Saturday, March 7, 2009

Watchmen Movie Review - No Compromises

Finally got a chance to see the Watchmen movie and I was very pleased with the entire experience. I was constantly surprised at how good this film was and many a scene is practically lifted straight from the comic. What few changes Zack Snyder actually makes to the source material are logical and match the original intention of the film.

For this film review, I went with a 'Love / Hate' list of pros and cons for the film. There are some spoilers, but I don't summarize every little detail or throw out nearly as many spoilers as my comic book reviews. My only request is to not start counting the number of pros or cons in an attempt to gauge whether the film was good or bad because that wasn't my intention. The film was amazing and I loved just about every minute of it and I'm sure you will, too.

Hit the jump for the full breakdown.


The Intro - After watching the intro for Watchmen, I believe they need to make a new Acadamy Award for opening credits. Not to undersell the rest of the movie, but I'm almost (almost) tempted to say this is the best five minutes of the film. If you don't intend on seeing the film or just want to take another look at the intro, feel free to check it out in the embedded video below.

Rorschach - I don't think it's any small stretch to say that Rorschach stole the show here. Jackie Haley, while a tad small in stature, nailed the Rorschach character and his voice was spot on, right down to the trademark 'hiss'.

One thing that was odd, though, was his mask. I always imagined it as warping around based on moisture and sweat. In the movie, it simply changes shape at random. Maybe I misinterpretted the description of it in the comic.

Nite Owl Witnesses Rorschach's Death - I thought this was an excellent addition to the film as I felt Daniel and Rorschach were fairly close and probably each other's only friends. In the comic, Daneil went off to have sex with Silk Spectre and it was designed mostly to show that Rorschach had no place in this new world anymore. It also mirrored Comedian's solitary death in the opening of the book.

However, I always felt cheated we didn't get to see Daniel's reaction to his friend's death and it was something I really enjoyed. I only wish the film had taken more liberties while adapting the comic to film.

Manhattan Did It - Another great change to the source material that I completely agreed with. While many claim to love the alien squid plot from the comic, I thought it was the weakest part and the use of Dr Manhattan as the scape goat for Adrian's master plan.

The Soundtrack - I rarely ever notice the musical score of a film, but from the opening credits' Times They Are A-Changin to 99 Luftballons, the use of sound in this film was amazing and set the tone for many of the scenes.

Good Use of Slowmo - Snyder really toned down his use of slowmo for this film. While it worked well for the ultra violence of 300, I was afraid he'd give a similar treatment of Watchmen. Thankfully, his limited use of it was actually quite well done and added to the film instead of detracted, as I had feared it might.


No Compromises - Zack Snyder did a commendable job adapting arguably the greatest graphic novel ever produced to the silver screen and should be praised for not allowing such ridiculous executive decisions as the proposed cutting of the entire Mars or Rorschach interrogation scenes as well as sticking to his guns on not reducing the length of the film or dropping it to a PG-13 rating.

However, the film's major problems arise from the fact he simply could not divorce himself from the graphic novel and failed to see that this is a different medium. Some things work better in the comic format and shouldn't be adapted panel for panel as Snyder was wont to do throughout the film.

Adrian Veidt is the Villain - It was was quite obvious this was going to happen from the very first promotional images of the film. Adrian Veidt is simply painted as the badguy from the minute we see him and I've yet to find anyone unfamiliar with the comic that did not realize he would be the villain from the first time we see him.

I don't blame this on the acting, though. It was purely the writing aspect. Matthew Goode did as much as he could with what he was given. Despite the fact we had a three hour long movie, it was inevitable something would be cut and it seems that any development or subtleties from the comic for this character was left on the cutting room floor. As far as I'm concerned, they basically plastered a giant neon sign above his head with blinking text stating, "I'M THE BAD GUY!".

"I triggered it 35 minutes ago." - I didn't mind the change from Republican to supervillain, but "triggered"? Seriously? Try saying it yourself. It just lacks the same impact that the original, "I did it 35 minutes ago.", had.

