Quick history of Watchmen and a review of the movie
Okay, I convinced Steph to come with me to see Watchmen last night. Wednesday nights are sometimes our impromptu movie nights because the theaters tend to be devoid of annoying teenagers talking on their cell phones and to each other. We saw Iron Man this way and it can be a pleasant experience.
I’ve had several people ask me what I thought of this movie so I thought I’d do a semi-movie review. I’m also going to talk a bit about the graphic novel because I’m guessing the majority of you may not know the history behind it. It’s interesting how big a release this movie became considering the average movie going patron may not really know who or what Watchmen is or where it came from. So before I talk about the movie, let’s just do a quick recap about where the story of Watchmen came from and what it’s about. If you just want the movie review, you impatient sonova-bee sting, then skip down to that section.
Watchmen was a twelve issue comic book limited series released in 1986 and 1987 by DC Comics. It was written by legendary writer Alan Moore who also wrote other famous limited edition comics League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, V for Vendetta and From Hell. Moore is notorious for being extremely anti-establishment and has preemptively dis-owned the movie versions of all of his comic novels. Alan Moore’s idea was to take a hard look at superheroes and portray them as normal, flawed human beings. Moore based the story in our reality, albeit a slightly altered one in which superheroes existed. In keeping with our reality, even though the characters are called superheroes, only one character displays obvious supernatural powers. The appearance of these heroes has altered the outcome of certain historical events including the Vietnam War, which we win with help from the heroes and Richard Nixon’s presidency which is extended because of the win in Vietnam. Moore would use this setting to deconstruct the idea of superheroes as benevolent crime-fighters and show that they, too, are susceptible to the human traits of selfishness, greed and murder.
When Moore originally proposed the idea to DC, he wanted to use characters just purchased from the defunct Charlton Comics. More specifically, the characters of Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt, The Question and Peacemaker. DC convinced Moore to create original characters instead because his story would leave several of the characters unusable for future stories. Moore acquiesced and wrote the story using his own creations. Watchmen begins with aging, retired hero, The Comedian (based on Peacemaker), being brutally murdered by an unknown assailant. Masked vigilante, Rorschach (based on The Question), delves deeper into the mystery and uncovers a plot to kill former masked heroes. Throughout the story we learn about past superheroes and get lots of back story on The Comedian and the other characters to see how everyone got to where they are now. Critical acclaim for the book was immediate and it’s considered, next to Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Gaiman’s Sandman series, to be one of the greatest comic book stories of all time.
For many years, studio after studio, writer after writer and director after director tried to put together a Watchmen movie. At different times such talents as Tom Cruise, Jude Law, Terry Gilliam, John Cusack, Darren Arnofsky, Sigourney Weaver and Hillary Swank were rumored to be attached. So many changes in cast, crew and studios lead the comics community to label the graphic novel “unfilmable”. It remained that way for years (Watchmen movie development started in 1987) until director Zack Snyder took over in 2006. Snyder actually hid a test shot of Jackie Earl Haley as Rorschach into the trailer for his previous movie, 300.
So that’s where the Watchmen came from. Did I read the graphic novel? Of course I did. I collected comics from sixth grade all the way through college. I have hundreds of comics in my garage including an almost complete run of the Silver-Age Flash as well as Wolverine’s first appearance in Incredible Hulk #181. Watchmen was required reading by the time I got to high school. And, honestly, I didn’t like it. The story was too dense and it was incredibly hard to follow. I just couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. As a matter of fact, when Snyder took over the movie version and it looked like the movie was going to be made, I tried to read it again. And failed. The material was just not interesting to me the way it was presented. Far too much information going on. I was fascinated by the premise and the story, but I couldn’t stay interested in the comic. Part of the problem was that throughout the Watchmen comics Moore interrupts the story with several “stories within the story”. There are excerpts from Psychology profiles, a biography called Under the Hood and a comic called The Black Freighter. These completely separate story tangents that were originally meant to enhance the story, ultimately led me to lose interest in the main story as a whole. While I remained fascinated in what Moore was trying to do, I couldn’t get through all the extra dense story material to finish it all. Since I do like the entire premise, I was looking forward to seeing the movie hoping that the more compact story time would eliminate certain, “distractions”.
So how did Snyder do? Let’s find out…
The Movie Review
So now I’ve seen the movie and I’ve seen it from a somewhat unique position. A comics fan that really didn’t like the original graphic novel. You will not easily find that, trust me. EVERYONE loves this graphic novel. I think, however, my stance on the graphic novel gave me a little leeway with how much I’d like the movie. And I liked the movie. A lot. Yes, there were problems, but overall, I thought it was a very good movie. Even my wife, who was not convinced at all that she would enjoy the movie was invested in the story. That’s saying something. There were problems, though. Some of the dialog is a little goofy. As are some of the music selections. Some songs work, but some are just weird. And there is a lot of male nudity. Dr Manhattan (the big blue guy) doesn’t wear pants, so you see his wiener. A lot. Like, it’s almost as if Zack Snyder was trying to show you Dr Manhattan’s junk. The subtitle for the movie should be “Gazing at giant blue wiener”. It was distracting whenever Dr Manhattan was onscreen. Thank the lord he was wearing speedos when he went outside his lab. Distracting.
What did I like? The action. The few action scenes are so well done it pumped me up after several long dialog scenes. Zack Snyder really knows how to compose a fight/battle scene. It was phenomenal. And Jackie Earl Haley as Rorschach. The dude is a revelation. Every time Rorschach was onscreen I was riveted. The voice, the mannerisms, the machismo. Haley NAILED it. For such a small guy, he really came off as a bad ass. I was impressed. I’d actually want to watch a solo Rorschach movie I loved this character so much. The other characters were good, but were definitely overshadowed by Rorschach.
I also liked how the story was presented. The elimination of the distracting “Tales of the Black Freighter” comic as well as excerpts from the “Under the Hood” biography kept the storyline focused and easier to follow. The movie was good enough, even with its flaws, that now I want to go back and try to read Watchmen the graphic novel again. I almost wish they would release a prose version of the story in novel form. Maybe using the script/story Moore wrote out for artist Dave Gibbons. However, even though the story is still dense, it’ll make you think and you will enjoy the action and characters that are portrayed within the movie. I know I did and so did my wife. Also, I’m glad I saw it in the theater on the big screen, because the movie is gorgeous.
If you want to see a really good, detailed breakdown of the movie from a huge fan of the graphic novel, then take a look at Shawn’s review on Branded in the 80s. He does a very good job deconstructing the movie and the graphic novel. And his views on both are different than mine.
So this is a good movie if you want to give it a chance. It’s not your typical superhero movie, aka Iron Man. It’s more like Dark Knight, but even darker, if you can imagine.
Hope that helps anyone wanting to see this movie. Have a great weekend everyone. I’ll be running the Gate River Run on Saturday, so wish me luck.