Watchmen: I bought a stopwatch, does that count?

10 Mar 2009

On Friday night, a comedian died in New York. Someone knows why. Down there… somebody knows.

23 years ago the Watchmen comics were released. Alan Moore told us a story about heroes; about their motives, their dangers, their imperfections. And through-out the graphic novel we see the phrase “Who Watches The Watchmen?” crop up again and again. This goes back to Plato’s Republic and the question of how to build the Ideal City. People throw their trust behind the police and behind Nixon because of a lie, told by those in power, that gives them the “right” to rule. They watch over us do so because they are better than us.

Moore’s Watchmen, although heroes, are not better than us. They are broken men and women. The Comedian is a womanizer, a murderer, and a rapist. Doctor Manhattan is hardly human anymore, only attached to the rest of us through the Silk Spectre. Rorschach is a borderline sociopath who sees the world in absolutes (silly Rorschach. Only Sith deal in absolutes). Ozymandias is the King-figure, alone and ultimately responsible. He represents the same authority seen in President Nixon. And the second Nite Owl is an impotent shadow of his former self, a man without purpose or power. None of them are Superman. They are flawed. And, yet, we find ourselves loving them anyway.

There is a lot more that I could say about Watchmen the graphic novel. But I’ve seen the Watchmen movie a few times now and that’s what we’re here to talk about. Be aware, there will be spoilers within. If you haven’t seen the movie or read the graphic novel, I will probably ruin them both for you. I suggest going and doing both right now, don’t worry. The Internet will be here when you get back. Otherwise, scroll on brave reader.


It should be obvious to you that I loved the Watchmen graphic novel. And starting off with that is a good a point as any. You see, there are people who hated Watchmen. People who thought it pretentious, artsy, pseudo-philosophic bullshit. And that’s fine. Everyone is allowed their own tastes. But if you hated Watchmen the graphic novel, you shouldn’t go see the movie. It is that simple. If you’re one of those people, no amount of praise I give will change your mind. You may as well stop reading here, as you’ll just find something to be angry about.

And to the die-hard fans, I hate to break it to you, but changes were made. This is not a scene for scene replication of the graphic novel. Veidt’s ultimate plan is cosmetically different, but serves the same purpose. Some lines are alter, either in who spoke them or when they’re spoken. And from the rabid fan-boy perspective, I have a hard time understanding why we didn’t see Hollis Mason’s death or why Rorschach didn’t burn Gerald Grice.

But to make a successful movie, change was necessary. There is too much in Watchmen to fit into a feature length film and not enough to realistically turn it into two or three. While incredibly interesting, the Tales of the Black Freighter is not essential. The same can be said of Veidt’s history. And The New Frontiersman. So, while my inner fanboy may cry out in terror with a million voices, the movie-goer in me suddenly silences them. Because Watchmen is a good movie.

Yes, a good movie. Clocking in a few minutes shy of three hours, Watchman is a satisfying experience from beginning to end.

We start with an opening montage (set to Bob Dylan’s “The Times They are a-Changin’”) that throws us into an alternate version of 1985; one where costumed heroes exist, where a science experiment gone wrong creates a walking god, where the Vietnam War was won by America, where the Cold War is warming fast, and where Nixon is serving his fifth term as President.

From here we are introduced to the Watchmen. Of them, I always thought Rorschach and Dan Dreiberg were the heroes. Jackie Earle Haley and Patrick Wilson definitely manage to fill the giant-sized shoes of the characters. Jeffery Dean Morgan, as the Comedian, manages to balance on the edge of being an asshole and being charismatic. Everyone else plays their role well enough, not standing out when sitting back is required.

I do have to say that the movie has stunning visuals. The costumes, the sets, the digital effects, everything creates a style that is both an homage to the comic as well as stands by itself. It all looks impressive including Doctor Manhattan in all his glory.

Which brings up another point. Watchmen is rated R. And for a number of reasons: gore, violence, nudity, attempted rape, animal cruelty, implied violence to children. Some have complained that this is the “sexing up” of the comic, just to sell it to a mainstream audience. To which I retort: what kind of violence would you prefer? You didn’t see every drop of blood in the comic, but it was there. And in some cases, it was there a lot. They broke bones, they smashed skulls. As for the sex? It was there too.

(As it turns out, I’ve got a lot to say about the violence and sex in Watchmen. So at some point, I may post something about it. But until then, I’ll keep it simple. Rorschach’s pursuit of justice, Dan and Laurie’s violence, the Comedian’s monstrous nature, Doctor Manhattan’s inhumanity, and Veidt’s ultimate plan are all juxtaposed against each other. They’re all dealing with the brutality of their world in different ways. I think the comics did a better job of it, but I think that the movie tries to do the same thing albeit in a different way. And maybe it succeeds?)

Now was Watchmen perfect? Gods no. For starters, the music made me crazy. “99 Luftballons” has absolutely no place in… actually, anywhere. “The Sound of Silence” was just bad. The only two that I seem to be okay with in retrospect are “Hallelujah” during the sex scene, for sheer hilarity. And “All Along the Watchtower” because that may be my favorite Bob Dylan song. Otherwise, the person involved in adding music to the movie needs to be openly made fun of at parties. Which is an interesting conundrum, since the person who did the sound editing needs to be praised.

Crappy music at a few points is really my biggest problem with it as a movie. Sure, as a fan I can get upset over countless changes and lines and oddities, but what’s the point? After 23 years, this movie finally got made. Of course there were going to be changes, but for it to be as close to the comics as it is… That’s an impressive feat. Zack Snyder should get some serious kudos from fans. And from the general public. Watchmen, somehow, manages to both appeal to both the die-hards and the newbies.

I know this meager corner of the blogosphere ain’t much, but to Zach Snyder as well as the cast and crew of Watchmen… Thanks. You made this nerd’s day.

“Jon, wait, before you leave… I did the right thing, didn’t I? It all worked out in the end.”

“‘In the end’? Nothing ends Adrian. Nothing ever ends.”

(For the record, if you don’t trust my opinon on it, here’s the opinions of some people I trust. Alex of Batrock thought the music was awesome, the ending sucked, and didn’t like that The Island was missing (something I didn’t like either, but felt was unnecessary for the movie). The Rampant Coyote was glad to have seen it and will never see it again. Dave at Critical Hits liked it. And he likes that liked it differently than he did. Kaedrin and I see eye-to-eye on this being the best possible movie made of Watchmen. We might disagree on what that means exactly though And, to make this a game of “one of these things it not like the others, Roger Ebert proudly displays his nerd cred by loving it.)