I promised to give a fuller review of WATCHMEN, but it seems that my feelings are much like those of everyone who has already seen it. Those who liked it and those who didn’t seem to identify the same flaws and the same strengths. Both flow from director Zack Snyder’s devotion to making this a literal adaptation of the graphic novel, which, it turns out, is a beloved classic with a rabid fanbase. Who knew?

For the record, I enjoyed about 95 percent of it from the beginning to the end. Because it so closely followed the comic, the movie has only a disjointed plot without much narrative drive; it’s more of a period piece and a character study. In fact every time the movie paused to adapt one of the “origin issues,” I enjoyed delving deeper into the characters. I enjoyed the scenery, I enjoyed the special effects, I enjoyed Dr Manhattan with no pants. I enjoyed the Owlship bursting out of the Hudson, and Rorschach jumping on water towers, and the Comedian fighting for his life in his bathrobe.


What Snyder and his crew and actors did well was bring iconic, powerful moments to life in often visually stunning ways. I would have said imaginative, but with production design by Dave Gibbons, there wasn’t much to be imaginative about. There are times when even characters’ silhouettes look exactly like a Gibbons panel; with his pouchy eyes and downturned mouth, the actor who played the prison psychiatrist looked EXACTLY like a Dave Gibbons drawing. Rorschach was as tiny and savage as the drawings, Patrick Wilson’s Nite Owl has the same hairline, the same paunch. At times, it’s uncanny.

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But it’s clear that Snyder has affection for this misbegotten cast of masked vigilantes, and so did I. Where things fall apart is what the actual movie is about. The dual plot threads of human weakness in the face of mass destruction and the singular fascism behind the idea of wearing a mask and fighting crime drift along like a pretty butterfly — there’s no buildup or tension to either of them, and the mystery of the “mask killer” is barely even a McGuffin.

The result is slack but — for me, anyway — fascinating. For this fangirl, it was a satisfying ride.


The reason for that is the elephant in the room. Because Snyder and screenwriters David Hayter and Alex Tse stuck SO closely to Alan Moore’s original, the results manage to have a depth and meaning they could never have come up with themselves. The most subtextual and unselfconsciously clever of writers, Alan Moore doesn’t put down a single line without a meaning — or several — so everything taken directly from him has some resonance.

That’s very lucky, because on the occasions that Snyder decides to take things into his own hands the results are embarrassingly on the nose. The most frequently noted are the soundtrack songs — “The Sound of Silence” for a rainy funeral; “Everybody Wants to Rule The World” for Ozymandias. When “Ride of the Valkyries” accompanies a thrilling Vietnam war scene it’s totally cool, because it was already done, DUDE! Whereas Quentin Tarantino, another unselfconscious control freak, picks out obscure or once cool songs that become even cooler on the screen, Snyder just grabs the most literal thing on his iTunes list.

Then there’s all the sex and violence. Given his previous hyperviolent efforts, it’s no surprise that there’s blood and gristle and burst dog brains, people boiled alive in oil, and so on. Once again, taken on its own merits, it works, but as part of the actual vision of the story and the meaning behind, it’s pure overkill. For instance, WHY does one of Rorschach’s prison enemies have to get his arms sawed off when they could have just sawed through the bars anyway?

And then there’s the ending — I think this was a valid dramatic choice to make–although it happens to be the same ending as THE DARK KNIGHT — but with no actual moral or ethical vision driving the film, it has no impact, nor does the kicker — because the world at peace wasn’t really anything we were rooting for, putting it in jeopardy at the end is a big so what.


And then there’s Silk Spectre. Malin Ackerman wasn’t quite as bad as I had been warned but casting yet another willowy ex-model instead of a potential tough guy makes her character more a refugee from America’s Next Top Model than a crimefighter. I didn’t buy her as a superheroine for one moment. A lot of the character’s weakness was in the original — Moore created the whole second generation, teen superstar aspect of Silk Spectre, but he was also playing off the idea of ’50s superheroines who were cheesecake first, like Phantom Lady. The moviemakers again make this entirely on the nose, giving her a typical no-pants outfit just because it’s sexy. (The original character wore a tennis player’s modesty skirt, you’ll recall.) Suffice to say that the days of female badasses like Sigourney Weaver, Linda Hamilton, and Lucy Lawless are long over in the movies.


