I watched the Watchmen last night.
Yep. Who watches the Watchmen? That would be me.
After I got home, I wrote a nice long movie review full of spoilers.
Then I looked at it, and how long it was, and deleted it.
You can thank me now. Even after reading this very long, movie review. Thank me for deleting that other one.
Yeah, I spent about an hour writing that post, but in the end, it wasn’t worth posting it. I’m not outraged, I’m not horrified, I was just writing down my thoughts on what I liked or didn’t like about the movie.
And it got to be stupidly long, because I grew up with the graphic novel, and have over the years spent a lot of time thinking about some of the storytelling techniques used in the comic.
So I scrapped it, and wrote this new long ass post/review full of spoilers instead.
Why? Because I damn well grew up with Watchmen, I read the comics when they came out and I was in High School, I admired the way it broke new ground, and I admired the many, many layers of depth and meaning in the book. A large chunk of my mental capacity was spent thinking about Watchmen back in the eighties, God help me and my wasted youth.
I am intimately familiar with the story, and as a writer I feel I learned a great deal about how some characters can be developed, and how they can affect a reader from reading Watchmen.
For one thing, it showed me that you can have a character be written in a certain way that he is charismatic, interesting, occasionally funny, and makes the reader like him… and then show that, inside, he is a monster, an amoral killing machine without a conscience as we understand it, someone that is just despicable, has done terrible, monstrous things… and still have it be the same person we met at first, someone who, now that you know more about them, still seems to be a complete character. The character has a believable consistency to what they do. You know more about them, about how they think… and even though you can’t help but still like the way he’s portrayed, and feel a touch of sympathy for him as a person, you now know that inside, he’s a monster that deserves a bullet to the back of the head.
You can also have a character that your reader will dislike, that they will see, and meet, and think “What a dirtbag. Oh, ugh… what a pompous asshole. Treats his friends like dirt. Abuses people right and left. What a jackass.” But in the end, you can win the reader over by showing them what has driven the person to be this way… how the one character you started out hating can be the one that becomes your favorite, because you know they would fight by your side no matter what, they would never betray you, never turn aside from evil, but would do whatever it takes to see justice done. That no matter how horrible they seem to act on the outside… what drives them is a thirst for vengeance against anyone that harms an innocent life, and that burning intensity has left no room for anything else inside them. They are worthy of pity, and fear, but not your hate.
There are a lot of rich characters, deep personalities in the comic book, and I learned a lot from it about the crafting of a story.
So I wrote a movie review based on my appreciation for the craft involved in the base material. Kinda worthless, since who cares about the graphic novel, it’s the movie I was supposed to talk about.
So here’s a real review.
The action scenes are very well done, but short. There are more of them in the movie than in the comic, but the amount of dialogue in the movie is brutal. They did a good job of trying to be faithful to the dialogue of the source material… but it is just is too long, and too dry. What worked on the written page doesn’t work here.
Now, I said they did a good job of being faithful to the dialogue. That is true.
But they did a pretty poor job of being faithful to the highs and lows of the story, and matching them to the big screen.
First, the lows; most of the movie is pretty agreeable for most audiences, but I felt that, considering how drastically they changed major parts of the story for the film, they really screwed the viewers by leaving in some scenes of graphic, nasty violence. Hands cut off, heads struck multiple whacks by a cleaver, dripping body parts from the ceiling, that kind of thing. Just didn’t really fit the overall rest of the film. They were in the graphic novel (well, not the cleaver to the head)… but you’re making a film. Once you choose to change shit to be consistent with showing a film to an audience… be consistent. Those scenes were the epitomy of gratuitous violence, because they added nothing to the story but gore and violence.
Now, the very lows;
I posted the Hitler thing a few days ago mocking a frantic fanboy’s fury over the changed ending, and it’s funny, but really, it’s pretty true.
Because where they changed the story from the base material, where they just went in a totally different direction… it does NOT work for the better. It’s pretty bad.
They did two major things to change the original story, and there was absolutely no need for it. And what’s worse, the changes they made hurt the story quite badly, and left me walking out of the theater thinking “That was pretty crappy and showed a pathetic lack of imagination.”
The first is simply that they changed the nature of what Adrian Veidt and Dr Manhatten were working on, so that the two of them were working together on a source of infinitely renewable free energy to replace fossil fuels, creating a machine that could duplicate the power of Dr Manhatten himself, duplicate the way he could create energy apparently from out of nothing at all, by changing the molecular structure of reality.
This change in the story was a necessary change to make their new ending work… but it also gave them an opportunity to include a brand new scene… where Adrian Veidt is faced by a group of ‘captains of industry’ involved with exploiting fossil fuels, coal and natural gas as energy sources, and even naming Lee Iacocca by name, and portray them all as a group of smarmy evil men willing to do anything to retain their greedy, evil profits at the expense of a planet in dire peril of disaster. After the fat cats gave ther smarmy threats and insinuations, it gives Veidt a chance to lecture uninterrupted about how evil and mean they are, how shortsighted they are, and how free energy is the way of freedom and peace and love. In fact, it allows him to describe how, if it weren’t for exploitive oil companies and car manufacturers, there would be no war today.
