raised into vigilantism was not very clear (her mother’s acting and characterzation was great, however). Her relationship with Osterman seemed contrived at best, and the time (or lack thereof) it took for her to come onto Dreiberg just makes her seem like a slut. I’m just a huge misogynist though… I guess it doesn’t help that the only important thing she seems to do in the entire movie is motivate Dreiberg to put on his costume again (and sleep with him).
Billy Crudup really looked the part for Dr. Manhattan, but his character was exceedingly difficult to grasp in the movie. I think part of this is because the format of his lengthy flashbacks on Mars just wasn’t as effective as it was in the comic. The lack of narration made it harder to understand that he perceives all time simultaneously, so you couldn’t really understand that he had been growing more and more distant from humanity because of that ability. The impact of his relationship with Janey Slater didn’t resonate very well; as a result, his relationship with Juspeczyk didn’t hold too great either. Thus, Osterman just comes off as a cold and distant character — since his feelings for Juspeczyk felt contrived, his “sudden” appreciation of humanity near the end of the movie didn’t really connect. Actually, this bothered me in the book too. He “saves” the world by deciding not to do anything about Veidt’s plan, kills Rorshach to ensure that no one else does, but then he jumps ship and leaves the galaxy? Just because Juspeczyk leaves him? Humanity has to mean more to you than just one relationship, right?
And finally… Matthew Goode as Adrian Veidt. Am I the only one who thought that he had neon flashing lights over his head proclaiming “LOOK AT ME~! I’M THE VILLAIN~!” from the minute he was introduced? Just everything about him seemed to scream stereotypical supervillain, from the slight accent to the arrogant demeanor. I consider Watchmen’s storyline to be a mystery at its core — this doesn’t work if the “bad guy” is obvious from the second he walks in. I was completely fooled by Veidt in the comic, so what the hell happened?? This is my single biggest gripe with the entire movie. Veidt came off as a much more playful, and even naive, character in the book
(his sad little “My display…” comment after the Comedian burns his chart thing in that flashback sticks out in my head); his obsession with Alexander the Great and Egyptian myth wasn’t obvious at all and was not explained until the very end. The worst of it was that they chose to have him ramble about his idols and motivation right before the attempt on his life. They alienate his character and pretty much confirm him as a villain right before the attempt to remove him as a suspect. Yeah, that totally works. -_-
All of the minor characters in the movie were pretty great though. Rorshach’s shrink, Hollis Mason, Sally Jupiter, Moloch (even though I think the pointed ears could have been left out) were all spot on. I really do think they did a brilliant casting job — most of what’s missing in characterization is due more to cuts in the script than anything else. I always feel like they could have invested more in developing all the characters properly rather than spending the time on decidedly less important things such as the intro with the Comedian and the sex scene, but I also know that to the general population, especially those who have not read the comic, shiny things are better than deep things. So what can ya do.
One thing though, my roommate and I both swear we saw Patrick Stewart as one of the generals in the war room with President Nixon (sitting on the far-left in many of the shots). His name wasn’t in the credits, not does it seem to be mentioned anywhere else, but we SWEAR it was him. Anyone else spot him or are we just crazy?
ART & ANIMATION – Rorshach’s face was amazing. Dr. Manhattan also looked pretty good, and I appreciated that they didn’t try to censor his occasional full blown nudity. The doc exploding people was also nice looking. Other than that though… a lot of the movie looked too shiny to me for some reason. It felt too modern. I had a hard time remembering that it’s 1985. I think that’s more due to the format of the film than anything else though — the shiny things on Mars didn’t help either. There were a lot of hints towards the era; I just had a hard time picking them up because 1) my historical sense is terrible, and 2) everything was still so shiny! Is it unfair of me to say that things were just too well-animated? The Comedian being thrown out the window in slow motion was just too sophisticated. I wanted nitty gritty. It’s a dirty, oldschool crimescene; I didn’t want the fancy schmancy effects.
The explosion at the end was also a little disappointing. It felt too overdramatic and staged, which is weird because it should have been dramatic, just not staged. Maybe they’d overspent their budget on Dr. Manhattan by that point. I didn’t get a very good sense of just how much devastation there was either — there was no shot of the mountain of dead bodies tumbling out of the Garden afterwards. Even the newscasts didn’t seem to emphasize that millions of people died. It felt weird, but it’s still a good-looking movie, maybe just too good.
Oh, wait. I forgot to talk about Bubastis. Bubastis looked cheap. Didn’t blend with the scenery at all, and just wasn’t very convincing in general. Really, I wish they had just left her out altogether because without the genetic experimentation angle on Veidt’s plot, she just seemed like a misplaced character. All she did was make Veidt seem even more like a stereotypical supervillain. All the bad guys seem to like to have their little kitty pet. (It’s always a cat. Why always a cat?) The fact that Veidt was lacking in all his rambling monologue didn’t help either because the audience didn’t get a chance to appreciate Bubastis before her death. It’s very sad.
MUSIC – My first thought was that there was way too much in the way of vocal background music in this movie. My roommate pointed out that a lot of it helped put us in the time period — pieces like Nena’s “99luftballoons” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” (okay, maybe that one’s a bit old). I guess that’s true, though I suck at pop culture and can’t place these things very well anyway. “Hallelujah” was just exceptionally corny, which is okay, except that they went for corny twice. They’d already used “Rise of the Valkyries.” I did like most of the music choices; it just seemed excessive after a while. The soundtrack itself was pretty neat, though I’d probably need to watch the movie again to get a better opinion.
OVERALL – Hell, I want to see the entire movie again to get a better opinion in general. I already can’t remember a lot of specific scenes, and that really bugs me. I think this “review” sounds a lot more negative than I want it to — it’s always easier to talk about the poorer aspects of something because praising the good parts just feels like finding all the synonyms of “awesome” that exist and spewing them together onto the page. I liked this movie. There are some things about it that I would change if it were up to me, but really? It was a solid enough film; it was fun and entertaining. Some of the changes/additions were pretty neat too (I loved Rorshach’s “It’s your turn, doc: what do you see?”). It’s true that some of the deeper questions that spawned from the book are missing, but the general idea is still there. It still poses the same moral question at the end.
I would probably recommend it to fans of the book as long as they’re willing to accept that changes will always exist. I’m not really sure what to say to non-fans though. I’ve yet to hear many opinions from people who’ve never read the comic. I did say that I felt the pacing was a bit confusing, so maybe the non-fan would be too confused to grasp the core themes. In that sense, it’s a shame, and maybe the movie didn’t really succeed, but for the fan, it’s still a nice treat to be able to see everything in live action.