Nite Owl / Silk Spectre Street Fight - I'm not sure what to think about this. It is one of the most brutal fight sequences in the film, consisting of Silk Spectre breaking one guys neck and stabbing another in the neck with a knife while Nite Owl follows it up with his own street vengence. They later go to a prison with convicted felons rioting and simply kick or punch them, similar to the comic interpretation of the riot and in stark contrast to the previous street thug fight scene. It was as if they mixed up a Rorschach scene with an Nite Owl and Silk Spectre one.

Fine, Give Them Their R-Rating - What the hell was up with the Nite Owl/Silk Spectre sex scene? By far the longest and most awkward sex scene I've seen in anything short of porn. It was so jarring and immediately broke up the pace of the film and felt as if Snyder was throwing people a bone for the R-Rating. "Ya, ya, it's an R-Rating. Here's your softcore porn for 5 minutes.". I know they had sex in the comic, but this was just overly gratuitous and unnecessary. Worst part of the film for me.

Manhattan's Big, Blue Dong - In the comic, Dr Manhattan's manhood is on display throughout, just like the movie. However, in the comic it is artistic and similar to something you'd see from a classical painting or statue (think the statue of David). In the movie, it looks like they went out and found a male porn star with a big, flaccid, circumsized penis to stunt double for the nude scenes. I would have preferred they stuck with a more modest interpretation, like the comic, or simply gone with him wearing the underpants he wore during his superhero days.

Bullet Catching - While I enjoyed most of the final showdown with Veidt, the entire Laurie / bullet catching scene was terrible. One minute, we've got Veidt 'killing' Manhattan and the next cut, Laurie's got a gun and shoots him. He catches it and rolls down some stairs. It's just so abrupt and felt like half the scene was cut for time restraints.

We didn't even get Veidt's, "didn't think that would work", line. He just gets up and we move along to the return of Manhattan. I hope this is fixed in the eventual director's cut. A similar problem is with Ozy's pet lynx, Bubastis. Just shows up in one scene and then gets fried with little reason or explanation for a film version.

Verdict - Must See. Don't let the amount of red fool you, this was one of the best comic book movies you'll ever see. However, much like Rorschach, himself, the Watchmen film is an unapologetic and uncompromising attempt at adapting the graphic novel to the silver screen. Snyder does his best at replicating every scene with painstaking attention to detail to the source material. Some of this is amazing, like many of the Rorschach scenes, while some falls flat, like many of Adrian Veidt's scenes.

In the end, Snyder has done what many deemed impossible - adapting Watchmen to film - and has done a better job than anyone could have imagined, myself included. However, as I said above, if he had just tried a little harder to adapt for film instead of simply to film, this movie may have achieved a similar level of recognition as the graphic novel. As it is, we simply got a very, very good comic to film version that fans should love and non-fans should still be able to enjoy.

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Anonymous said...

It's "Manhattan". Like the city.

Randallw said...

I thought the beginning montage was strange. It's not something you see in movies really, as far as I know, but I can see the point ie. this isn't our timeline. A few comments though.

The Lesbian superhero takes the place of the sailor in Time Square, you can see he was a few seconds too late. Not only does the nurse not seem to resist but we see she's her girlfriend later. Was the historical nurse really gay? or did she get turned by the kiss? You know what, don't bother answering, it doesn't matter, but I did find it weird.

The purpose of the montage is to show changes (ah. Now I get the song) but what's different about Castro being in Moscow, or is that Che Guevara this time?

That college shooting. Hands up who saw that coming. We're talking about a timeline where things are worse, and someone is standing in front of a gun. 100% guaranteed chance she's going to get it in the face.

I didn't really notice the lack of the "I wasn't sure I could do that" but I did notice the lack of a callback to the meeting where Ozymandias got the idea when Comedian told him the world has bigger problems than heroes can solve. Mind you I'm a bit deaf, so he might have mentioned it near the end.

