Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Morgan, Patrick Wilson
Release: March 2009
You don’t have to look too hard before finding somebody that worships DC Comics’ Watchmen. Its popularity has survived tests of time, and one could argue that Watchmen is the lynchpin of the graphic novel’s (and comic book’s) credibility as “serious” literature. Had it been made into a motion picture in the late 80s or even 90s, the lack of computer graphics and special effects may have tarnished the experience. But, now that movies almost have too much computer animation, it is safe to attempt this seminal work. Or is it? Afterall, with great success comes even greater expectation…and criticism. Watchmen fanboys are going to be, umm…watching, with scrutiny for any miscues. So, how did Zack Snyder fare in recreating this cult hit?
Before judging the movie’s accuracy, it is important to remember just how hard it is to recreate Alan Moore’s Watchmen on-screen. It is a very dense, convoluted story. Watchmen bounces between the 1940s, 50s, 60s, and 70s (or 1939 for the Watchmen police). Many characters share the spotlight as the story juggles a love triangle, global hysteria, gumshoe detective work, and more. And, Moore created additional content like “Tales of the Black Freighter“, a comic book within his novel; excerpts from characters’ autobiographies or published essays; psychiatric profiles, and other references. Oh, and did I mention that there is at least one flashback in the majority of Watchmen’s chapters? Simply put, Synder had his work cut out for him.
Snyder did a solid job focusing on Watchmen’s core. Though skipping through the golden years of the masked heroes, flashbacks, and other peripheral content kills the novel’s charm, the movie does an excellent job of staying true to the content it does focus on. To counter-balance the decades Watchmen builds up over, the movie runs through the first 29 years: the inception of the masked hero; heroes selling out; outlawing masked heroes; and disbanding of the Minutemen (first organized group of masked heroes) in the opening credits. For those who haven’t read the graphic novel, this part of the movie could be easily overlooked as a cute montage of throwback heroes-but in fact it is vital back-story. In fact, it would be fair to say that Watchmen the movie was made for Watchmen students-not the passive viewer.
To explain further, Synder fully utilized the “A picture says a thousand words” proverb in the movie’s prologue. Still-frame and slow-frame fragments of the graphic novel are summarized, yet succinctly understood.
A Place In History
The time period of Watchmen shuts out the audience somewhat. This is not Snyder’s fault, of course. But again, for a younger audience the context of the story can be confusing. For instance, we see a lot of Richard Nixon as he weighs the Soviet nuclear threat. So, without any knowledge of the Cold War and the arms race, a viewer is already partially blind. There are many other examples to support this. If you take a look at the cast and credits you’ll see that a serious number of iconic figures from the 60s and 70s are captured in the movie. (Dr. Manhattan…first man on the moon? Too cool.)
It’s not Snyder’s fault for inheriting a script fixed in this time period, but some attention to explanatory dialogue would have been helpful. But, this goes back to staying true to the graphic novel. Besides cutting out peripheral content, the movie is extremely accurate to the graphic novel-almost to a fault. That, my friends, is up to you to decide.
Where Watchmen really shines as a screen-adaptation is in its representation of Moore’s characters. The graphic novel hosted lovable, turbulent characters, and the movie did the novel justice in getting the cast right and letting the novel shine on. Rorschach (Jackie Earl Haley) was a perfect Rorschach. Billy Crudup played a brilliant Dr. Manhattan. The monotone, apathetic voice enhanced the character (and gives us something to think about in the “Dr. Manhattan/God” theory). Malin Akerman and Patrick Wilson did an excellent rendition of Silk Spectre and Night Owl. The only thing missing was some early-on awkwardness and drooling Night Owl gets caught up in. Matthew Goode didn’t exactly look the part of the square-chinned statuesque Adrian Veidt, AKA Ozymandias, as his frame is more slender. But, the acting performance was brilliant enough to be convince me he was a diabolical, insurmountable hero (or villain…hrm). Jeffrey Dean Morgan played a five-star Comedian. His sarcastic laughs during tense scenes colored in the Comedian’s sick sense of humor and perspective described in the graphic novel.
The supporting cast was excellent as well. Edgar Jacobi played a great Moloch. Robert Wisden is a passable Nixon (though the prosthetics and makeup are a bit obvious). Carla Gugino, though I hate seeing her wearing makeup that ages her, was a cool, casual Sally Jupiter. I truly could not have asked for more from cast. How did you like the casting?
Who’s Watching The…Omissions
Besides shorting us on the extra documents Moore created-which totally help create the illusion the Watchmen’s characters are real people-there are some little snips here and there that could have been good moments for hardcore fans and newbies alike. For instance, we do not see Hollis Mason, the original Night Owl, bite the dust. Also, Rorschach’s social impotence is hardly expressed in the movie. One big thing I would have like to have seen from the graphic novel is the graffiti of the two lovers’ silhouettes outside his apartment. It showed great foreshadowing for the big twist at the end-just a snippet of Moore’s genius that would have been neat to see.
Another cut comes from a flashback we do not see. Though Snyder lets us watch Jon Osterman become Dr. Manhattan, we do not see what makes him tick. This comes in the graphic novel via a flashback to young Osterman tinkering with a watch’s parts, as he is training to follow his father’s watchmaker footsteps. The movie neglects the conversation in which his dad pushes him to be a nuclear physicist, and, well, the rest is history. I’m sure there are other cuts that I missed. Maybe you can help fill in the blanks.
Overall, it’s an accurate portrayal of the graphic novel. The movie often is an exact representation of the novel, frame by frame! I’d say the biggest cuts in the movie came from leaving out some of the peripheral content, especially the “Tales from the Black Freighter.” In general, Moore is a master at doing parallel stories. Black Freighter echoed what was going on in the real world and the comic’s drama perfectly. Brilliant! The other biggest cut was leaving out the (Spoiler Alert!) Ozymandias’ giant alien monsters who supposedly were responsible for nuking the world. I mean, come on, a giant slimy cyclops alien in Times Square-how could Snyder pass that up?! Instead Dr. Manhattan takes the fall for the explosions, which works, I guess.