This film didn’t stand a chance.
I want to qualify that in all actuality, it did better than I expected and is probably as good as you can get as an adaptation of what is very obviously an incredibly difficult thing to bring to the cinema. Not only that, but it was a good film and one that I would recommend to fans of the book as well as people who have never heard of it before. Despite this, there was something that just niggled ever so slightly and there were moments when I wasn’t sure that I was actually enjoying the film.
Watchmen is the big screen adaptation of a much loved graphic novel of the same name written by the eccentric visionary, Alan Moore, a well known writing entity in the comic book world but probably only really referenced to the rest of the world through film adaptations of some of his other works which have, in their making, missed the point or otherwise lobotomized the original subject matter. The story is dark, brooding, cynical, and has such a rich attention to detail as to make the world feel very real and concrete. One of the things I can remember thinking when I was half way through the book for the first time is that it would not only be impossible to film, but that the film would miss everything that made it what it was.
The story follows a team of masked vigilantes that are coming to terms with their forced retirement from fighting crime, set against a world on the brink of nuclear war and inevitable Armageddon in an alternate version of 80s America, with the USA and the USSR squaring off against each other with comparable nuclear stockpiles. The characters are all massively flawed and well rounded with the story being just as much about them and their struggle to fit in to normal life as it is about a pending apocalypse and the book manages to convey massive amounts of detail about them and the history of the masked vigilante in the world as an idea. If it feels like I’m struggling to explain this, then I’m not surprised; it's the main reason I couldn't see the thing becoming a film. The only real way you can understand what I mean is by going and buying the graphic novel and reading it. I’m sure everyone will be reading it on the train at the moment anyway, so no one will laugh at you or think you’re a child for reading comic books, so do it, if only to see what the fuss is all about.
Any book-to-film transition is a difficult one to make. If you’re going to the cinema to see a book that you enjoyed turned into a film, you are going to be disappointed most of the time, because you just can’t cram it all in to a two or three hour film. I am therefore incredibly impressed that for the most part, the background and history and small touches remained in tact and not compromised to any great extent. A lot of the scene-setting was covered by an artfully paced opening sequence, and even some of the smaller details of the book made their way onto the screen if you knew what to look out for.
Visually, the film was stunning. The actors they had chosen were almost identical to their comic-book counterparts in looks, the costume department had remained faithful for the most part, and the look and feel of the world in general was for the most part a faithful reproduction of Dave Gibbons’ artwork. Not only this, but the story, for the most part, also remained solid and for the most part I can forgive the changes. You will notice an overuse of the phrase “for the most part”, which is entirely deliberate as there is just something that doesn’t quite fit. The only way I can explain this is the analogy of the “Uncanny Valley” in that the closer you get to something being an exact replica, the more jarring the differences are. Watchmen came so close to ticking every box that the fact that it didn’t ended up resulting in this slight discomfort that I got through most of the film that something-just-wasn’t-quite-right.
I had an issue with the soundtrack. I’m not too sure what it was as there were some fantastic choices on it, it was just that they seemed thrown in for no real reason at points, or thrown in ham fistedly at others to drive home a point. The thing that makes me realise that this was a problem for me is that I even noticed. A soundtrack for me normally sits firmly in the background and is something I only notice the second time I watch a film.
I have to mention the subtle changes to the story. On the outset, it looked like a big change that happened near the end, but the overall effect to the story wasn’t that major, so I can forgive it. I can also see that sticking to the original would have been a lot more work and would have required an extra wing added to the budget, but at the same time I would have liked to have seen it. The penultimate scenes were somewhat of an anti-climax for me, and although they were still visually stunning, they weren’t the stunning visuals I was expecting or wanting to see and in some way, that came across as quite lazy.
I would complain about all the things they missed out as well, but I don’t want to. They missed out small details that flavour the book but that would have taken up far too much time on the screen. Not only that, but some of the small details were referenced for those of us that were looking out for them and I’m still much more impressed by all the things that they did manage to get in.
As far as a “pros and cons” list goes, that’s not very long. They did incredibly well. They did much better than anyone was expecting, of that I’m sure. That it wasn’t quite right is a general condition of anything that goes from book to film or book to TV, not an intrinsic problem with Watchmen itself. The film was good and it’s something I will end up watching again, and I’m really hoping that the DVD has lots of extra special features that bring in more of the book, but there was still something about it that wasn’t quite right. I recommend this film, but if you know and love the comic, know that it will do what every other film-of-a-book has done and disappoint ever so slightly.
It's been very tempting to make the "Who Watches The Watchmen?" reference in some clever way to say I have watched Watchmen, but I think everyone that has written about this has probably already done so. For this reason, I just want you to be aware that I thought this and am aware of the clever inherrent pun that lies within and it was a concious choice not to use it.
I find it difficult to offer an opinion on films without spoiling stuff. I’m not sure how you’re meant to do this. I have a horrible feeling I’ve said this before.
There was an incredibly awkward sex scene in the film that probably went on for just slightly too long and showed just slightly too much. I know that makes me sound like a terrible prude, but if you see the film, you’ll probably understand what I mean. It was another moment where the soundtrack made me cringe a little too.
In seeing this film, I also learnt what sort of people buy premiere seating. It’s the people that get confused by the online booking system and do it by accident. I felt positively defiled at the fact that we ended up in premiere seating, which in all honesty, wasn’t very comfortable and wasn’t any different from a regular seat apart from the location in the cinema itself. I feel this is another bubbling rant for another day that would be better directed at Odeon itself than the internet at large, for fear of lumping myself in with other mad ramblers.
UPDATE: I've just read the comment by Becks in my earlier post stating "tis flawed but awesome". That pretty much sums up the gist of this entire post. We'll call that the succinct version.