Friday, 13 March 2009

Yeah, I Watched it...

So Nic and I bit the bullet and went to see Watchmen last weekend. I'll try to keep this brief and relatively spoiler-free (although, frankly, if you haven't already read the comic then there really is no hope for you).

I actually think we got off fairly lightly, all in all. We'd already lost the big battle, in that the film was going to be made with or without the approval of the writer or his fans, so the rest of it was just damage limitation. Snyder "gets" the book well enough to do a decent job of putting it on the screen, but not so well as to realise that doing so is a bad idea in the first place. He certainly seems to know better than to make a pure "Snyder Movie" at the expense of the material (for example, does any of us really need to know what a quirky, darkly-slapstick Gilliam Watchmen would have looked like?), but he doesn't tie himself slavishly to the original.

There are a couple of places where his excitement gets the better of him and he fails to realise that a moment of really top-class violence can totally ruin the trajectory of an entire characterisation. There is, for example, supposed to be a sense of separation between Rorschach and the more "moderate" vigilantes, but Snyder erases that line in an otherwise deeply satisfying mugging scene by having one of the good guys start snapping necks and fatally stabbing opponents. Since the character never goes to those extremes again, even when placed in much more dangerous circumstances later in the film, it just feels out of place and makes the whole thing smell cheap. I'd much rather have seen this level of violence from one of the more extreme characters, but we really never hit that height again. Weird choice.

The much-hyped "amped-up violence" levels pretty much spit in the face of the book, in any case. Probably the most powerful act of violence in the early chapters of Watchmen occurs when Rorschach snaps a guy's little finger. That one, perfect moment produces a more powerful reaction in me as a reader than any double-page slobber-knocker, but the movie loses that scene altogether in favour of supposedly non-superhuman people punching bloody great holes in walls and sending opponents flying through the air with a single kick. The experience of watching the film is very much like having the plot of the comic screamed at you by a nine-year-old child in the middle of an incredibly noisy amusement arcade. It's a lot of fun, but you're missing out on most of the fine detail.

In the final analysis, though, given that someone was going to make this film, I'm glad it was made by "one of us". I don't think I could have restrained my Fist of Death if I'd been presented with a sequel-friendly, 90-minute, PG-13 Watchmen. That, apparently, is what Snyder was originally told to make, so in that light the film we ended up with is fucking miraculous. If most of the above sounds negative, it's primarily because of the reservations I had about the exercise going in. It's actually a very good film on its own merits, but it's undeniably a rather patchy adaptation of the source material.

I still don't see the point of a Watchmen movie, but since we've got one, I'm surprised and pleased that it's as powerful, entertaining and persuasively realised as it is.

Then again, what the Hell do I know?


  1. What can I say but "Yes".

    Oh alright, and all that waffle on my blog too.

  2. The film has had an upside. We are both reading the original. So not a dead loss. Sounds like the film is better than I would have expected too.

  3. As an adaptation I'd say it ranks with Lord of the Rings.

    Same kinds of problem, same kinds of triumphs. It does what the best adaptations do - capture the essence and main plot beats of the original and translate them to another medium - in this case, as you say, the medium of being screamed at by a sugar-rushing child in an amusement arcade!

    Given that it's a great film in its own right, though.

    Best credits ever, and they weren't even pointy!

    Favourite things:

    It looks spectacular and the soundtrack is spot on.

    The Comedian was perfect

    Dr Manhattan in Vietnam (Ride of The Valkyries - woo!)

    The funeral scene.


    Ferret - be interested to hear what you think of the comic.


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