Watchmen: From the book to the big screen [by Will and Matt]
Buntology columnist Will Cimino, and our movie guy, Matt Gosciminski, recently took turns reviewing Watchmen. Will took on the novel (apparently he hasn’t read a book since fourth grade), and Matt checked out the flick (I’m guessing he’s seen it about five times by now). Click below to read what these two dashing young men had to say.
Watchmen: Graphic Novel [by Will]
To say I was excited see Watchmen is an understatement. I first saw the trailer to this movie during the previews to another fantastic superhero movie back in July, “The Dark Knight.” To be honest I’m really not even a fan of the genre. Very few movies got it right. But this trailer mostly appealed to me because of the part that said Watchmen was, [the] “MOST CELEBRATED GRAPHIC NOVEL OF ALL TIME!” Of course, I had to do a little research myself. The results only further emphasized the claim. Other than the massive amounts of stellar ratings from people in the comic book/graphic novel world (a world I know virtually nothing about), TIME Magazine listed Watchmen in its list of “the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present.” Alright, I’m sold. So I decided to put in a request at the library back in August to try and read it before the movie came out. Turns out I wasn’t alone.
The wait list was massive. I figured since my mom works part time at the Bedford Public Library I’d get the ill-library hookup. Not so much. Come February the novel, in hardcover, was finally ready for me. Much thicker than I anticipated… all my excitement vanished and I knew there was no way I’d ever finish it in time for the movie release. I was at the top of a proverbial roller coaster right before the first drop… realizing I’d made a mistake. I was overwhelmed at the sheer number of pages and decided that maybe, I shouldn’t even bother. The only book I’d ever read start to finish in my entire life was a Goosebumps book back in fourth grade. Determined to finish my first book in years (if you can even call a graphic novel a book) I decided to see how it went and try it one page at a time. After all, there were pictures.
Surprisingly, reading Watchmen wasn’t like a summer reading chore, and was more like the rush from said roller coaster. Rather than going into detail about the story and characters, both of which are phenomenal, I really think this story is best approached by discovering it for yourself. That’s something I wish I could do all over again– forget the story and re-read it. But in one sentence, Watchmen is about what it would be like if superheroes (not superheroes with super powers, but regular costumed people/vigilantes) existed in the real world at the height of the cold war. From there the plot develops around the murder of The Comedian, who is a famous superhero, in his apartment in New York City. Between the problems of the retired Watchmen, who are being killed off, and the problems of the rest of the world on the brink of nuclear holocaust, there is little time to catch your breath from chapter to chapter. The dialog is so well-written and the characters are so deep that after putting the book down it’s difficult not to reflect on your own morals and ethics. There are inescapable feelings of paranoia, fear, tension, suspense throughout, but mostly anticipation. This is why reading Watchmen is harder to stop reading than harder to start reading.
The further I got, the more I realized (for the first time ever) that it must be nearly impossible to turn print into film. Especially in a graphic novel. The amount of freedom an author has in this medium is unprecedented. In between the chapters, the author, Alan Moore, has created newspaper clippings to provide background story to the characters, and excerpts from books written by several main characters. There’s even a comic book that a kid reads in the story that we can read. That’s right, a comic book within a comic book. How can that possibly translate in a movie?
The good news is, it doesn’t have to. If you’re the type of person willing to put in the effort to read, or someone like me, who isn’t, you won’t be disappointed in your decision to read Watchmen. I picked it up for the sole purpose of wanting to get a head start on the movie and after seeing it, I can now for the first time in my life be a person that says “the book was better.” And yes, I really enjoyed the movie and cannot wait for the extended edition. Because that’s the whole movie’s problem. It’s a movie. It just can’t fit everything it needed to in nearly three hours of footage. Not to mention, the movie is heavily catered to be more relevant to the people who have read the book.
But I don’t want to give the wrong impression. I’m not saying that the book is for everyone. If you don’t care for: mystery, complex characters, realism, gratuitous violence, questions of morality, sex, politics, nostalgia, or plots that are interesting enough to keep you awake and reading until 3:30 a.m., then Watchmen could be a miss for you. If you do care for any of those qualities, or if you like roller coasters, then do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. And definitely finish it before you see the movie.
Watchmen: Film [by Matt]
For those of you aren’t familiar with the gist, “Watchmen” is set in an alternate reality in the 1980s where nuclear war with Russia looms ominously over everyone’s head. Nixon is in his 3rd term as president, and masked vigilantes are a staple of the country’s history. It is a movie that explores the idea that super heroes might not be so super after all, and that more often than not they are flawed, sometimes insane, and once in a while sociopathic.
