I watched the Watchmen...
So I guess today I have to write about Watchmen. I’ve been fighting to contain my excitement (and, I believe, have been largely successful) about this movie for the past several months, and it finally came out on Friday and I finally saw it (also on Friday). So while this won’t be a proper review, I’d feel remiss if I didn’t mention it in some way now that I’ve seen it.
First of all, I loved it. Watchmen is not a perfect film by any means – I could pick nits about tiny plot points and what was excluded or changed from the graphic novel, or which performances didn’t quite work for me – but that’s sort of one of the reasons I loved the movie as much as I did. If I’d walked out of Watchmen saying to myself that I’d just seen something akin to a perfect movie, I’d know deep down that I was lying to myself. But I’m a big fan of the book, and Zack Snyder has done what I (and many, many others) had long thought impossible, and actually translated the “unfilmable” graphic novel into a movie. It hits all the notes the book does, and the changes, while minor, are for the most part totally understandable (I’m also not the kind of person who gets all uppity just because something was changed; I try to understand why it was changed, and with maybe one or two very small exceptions, I get and agree with all the changes Snyder made), and I got a huge charge out of seeing characters I love in the book truly represented on the big screen. There’s a small moment between Rorschach and Nite Owl late in the film where Rorschach basically apologizes for being so difficult that’s probably my single favourite scene in the book, just a tiny little character moment, and I got chills seeing it recreated onscreen – it was a scene that very easily could have been cut with little or no effect on the plot, but Snyder included it. Snyder’s on record saying he’s as big a geek for the source material as just about anyone, and his goal was to make a film for Watchmen fans, and on that count he was amazingly successful.
But that same devotion to the graphic novel is also what’s been dividing many critics because of the film’s density and the argument that you need to be familiar with the book to follow what’s happening. While I’d say the latter argument probably has some merit (if I hadn’t read the book I very well may have been lost too, or at the very least needed to see the movie once or twice more to fully process everything, but obviously I can’t really access the headspace of someone going into the movie cold), and I guess how the movie performs at the box office beyond the first week will reveal whether the word-of-mouth on Watchmen is positive or negative. It made a ton of money this weekend, but it’s still unknown how much of that was due to the hype. I have no empirical evidence on this, but in the Friday afternoon screening I attended, I detected more than a few people who seemed to be losing patience with the movie by the mid-point. Whether this was due to a lack of traditional “action” or the dense, more cerebral story I have no idea, but I think people who paid their money thinking they were getting the next Dark Knight or, god forbid, Iron Man probably were disappointed, and rightfully so. Watchmen is nothing like any other superhero movie; it’s an attempt to examine how superheroes would affect American culture and society, not just an excuse to show people in cool costumes beating up thugs (though there is a bit of that as well). It’s less a “superhero movie” in the traditional sense than it is an “alternate history” sci-fi story about a world very much like our own in which superheroes live. Which probably sounds like a minor distinction to make, but I think it’s a distinction that will help people who aren’t familiar with the graphic novel understand why this movie isn’t hitting the traditional superhero-movie beats.
I’ve heard the comparison to Blade Runner already, and while I’m reluctant to make that comparison myself (if I had to pick one, I’d probably take Blade Runner as my No. 1 favourite movie of all time, so I should excuse myself from any comparisons between it and Watchmen, a movie that just came out and I’ve only seen once), I can sort of see the argument. Blade Runner was seen as a flop when it came out, and audiences largely didn’t “get” it. It took years and the advent of home video for Blade Runner to find its audience (I know I didn’t care for it the first time I watched it back when I was in high school), and despite the big opening weekend, I suspect things will go similarly for Zack Snyder’s Watchmen. There’s a lot of information in the film to chew on (and Snyder’s already said he’s planning an even-longer extended cut either for a limited theatrical run this summer or, at the very least, on DVD), and my first-hand experience watching the film in a packed theatre left me with the impression that a sizeable chunk of the audience didn’t really “get” the movie either. While Watchmen obviously isn’t for everyone, I suspect a number of people who were initially left cold by the film will eventually come around, presumably on DVD. Another reason I’m sort of reserving final judgment on Watchmen is that I still haven’t seen the full version (there’s a comic-within-a-comic pirate story subplot from the book that was animated and will be released in a couple of weeks on DVD as Tales From the Black Freighter, and it’s expected some or all of that footage, as well as many more smaller moments from the book, will be incorporated into the “final” DVD version of Watchmen). Now that superheroes are a full-on film genre of their own, the time is right for a movie that examines them as seriously as Watchmen does. Whether or not audiences are ready for it right at this moment will remain to be seen – I know that most people ascribe Blade Runner’s initial failure to it being too far ahead of its time, and I have a feeling the story on Watchmen will run somewhat similarly. Either way, the movie was made, and it’s an amazing piece of cinema, and as a Watchmen fan, the movie’s existence is enough for me.
Labels: comics, Movie review, Watchmen