The fact that the actor they got to play Veidt looks like a typical whining yuppie that could be broken in two by a stiff wind, and boy oh boy, I was really impressed. What a crock of shit.
Yay. Yeah, that fit in the movie like a turd in church.
But the big failure that stunk up the movie was the damned changed ending.
Yeah, the ending they used was just lame. The whole point of the movie was that the Comedian stumbled on something so big, so scary, so terrifyingly over the top, such a huge practical joke on the whole world, that he snaps. And he can’t keep his mouth shut after he snaps, this amoral man who kills kids and pregnant women, who assassinated Kennedy himself, it’s so big that HE snaps, and has to be killed to shut his ass up.
The original ending, in my opinion, fit the bill. Sure. It was a whopper of a big huge lie to make the entire world choke on, and I could see the Comedian seeing that huge-ass thing under the tarpaulin, read about the cloned psychic brain, the whole mindfuck of Dr Manhatten, and snapping a little. Even after everything he had done… because this was something bigger, more audacious, than nearly any mortal mind could conceive of not just planning, but DOING and getting away with.
What they did instead… it’s like the deballing of the graphic novel, and it has no integrity at all. They take out something that made sense, that had it’s own crazy logic… and replaced it with something that doesn’t even work in what little connection to reality the story had.
The graphic novel was always partly about a character study of diffferent personality types, and how they would react to different stimula. You learn more about these people over time, and see how their actions are shaped by their experiences, and by their own inner nature.
And then the movie changes the ending into something that is ignorant of even the most basic understanding of human behavior.
Dr Manhatten is the only superpowered individual on earth. We are shown that, from the moment he came into being, in the era of Vietnam, the US government had total control over him. He lived in a military facility. He obeyed military directives. For over 30 years, he was the threat of nuclear force that kept the Soviet Union at bay.
In reaction, the Soviets worked feverishly to stockpile a nuclear arsenal that could overwhelm even Dr Manhatten’s ability to stop them all, forcing America to retain the balance and not push the Soviets too far. America had bullied the Soviets previously, in Vietnam, and won. But now, now mutually assured destruction and a world on the brink of WWIII has things tense, balanced, and the slightest misunderstanding or pecker waving could see everything go up in smoke.
So to make the world one peaceful place full of joy and love, we are led to believe that first, Dr Manhatten is encouraged to leave earth forever, so America now has no nuclear deterrance to remain at a comparable level with the Soviets. Next, we are shown that America is at Defcon 1, and is fueling it’s bombers and arming it’s bombs to go to war in a pre-emptive strike, in response to the Soviet war machine posturing in Afghanistan, taunting the US to see if Dr Manhatten has really gone.
So the Soviets are shown explicitly not believing that Manhatten is gone… and everyone knows America has controlled Manhatten for his entire existence, and used him to wage war in the past, blowing people up and tanks up.
America is shown as being ready to launch a nuclear attack at any moment… a fact which anyone that has a clue knows the Soviets would be aware of.
And we are supposed to believe that the Soviet response to having some of their cities blown up by a massive explosion with Dr Manhatten’s energy signature… would be to say “Oh, you Americans had some of your cities blow up too, is all big mistake, Manhatten is actually fighting all of us at once for no reason, he must be crazy and is acting independantly against everyone on Earth, is not some American trick, so we all big friends now.”
And better still… this lame ass plot is supposed to be over the top crazy enough to make the Comedian crack?
Just… “Bitch, please.”
And there’s my real movie review. Taking the movie as a movie… they took an ending that, even if goofy, at least made sense… and left you walking out of the theater thinking, “Boy, that was a pretty stupid ending. In what universe is that supposed to make sense? The Soviets would have pushed the button about three seconds after their first city blew up. Dumbasses.”
Edit: After reading PlasticRats comment, aside from the fact that Alan Moore was the writer of Watchmen and not Frank Miller, I pretty much think you’re dead on. In fact, you nailed the reason I even felt any desire to write anything about it… that they did such a great job in all other respects, the acting, costuming, the attention to detail. It all showed a fine appreciation for, and respect for, the original material. Frankly, the movie showed far more love and care than I personally needed. I’m cool with reinterpretations… Batman Begins, Spiderman, Iron Man, Hellboy… none of them really went panel by panel with an original comic. Sin City did, and I thought it was done real well, but it’s the rarity in comic book movie adaptations.
So to me, in a case where clearly they did their absolute bestest in following the comic book, right down to Silk Spectre’s fugly costume… somebody, somewhere, had to come up with the idea that the tentacled squid was a bad idea, and Dr Manhatten energy bombs was a better idea. And many other people had to agree.
And again, as PlasticRat points out… Why? I guess it was a cool movie in many regards, I thought they did a great job of dealing with Rorshach, Nite Owl was handled extremely well, Silk Spectre was given a very strong consistent thread… to me, it’s just the changing of the ending that drops me. Because to me, it’s not that it’s different… it’s that it just doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t feel like it would work.
Ah well. I still have Death Race to watch on DVD, I’ve got Resident Evil: Apocalypse for right after. Maybe after I watch those, I’ll come to appreciate the fine acting and special effects in Watchmen a lot more.