As for Manhattan's, um downtown district, I didn't mind it. It shows he isn't concerned with that sort of thing unless the army tells him to when he's 50 feet tall. In fact I did notice in the first half they covered it up with angles shots. Then they had the second half and it's sex scenes and can't be bothereds.

All in all though it was different but not bad.

Kirk Warren said...

@Anonymous - Ya, I noticed that on the second read through and fixed it.

@Randallw - With Castro in Moscow, I think it just implies the two teaming up against the US in the face of their new superweapon (could be wrong, I havent read the comic in years, so cant recall that minor detail if it is mentioned).

In regards to Dr Manhattan, I know why he goes around naked - it's just the change and increased size / focus on it compared tot he comic version. It's not some 'game over man, game over, movie sucks' type of moment, but distracting nonetheless.

Andrenn said...

We mostly agree, I just miss the giant squid. But hey, great review Kirk, glad to see you enjoyed it as well.

Bill said...

I have to totally disagree about the soundtrack. It was equal parts cliche and batshit insane. Sounds of Silence during the funeral was totally hokey, and the Leonard Cohen during the sex scene was absolutely bizarre.

I kinda don't want to see Snyder do any more serious stuff. He does the violence well, he makes stuff look cool, but he doesn't seem to direct actors very well, and his sex scenes are always pornish (in 300 it was a soldier telling tall tales of his fallen leader, so that made sense, but here it was way out of place). All the scenes with people out of masks, especially old Sally Jupiter, felt like scenes from movies rather than actual people. Lots of dramatic chair turnarounds, not much acting (despite talented actors). And of course his action is always super cool action, all the heroes fought like ninjas, even the guy hired to kill Veidt split Lee Iacocca's glasses right down the middle (which was ridiculous).

But past all the nipicking, I did actually enjoy it. Faithful enough to the comic, had some easter eggs for fans (HJ and Captain Metropolis together in the opening montage, a few shots of the newsstand with Bernie and Bernard), hopefully people will see this and want to read the book.

Matt Ampersand said...

Kirk, I agree with a lot of your complaints, especially the sex scene. Although it is not the most awkward I have seen (A History of Violence probably takes the prize on that category), I found it to be unnecessarily long and could have used different music instead.

Bubastis was pretty pointless, and looked like crap. They might as well have not put him in there at all.

The fights were extremely and needlessly gory. These, for all their faults, are supposed to be heroes. Silk Spectre breaking that guys neck was a definite shocker.

It's a shame they did not use the "I did it 35 minutes ago" line, I could have definitely seen that line become a pop-culture stable, sort of like "THIS IS SPARTA" (before it was overdone to hell)

And I loved the opening montage (and so did my wife, who has never read the book).

And I thought Dr. Manhattan's penis was uncircumcised. Maybe I didn't look close enough.

El Sr. Lado Brillante said...

Indeed, it was amazing!

Really amazing. I loved the intro and music, specially sounds of silence.

Naymlap said...

I'll agree with you that the intro was brilliant. It was iconic, really. It took a lot of great moments in late American history and showed how superheroes changed/fit in to it.
But the frakking slow motion shots were too much. The movie seemed way too in awe of the source material or Zack Snyder is from the Mel Gibson school of film. Either way it seemed excessive.

Randallw said...

What I find hilarious is that Dr Manhattan was CGI so that means someone actually took the time to make dowtown Manhattan look as impressive as possible :).

The Dangster said...

I completely agree with your entire arguments. Well written, although the Manhattan penis thing couldn't be stopped by Snyder. more than a couple seconds of flaccid penis would garner an NC-17 rating. But I get what you're saying. I loved 99 luftballoons.

Mark Dykeman said...

I was surprised by the violence in the Nite Owl/Silk Spectre fight scenes. Yes, they were fighting for their lives, but Dan and Laurie clearly enjoyed beating the crap out of the gang (and breaking some bones, too.) In a way, I thought they were a bit more deranged than Rorschach.