I don’t wanna play too much woulda, coulda, shoulda, but as much as I enjoyed the visual splendor of WATCHMEN, I wish I had seen the Paul Greengrass version instead. Greengrass is just a much grittier filmmaker than Snyder, and in the preproduction interviews for his doomed version, he seemed to understand the political elements of the story and not just the money shots.

Also, I think Snyder was somewhat the victim of the Internet Era of Fanboy Mobs. It’s not easy to adapt a beloved classic, granted. When Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens did it with The Lord of the Rings — easily the most complex and yet satisfying beloved classic adaptation in recent history — they knew they had to make the fans happy, but they also had to make good movies, and so added all sorts of things, like the entire middle section of THE TWO TOWERS. And the fans loved it in the end (aside from a few truly anal people and relatives of JRR Tolkien). Jackson and Co. made changes from love and knowledge of the source material. But I think the Internet was a lot less fierce in its mob mentality and was a much smaller mob even ten years ago (when the LOTR films were made!!) then they are now, and Snyder knew he had to make all the bloggers happy with Easter eggs and in-jokes or else risk alienating with his pre-movie marketing campaign. I’m not sure that Snyder — who, at least at movie junkets, seems to be a decent, likable fellow, and is always described as affable — would have done that much better without the Internet, but it didn’t help.

Cear Synder 02In the end, the source material has triumphed. Even with a marketing campaign that’s been shoving them down everyone’s throat for six months or so, the Watchmen characters seem to have taken on an iconic status in the pop culture. The movie hasn’t even OPENED yet, and every still is already parodied and given multiple meanings. Most movie watchers think the “general public” won’t “get” WATCHMEN, and that’s probably true, but I’m not even sure it’s necessary anymore, given the way the Nerdocracy controls electronic literacy. The book will remain beloved. I think we’ll be seeing naked blue guys and guys in Rorschach masks walking around and being parodied for a long time. And, while I understand those who dismiss the film, it’s as far from a brainless “comic book action” picture as it could possibly be — from the way the story is structured to the way it plays out. In the end, I think that will prove to be a good thing.

A few final notes and links: I had no idea that Snyder is a tattooed freak, as W Magazine revealed. And, this will probably be our final go-round with the guy — after 300 and WATCHMEN, it’s time to move away from the spinner rack. As he told Suicide Girls, “Someone was like, ‘What comic book movie are you going to do next?’ I’m like yeah, I don’t think I’m doing another comic book. What am I going to do, Archie and Jughead? What’s the follow up?'”

In Northhampton, the bearded man laughs, as he always does.


  1. great review — lots to think about for round two. slight, microscopic spoilers:

    Personal moment: I read Watchmen in one sitting on my 18th birthday and was filled with unease. I saw the movie with a horrible cold and was shaking alone in the corner of the theater with a comics class we had brought to the sneak preview (my co-teacher Mike Sangiacomo got us tickets — can you imagine?). I felt like I was on Earth-6.

    I liked it too and have to confess I was thrown by the music but your explanation helps a lot — being right on the nose might be it. I never thought about the non-narrative/character piece bit — but you’re right they’re like doors that just open and you don’t mind going in and spending some time.

    What I enjoyed immensely were the new elements that put it exactly in the 80s. Without giving too much away I was oohing and aaahing through those opening credits because I was finally once again part of a target age bracket.

    The ending is completely different from the book, but only in the subtlest of ways. Not tentacle ways; ways that matter. Go see it and see what you think.

    As far as the tentacles go, the new version works, but if you’re going to make an 80s homage movie (which I think this is also — Veidt as Flock of Seagulls!) then the deus has to be genetic engineering, not “alternative fuels,” which pops it right back to 2009.

    My conspiracy theory (calling New Frontiersman) is that they blitzed the ads and books and itunes motion comics and “no one will get it but you should” Borders psychic miasma because they genuinely knew/feared/counted on that no non-readers would.

    So here’s the thing: if it’s close but not as good as the book (which I think it is, but who am I?) — isn’t that the ONLY result we’d ever really accept? So is that the only result possible? Hurm.

    Sorry for the long response. Go see it, all.

  2. I liked it overall. I think Heidi’s criticisms, especially re: the soundtrack, are pretty right on, though. I’m curious to see what people unfamiliar with the original comics think of it. It’s a strange thing to watch a movie where you know pretty much every single thing that’s going to happen, and not only what is going to happen, but how it’s going to look. Most of the suspense for me was in waiting to see what minor changes would be made, what would be kept or cut, etc.

