Last night I saw Watchmen…
But before I go to deep into this discussion, let me put a few things into perspective. In 1986, I was a very young comic book reader. I had then decided to keep up with DC Comics as a resource for the DC Comics RPG produced by Mayfair Games earlier that year. One of the greatest comic stories of all time, Crisis on Infinite Earths, was wrapping up, but the repercussions of the universe-spanning event were still not felt within the DCU. During this time period a new ‘Maxi-Series’ (what DC was calling anything larger than 6 issues, but still having a pre-defined finite number of issues) was being saturated in the Direct Sales Box (where the UPC normally would be). “Who Watches the Watchman” was in the lower left hand corner of nearly every DC Comic being published. So when issue #1 came out, I naturally picked it up. I wish I could say it was a life altering experience, but it was not… I was much too young to realize what I was reading, and it wouldn’t be until a re-read in 1995 that I realized what Alan Moore had created.
Since Superman in 1979, there have been many Book/Comic Book/Animation adaptations. Some done extremely well, like Superman, while others have been extremely lackluster, like Howard the Duck. Alan Moore has been the victim of truly awful movie adaptations of his works. Watching League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was much like watching Sean Connery read the phonebook (though I find the series to be quite boring as well). Sometimes a faithful adaptation does not equal success. Last year’s Speed Racer was a magnificent adaptation of the series. It captured all the wonder, excitement and visuals of the original with the ramped up pacing and action for the new millennium. The problem: it was a terrible movie on its own and only truly played to enthusiasts of the original. The other end of the argument can be true as well. Another Alan Moore work, V for Vendetta, was adapted for the screen. While not as much a faithful translation, the film itself moves better and tells a more concise story with superior dramatic flow for its chosen medium. Mr. Moore has been quite outspoken on his displeasure with both V and LXG, but Mr. Moore has grown to be an anachronism with passing time. He has become more of the angry hermit, growing increasingly out-of-step with modern entertainment and business practices.
Watchmen falls within a very in between place; it stays very true to its comic book storytelling roots, while still being topical and adjusting to current entertainment tastes. Actually, I should be more particular, and state that Watchmen adheres to the spirit of its original work. I do not know any other way the story could have been told within three hours. Minor items were removed (to be discussed later), while others were added to give it a message that could be felt now (the addition of the ‘energy problem’).
Origin and near-origin flashbacks within the film were done well, and I was extremely impressed with the history of the world being told within a montage of images during the opening credits. I have always been a critic of entire films being dedicated to “origin” stories (i.e. Spider-Man, Batman Begins, Fantastic Four). One of the things I truly loved about Speed Racer was that we get the entire origin of Racer X in a 30 second montage of events. In those 30 seconds I received every bit of knowledge I needed on where Racer X came from, why he does what he does, and where he was headed. SIMPLICITY!!! The opening credits of Watchmen set the tone and give all the major back story needed for the viewers to enter the slightly skewed world of the film. The only origin that truly needed to be told in detail was Dr. Manhattan’s, just as explanation for later events in the film. Origin and back story as part of the storytelling is so much more superior than derailing the narrative or dedicating an entire film. Nothing is more annoying than going to a superhero ‘origin’ movie and only seeing our hero in costume/with powers/etc in only the third act. Talk about a waste of time, money and film.
The major change within the story was the film’s ending. Though keeping with the spirit of the original work’s conclusion, it did leave a slightly bitter taste. It seemed very derivative of The Dark Knight’s ending, which was the only thing I could focus on at the time. My chief issue with the film is probably a minor plot point to anyone else that has read the ‘graphic novel’. Within the pages of Issue #2, we see a flashback to the “Crimebusters” (the “Watchmen” in the film). Captain Metropolis is attempting to get the team together, and the Comedian sets fire to the map (just as he does in the film) and the meeting subsequently breaks down with each leaving… except Captain Metropolis and one other. As they leave Captain Metropolis pleads, “Somebody has to save the world, don’t you see?” Gibbons moves focus in this panel to the only other person in the room. It can be clearly seen that a decision has been made, and events are set in motion. Yes, it’,s only one ‘minor’ change, but in my mind it removes a major story element in regards to ‘why’.
As a whole Watchmen does exactly what a film should do – it entertains. Luckily it does so while holding true to its roots. It could have diverged more and become more ‘appealing’ to the masses, or it could have much truer to the original work, lasting 5 ½ hours and being completely lost on anyone that was born after 1980. It walks a tight rope between two skyscrapers, with a 75 mph cross wind… successfully. I enjoyed the film, even with the issues I had with it. I will be seeing it a second time (though specifically to see it in IMAX) and do not expect to have a different opinion. I do plan on reading my Absolute Edition in the near future and maybe even blocking out enough time to watch the motion comic in its entirety. So I might be premature in declaring my solidified opinion. It took me three viewings of the Phantom Menace to realize the drivel it was.
Now comes the wait for 5/8/09… and the train wreck that will be Abrams Trek… or Star Abrams… not sure what label of disgust I will be slapping on it.