Sunday, September 12, 2010

Can a Comic Book Be a Good Movie? A Look at "The Watchmen"

(Cross Posted to Scooter's Ordinary, Healthy Blog)

I have to start off by saying that I was a late comer into comics. Since I lived in the country, our shopping was pretty limited to groceries and whenever my mom would drag us to a mall. I never got to browse downtown shops and discover comics on my own. My first introduction to Batman, The X-Men and Spiderman were all through visual media. The only comics I actually saw and bought until I was 20 was Archie Digests that you could pick up at the check out line.

With that, I probably bought a few trades when I was 20 and never really got back into it. Only this year did I begin to seriously build a trade collection and subscribe to comics. I dated a few guys who liked comics and suggested I read some. Watchmen was always on their list, and was something I did want to read. When the movie came out, I knew for sure I wanted to read it. Whether it was before or after I saw it, it didn't matter.

When Watchmen came out, I was working in a different city. My friends saw it without me and said they didn't like it. I ended up not seeing it theatres.

I tried borrowing the graphic novel from some friends, but it never came around. I finally borrowed it from a friend that I met in University, shortly after we started hanging out again after 5 years. I read the comic in a night. I was up until 2 AM. I bought myself my own copy a few months later.

I mentioned I wanted to see the movie, but the only person I knew with it had it on Blue Ray. I meant to rent it but it never came around to it. Only yesterday when I mentioned to that same friend I still had not seen The Watchmen while we were at the comic book store, did he bring it over for us to watch.

I didn't have any expectations for the Watchmen. I heard it was bad from friends and critics alike. I heard that Alan Moore was not impressed that anyone was making a movie on it. I heard that there were some issues with the studio and it almost wasn't released.

We watched the Director's Cut, and my god was it long. I hadn't realized it was the Director's Cut until he told us two hours into the movie when I remarked it was quite long, longer than I had imagined. Once I finished the film, I loved it. I went out and bought it the very next day. I ended up getting the theatrical release but I would like to get the Director's Cut at some point. Tonight I watched the theatrical version.

What I liked:
(Spoilers likely)

1) For the most part the film, ESPECIALLY the Director's Cut, followed the graphic novel fairly well. The ending was different, but it was an ending I didn't think was too bad. It really did emphasize some of the major themes of the graphic novel, such as the price of peace. Sure, we would have all like to have seen the octopus alien but I found using Dr.Manhattan instead to be a smart move. Since you cannot count on every person actually reading the graphic novel, a general audience would have a better time accepting Ozymandias blackmailing Dr.Manhattan. He already had screwed over his other fellow Watchmen to execute his plan to save the world, so why not the big blue man?

2) The soundtrack was amazing. I kept mentioning how much I loved the use of the songs in the film, such as Bob Dylan's "Times Are A Changing", Hendrix's "All Along The Watch Tower", Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" (my personal favourite) - I could go on!

3) The opening credit sequence. I think that an opening sequence sets the mood, narrative and the expectations for a film. If you cannot grab an audience in those first few minutes of a movie, then you've lost them. How many times has a movie started off so slow, you wonder about the quality of the film. I thought Watchmen's credits started off with a bang.The way that scene opened up, flowed and packed in so much detailed information in such a short period of time blew me away. It really set the film and explained how we got to where are when we start the experience.

4) The characters were true to their graphic novel counterparts. I found each actor and actress casted for their roles to be well suited. Billy Crudup was excellent at being the emotion-free sounding Manhattan. Jackie Haley's Rorschach had a better Batman voice than Bale. Patrick Wilson and Jeffery Dean Morgan were hands down my favourites, but they also did play my favourite characters in the graphic novel so that is a bit biased.

5) The attention to detail. Some of my favourite scenes from the graphic novel was in the movie, and done so well. One of my favourites is when Silk Spectre and Nite Owl are on Mars, and peel away each other's naked skin to reveal their costumed selves. Other well done scenes from the graphic novel: Manhattan's sanctuary on Mars, The retelling of Rorchach's past through the therapist, Ozymandias' Egyptian obsession.

6) The costumes were great. It's one thing to see super hero costumes in comics, another to see them in film. With disasters like Batman and Robin, it was great to see how these costumes turned up for this film. I also loved how Adrian's costume mocked B&R.

I could say more, but I don't want to get too repetitive here. I really liked Watchmen. But why would other people not like it? Well, I think I get it. First, hardcore purists will never like it. It's not exact. But how many movies are? Not many by my count. Even my favourite movies based on books are still not 100%, even if the screenplay is written by the author themselves (Such as The Last Unicorn for example). Some things just cannot be done through visual media as well as it can in the written or illustrated form. I get that. I really do. But for what its worth, Zack Snyder tried. He even hoped that Alan Moore would watch it and give it his approval. And if Moore is against it, then his biggest fans are going to be too, even without seeing it. And even if they did see it, I am sure they are picky enough to find the smallest problems and blow them up to justify why they didn't like the movie.

And then there's the general public, the ones that haven't read the graphic novel. Watchmen is a pretty long graphic novel, and there's a lot too it. Obviously it all cannot be condensed, and there are slow parts that are important to the film. I think a lot of people went in expecting an action film with super heroes, as they are lead to believe through the trailers. If they don't know anything about the Watchmen, then to them it is boring, and slow. And the Director's Cut is pretty friggin long. It's a lot to take in. Heck, the theatrical version clocks in at 2 hours and 45 minutes. The Director's Cut is about 24 minutes of footage. But after watching both the versions, those extra 24 minutes added into the story's depth. I was sad to see some scenes cut out, some lines missing. In the end, I think the Director's Cut is a better choice to watch if you love the story.

But yet, looking at Internet Movie Data Base, the first couple of reviews are positive. The User Rating for it is 7.8/10 with 23% of the votes at 10, and 3.6% at 1. 87% of the votes are above a vote of 5. So clearly this movie couldn't have been that hated.

Even though I have read the novel, I think I'm going to read it again. One of my friends who turned me on to it said "It's one of those books that you can read over and over again and find something else, that you missed the first time". Hell, I think it is the same with the movie. I personally am watching the movie for the second time, albeit a different version because I think I missed something, even with already knowing the ending!

This leads me back to my original reason for writing up this review. Can a comic book be a good movie? This is something rehashed over and over again, and I am sure what I am saying is nothing new. It's pretty difficult to make one it seems. Directors have to appeal to two different audiences and make it so they can both meet in the middle. Fans of comic book series are so obsessed with the attention to details while the general audience wants something they can follow without having to know any of the background before they watch the movie. Obviously this has caused a great deal of criticism from comic book enthusiasts who feel a movie should be a true form. For something that had to appeal to both those crowds without leaving anyone behind, and carefully selecting what had to be there, what had to be cut and what needed to be added, I think the Watchmen did an excellent job. So, my apologies to Alan Moore, please don't hurt me, but I thought this movie was as close to the graphic novel as you can in this media, and did a damn good job of pulling it off.

Also, that sex scene... totally blew my socks off.

The Joltess Out.

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