I remember seeing these scenes in the comic over 20 years ago and I didn't see Dan and Laurie enjoy it back then as much as they seemed to in the movie.

Dogma-central said...

Well, I think Dr. Manhattan actually had a uncircumcised penis. It was kinda surprising for me, I tought they'd avoid showing it at all, or make him angel-like. I kinda liked it that way, I always think of Dr.Manhattan as perfect, therefore the penis was also quite perfect (I don't think it looked that porn-star like, he's pictured hairless, and you know what effect that always causes).

I enjoyed the movie alltough I didn't really like it, i completely agree with what you're saying about medium. I think he could have made a better movie if he hadn't followed the book so strictly, some things just don't work in the big screen.

The intro was really amazing, but i think the music became really annoying after 99 ballons, it just had too many Music Video moments (slow-motion + music) and Watchmen isn't really about the action.

One thing that was really different than I expected was Rorschach mask, I always imagined it as being more latex/plastic like, and with really slow and subtle changes. He was still pretty amazing though.

And really what were they thinking on that sex scene? Not only it was porn-like, but also WHY DID THEY PUT LEONARD COHEN OVER IT? I don't think I'll ever be able to hear that song again.

Max said...

Loved the comic. Hated the film. It was like watching Mozart's 41st symphony being turned into High School Musical 4 – an artless photocopy, a talentless travesty. Not everything has to be made into a film, and this is exhibit A.

Calvin's Canadian Cave of Cool said...

We spend years wondering what a movie the graphic novel would make and the moment we see it we nitpick like a bunch of republicans on Fox. Anyone who complains about this awesome experience for any fanboy doesn't deserve all the great superhero movies we have gotten recently. Do we all really want to go back to the days of Captain American and Corman's Fantastic Four?

CB Robinson said...

Interesting take on the movie, you even found a few things that were bugging me that I couldn't quite put my finger on. A great review.

I find it interesting that I haven't read a review or a blog yet that talks about the exclusion of Legends of the Black Freighter. Not even making reference to it bugged the hell out of me.

Kirk Warren said...

Re: the music - Seems from reading comments and other sources, people are pretty divided on the music and quality of it. The only time I disliked it was the 'sex scene' with Dan and Laurie, but that was more the tackiness of the scene as opposed to the music. Everywhere else, I thought was spot on for the feel of the scenes. They even had a Dylan song come on at the end of the 'chapter', just like in the actual comic, which I thought was nice. Guess this is a subjective thing and it'll come down to personal preference on this subject.

@Mark Dykeman - That alley fight scene felt like another instance of "okay, we got the R rating for big naked blue man's frontal nudity, what can we give people to justify the rating?", similar to how the one panel sex scene in the comic becamea 3 minute softcore porn in the film.

@Max - I don't know if I'd be that harsh with it. Seeing as sales for the trade have increased dramatically over the past year (even Amazon was sold out at times), I'd say the movie succeeded simply by exposing more people to the original source material alone.

While I agree Snyder may have been too strict in his adaptation of the film, it was still enjoyable on some level to see these characters on screen and the story relatively in tact and treated with respect.

@Calvin's Canadian Cave of Cool - I agree with you in regards to outright whining or complaining about the movie without acknowledging the positive aspects of the movie. However, to say no one can point out flaws or nitpick about it is just foolish. I still loved the film for what it was, but can easily point out flaws while still appreciating the craftsmanship put into it.

@CB Robinson - The Black Freighter got its own DVD release prior to the movie since it would be too unwieldly to fit into the movie. I was tempted to pick it up, but opted to wait for a director's cut DVD that woudl bundle everything together instead of paying ofr them all separately.

coffee said...

i haven't read the Watchmen comic series, but i can't imagine them packing any more into one movie even if they wanted to, which is good for me, makes me feel like i got my money's worth

Walabio said...

This did not work the first time, so here I try again:

Doctor Manhattan is intact — not mutilated — in the movie.

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