I saw Watchmen tonight. Before I attempt to organize my thoughts about that film into any readable blog, I need to set you up for why I love the book so much.
I never thought I’d be a fan of graphic novels, really. But Watchmen (actually the third graphic novel I read) transcended all my expectations. It made the short list of Books that Rocked My World.
As Myron, Russ, and I stood outside the movie theater tonight, debating the merits of the book versus the film, Myron and I (like always) moved into a discussion of why we love modern and postmodern literature (including Watchmen). Books written in these time frames are (usually) so real, so raw, so unguarded. When they’re good, they strip away all pretense and get to the core of what’s wrong with society, and sometimes (even simultaneously) what’s good about society (example: The Kite Runner).
Watchmen is a speculation on how society could wind up. But the beauty of the graphic novel is in the details. The subplots that run parallel to the overarching plot about vigilantes trying to save the world. The minute details in each frame of the story. The extensive history (and documentation) on each of the characters that explains their motives. And the incredible, paradoxical, infuriating ending.
SPOILER: I’m talking about this film. If you don’t want to get my honest, unguarded, frustrated opinion, stop reading now. I don’t want to ruin it for you if you keep reading. This might be intense…but what could you expect from a review on a movie that I’ve been waiting months for, a movie based on one of the books that I love? 🙂
To be honest, I got to the end of the movie, buried my face in my hands as the credits started rolling, then turned to Myron and Russ with a stunned expression on my face, saying, “Oh, my God. I don’t even know!” I couldn’t have told you at that point if I liked or despised the film.
There were some good things about that movie. Phenomenal things. It must have been incredibly difficult to take a book that already has detailed, elaborate illustrations and turn it into a film. But Zach Snyder, the director, did a superb job. The characters were almost all exactly as they appeared in the novel. Laurie’s hair, Rorschach’s freckles, even the newspaper vendor…most of them were spot on, appearance-wise. Some of the effects were better than I imagined. (Example: Rorschach’s mask is an ever-changing inkblot. In the book, in each frame, the mask has a different design. It’s a long book–hundreds of masks. In the film, the features of the mask was constantly in motion, and I was quite impressed by the effects.)
The personalities, too–Dan’s hesitation, Dr. Manhattan’s stoicism, Rorschach’s black-and-white sense of justice–almost all of them came across exactly as they needed to. The one exception was perhaps Adrian Veidt. I didn’t quite buy his “brilliant, good-looking man trying to save the world” act in the beginning as much as I did in the novel. I’m sure a lot of that comes from my knowing the ending, however.
The beginning of the movie really had me hooked, too. Within the first minute, I was convinced that I’d been correct in hoping that this would be one of the best movies ever made. Snyder’s effort to make the movie resemble the frames of the graphic novel were excellent. I wish he could have carried that through the whole film without it getting frustrating and tiresome. That wouldn’t have been possible, though. But great job on the beginning!
Some of the music was great, too. I really liked the irony of playing Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable” in the opening scene with all the violence of the Comedian’s death. Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin'” was a good choice. And Simon & Garfunkle’s “Sound of Silence” for the funeral. Perfect! (Some of the other musical choices were not so great, as I’ll get to momentarily.)
SPOILER AGAIN: Just in case you weren’t warned enough, stop reading now if you don’t want the ending ruined.
Ahhhh! Why change the ending so much?
Dr. Manhattan was not a scapegoat for Ozymandius’ obliteration of most of the global, urban society! The government blamed it on extra-terrestrials, not the only superhero the world had!
And the book did not end quite so happily, with everyone sure that Laurie and Dan would make it as a couple. The book ended rather shakily. When I finished reading, I felt as though part of me were ripped apart, too. I hated the annihilation of so many people, but in a sick, twisted way, it made sense, too. I don’t have Rorschach’s extreme sense of justice, which is what made the ending so difficult for me to read. I wasn’t sure if the truth would ever be told. I wasn’t sure if it needed to be told. I wasn’t even quite sure what the exact truth was…and that is the beauty of a postmodern novel.
That insecurity is there, slightly, at the end of the film, when the viewers are unsure if the newspaper reporter will reveal the evidence in Rorschach’s journal. But it’s not nearly as extreme as it was in the novel, and I think that’s an important detail that needed to be conveyed.
Also, Rorschach. The man is messed up…for good reason. But viewers of the film don’t get that–little of his history is included. You can’t get the full weight of his neurotic, dangerous, demented obsession with fighting criminals if you don’t know his true motives. I knew stuff had to be cut from the novel in order to make the film, but Rorschach’s history definitely needed to be included in greater detail.
First, the scene in Dan’s owl spaceship. There would have been tasteful ways to convey the intensity of that moment. I did not need an excessive, pornographic sex scene accompanied by Leonard Cohen’s version of “Hallelujah,” which cheapened the moment even more. (I don’t dislike the song–it was just completely inappropriate contextually.)
And the violence. Seeing the implications of such graphic violence in the novel was one thing. Even while reading, there were parts that made me cringe and merely scan the images instead of peering closely at the frames. Dave Gibbons often provided just enough detail to make my mind do the rest of the work. That’s hard to translate to the screen, though, I’m sure. Unfortunately, the result was bloody, gory violence that almost made me get up and leave, that left my stomach lurching. And when reading a book where death is a common theme, I don’t have sounds to accompany the images. It was a hard movie to watch (or to sit with my arms wrapped around my head, trying to block out the sounds and the images).
So thank you, Zach Snyder, for making a film that left me wondering if I loved it or hated it (because there can be no in-between here). Thank you for making a film that evoked the same type of reaction as reading the book did–a knowledge that there were exceptionally good thoughts and concepts presented, an infuriating realization that life often cannot be divided into right-and-wrong, and a desperate wondering if it’s even possible to change a small part of the world for the better. Thank you for taking the near-impossible task of converting a beloved graphic novel onto the big screen and making it look almost effortless. (With the exception of the ending, this is one of the best book-to-film versions I’ve ever seen.)
I don’t know if I’ll see it again. Part of me really wants to–I really enjoyed a lot about this film. The other part of me loathes the very thought. I need a few days to let all of this soak in.
It’s 1 a.m. I don’t know how much sleep I’ll get tonight. I don’t know how much my dreams will be haunted by the Watchmen.
“Never compromise–not even in the face of Armageddon.” –Rorschach