The beginning of the movie sets the stage with a fantastically filmed, sepia-tinted montage set to Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a Changin’,” showcasing the rise and fall of the masked avenger movement. Beginning with the original team dubbed “The Minutemen” which depicts the good ol’ glory days, up to their downfall as the masses cry out in protest against the current team, dubbed Watchmen, which results in a legal ban on masked crime fighters. The catalyst which sets the combination of these elements into motion is the beating and subsequent defenestration of The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) which sets Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), a vigilante with a particular set of morals, on a path to uncover the truth beneath the murder. His probing into an elaborate conspiracy starts to affect the other retired heroes as their old urges to don latex and fight crime begin to surface once again.
One of my favorite things about this movie is the visual style. Aside from it being incredibly faithful to the graphic novel, it is a brand of eye candy all its own. Zach Snyder’s obsession with the slow-down, speed-up, freeze-frame brand of filmmaking only intensifies already great cinematography. This makes the fight scenes incredibly gratifying to watch– the addition of random slow motion allows us to capture every crunching connection in hi-definition brutality. And there is much brutality throughout the movie; it certainly isn’t for the squeamish. This is exemplified in one scene where we watch Rorschach drive a butcher’s blade again and again into the sweaty bald forehead of a man as blood spurts out like exploding ketchup packets with each impact.
All of the actors, despite not being well known, fit into their roles very well. The only performance that lacked somewhat was Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman) who wasn’t terrible but wasn’t great either; she just didn’t bring much to the table in terms of acting ability. If Watchmen were a picnic, she would be the one that brought the napkins. On the other hand, the high points in this movie were definitely the stories and flashbacks that fleshed out the characters. The two most interesting characters: Dr. Manhattan, a once-human turned super-being whose incredible power distances himself from humanity, and Rorschach, a sociopathic vigilante whose sense of identity lies in his “true” face which is his famous changing ink-blotted mask, are the heart and soul of the movie. Billy Crudup captures a sad being in his portrayal of Dr. Manhattan, one whose immense power is counteracted by his knowledge that he cannot change mankind’s destructive nature and as the movie progresses we see his touch with humanity gradually fading. And Jackie Earle Haley proves to be a spot-on Rorschach, capturing a perfect blend of aggression, paranoia, and an unwavering sense of justice with just a hint of insanity to hold it all together.
This great peek into the origin of these characters’ also brings about one of the downfalls of the film. Once we start getting to the conclusion of the story it feels as if it is running out of steam after giving us such powerhouse, character-driven segments. The end also seems a bit rushed which isn’t terrible considering the movie runs at 2 hours and 45 minutes, but the immensity and complications that the end imply don’t fully sink in and take effect as a result. Hopefully this is something that will be remedied when the directors cut hits shelves (supposedly to run at about 3 hours and 45 minutes for you other Watchmen fanatics).
My only other gripe about this movie is that some of the song choices were absolutely God awful and came close to the ruining the scenes they were supposed to enhance. There is a rainy funeral scene done to Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” which seemed completely out of place and only reminded me of Will Farrell in “Old School” floating unconsciously in a pool with a tranquilizer dart jutting from his neck. There was also some obscure cover of “Hallelujah” done to a sex scene, and a randomly thrown in version of “All Along the Watchtower” by Hendrix which only removed me from the viewing experience and made me wonder what the hell the sound guy was thinking. I don’t mean to bash the soundtrack completely; some of the original score was very good. The song playing in the background during Dr. Manhattan’s back story (which showcased how he came to be) fit in beautifully and made it my favorite scene of the movie.
Overall my thoughts are still somewhat conflicted on the movie. It’s hard to judge it as a film in itself because I hold the graphic novel in such high regard. The graphic novel encompasses a wide variety of themes and elements within its pages and I have to give credit to the crew to have preserved so much in its transition to film, but it does suffer somewhat. There are some parts of the graphic novel that are simply lost in the translation, partly due to the fact that Moore wrote Watchmen with the intent to explore what the comic book medium was capable of that other forms of entertainment were not. All in all I think the movie stands perfectly fine on its own, you certainly don’t need to have read the original material to appreciate it. Though it isn’t as epic as “The Dark Knight” like I hoped it would be, it is indeed worth the 10 some-odd dollars to see it in theaters.