I think I would've gotten around to reading Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' alternate-history graphic novel eventually if it hadn't been made into a movie, but it's hard to be sure. Its greatness had been extolled to me, but maybe not enough for how engrossed I ended up being in WATCHMEN. Its density could be overwhelming but I got caught up in the lives of these should-have-beens, their seemingly pointless existence on the fringes of a society that doesn't really need them any more. The Watchmen are the anti-superheroes; they aren't even convinced of their own greatness, so how can they convey it to anyone else?
When I walked out of the theatre after a matinee of Zack Snyder's "Watchmen" last weekend, I wasn't bowled over by the whole thing, nor was I disappointed. I went in envisioning a gory spectacle that would not be able to capture the complexity of Moore's original work, and I was right about that. (Actually, it was less gory than I had been dreading, even though every punch and smash is delivered at an unendurable volume.) I was surprised by how good the acting was, for the most part*; director Snyder gambled when he decided to cast non-marquee actors for all of his major parts, and it paid off with a nuance you don't normally see in a big-budget superhero movie.
A little further away from it now, I see the movie has one unbelievable hole in it, which I didn't notice because my mind filled it in for me in the theater. Like an optical illusion, where your brain convinces you to see something that isn't there, I failed to notice that, despite the much lauded opening credits, people who see this movie are never told how the Watchmen came to be (besides 30 seconds with Hollis) and why they can't be that way any more. Of course I already knew that going in, so the film could make sense for me without that missing piece, but I can't imagine how someone going in knowing nothing about the graphic novel would be able to make sense of what they were seeing. There just aren't enough clues, except maybe in Doctor Manhattan's case because we see his whole origin story (so to speak). Yet I have read reviews from people who hadn't read the graphic novel and still liked the movie, so maybe this isn't as big a problem as it seemed to be fore me.
There are several other things that didn't quite work for me about the movie, like how early the villain was telegraphed, but I must point out: The scene in the spaceship with the Leonard Cohen playing is probably the worst thing of its kind I have ever seen, or at least in the past 5 years. And the music is only a small part of that (most of the cues were obvious in a funny, kitschy way, like the Muzak at Adrian Veidt's office). Everything about that scene except the ship floating was ridiculous. I couldn't even laugh, I was too ashamed for everyone who apparently decided that this would be a moving way to connect these two characters. To paraphrase the immortal words of "Ghost World," it was so bad it went past good and back to bad again.
Filmbook verdict: Read the graphic novel (please!) and if you're going to see the movie, see it in IMAX.
*Exception being Malin Akerman, who I realize was probably cast to appeal to a different demographic than mine, but... goodness.
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