  3. I’m reading through the books (yeah, the original set) now, just to prep for Sunday afternoon, when I plan to see the movie with my wife (who has not read the books) and a friend (who has). I’d prefer to see it first in a (I hope) quieter setting. We’ll probably take it in on a standard screen, then I’ll take in an IMAX show later.

    I work at the website for the Fresno Bee newspaper. My colleague, a Flash God named Jason Melgoza, assembled an interactive that includes audio clips of interviews with the lead actors. Jason did an incredible job capturing the graphical look of the books. The interactive also has text interviews, a review by our movie critic (he gave it an A-minus), and a feature story about the graphic novel that will likely be familiar terrority to y’all.

  4. Brad: “My conspiracy theory (calling New Frontiersman) is that they blitzed the ads and books and itunes motion comics and “no one will get it but you should” Borders psychic miasma because they genuinely knew/feared/counted on that no non-readers would.

    “So here’s the thing: if it’s close but not as good as the book (which I think it is, but who am I?) — isn’t that the ONLY result we’d ever really accept? So is that the only result possible? Hurm.”

    Unfortunately, I can’t understand this … but it sounds like you’re trying to make an interesting point.

  5. Very well put. I agree with everything you said, only came away cold instead of satisfied. Out of the context of the medium, Watchmen’s mainstream reputation for being “out there” and “edgy” just don’t hold up in a post Dark Knight world. Snyder, in his reverence, made Watchmen so run-of-the-mill. I bet Comedian would get a kick out of that.

  6. RE: Alex,
    In that spirit, you know what would be funny? If Ozymandias had a folder labeled “boys” on his desktop. Yeah, more I think about it, less I like it.

  7. The music side note: those are the songs straight out of the book quoted at the chapters end. I thought it was jarring as well, but as far as being faithful to the text, they went all out.

    I felt this movie was more of a companion to the graphic novel than a stand alone story. I agree with you in trying to perserve Alan Moore’s vision they didn’t tell a story, they took snap shots and strung them together. Still, it punched me in the head. :)

  8. I was trying to say (cold=medicated=word salad) is that because some parts are so beautifully perfect while others are so garishly not — could that be Snyder’s MO here? Do you satisfy the geeks only by NOT 100% satisfying them? Then the book wins and we all feel ok about it?

    I realize this is ridiculous thinking….but still…the extremes it vacillates on are SO extreme that it at least (maybe) opens it up.

    But please do see it. I hate it just as much when people see things before I do and blab about it from mountaintops but if you’ve read the book, you will definitely find at least one thing to adore. Archie alone is worth admission.

  9. I don’t understand the popularity of the original and this movie confirms my suspicions. My experience of the movie was much like the original: long, boring, and really not that exceptional.

  10. Just watched it tonight. Immediate reactions: good, not great, 3/5. Title sequence the best part of the film, parallel Earth’s Superhero-modified America as credits roll. Comedian the most faithful translation from the graphic novel, moreso than Rorschach and Night Owl, imo. Realised midway through the film that Doctor Manhattan’s voice modelled after 2001’s HAL, and Laurie and Jon’s apartment similarly an hommage to the hotel room at the end of that film. That Malim Ackerman LOOKED like Silk Spectre, and filled the suit capably; Carla Gugino making the best of her role in the 4,5? scenes she had. Nice Bob Dylan song bookends for the movie (but why not the original “Desolation Row”?); the Philip Glass suite for DM’s Mars sequence perfectly matching Minimalism to the memory time-jumps; woulda/coulda/shoulda used just Billie Holiday’s “You’re My Thrill” instead of Cohen’s “Hallelujah” for the love scene. Missed the human civilian cast around the newstand, their deaths remaining anonymous (other than Dr. Long) at the end. Wondering how Moore would react with the film’s ‘American Superman’ being seen as the cause for the death of millions around the world, in light of his statements regarding about America and superheroes. Somewhat surprised that I stomached Ozymandias’ revised plan to unite the world better than I did coming into the film; though happy that it ended with the same promise of the results being undone by the New Frontiersman.

    And— spent more of the movie looking for the Twin Towers than at Jon’s blue penii…

  11. I’m sorry to say, but if this abortion of a movie makes Mr. Snyder a “visionary”, then I guess it means he is in dire needs of glasses.

    What made the book visionary is exactly NOT the narrowminded focus on the “costumes” so much, but the impact they have on the world around them. Take the psychiatrist, for example. In the movie? a plot point. In the book Moore uses him effectively to make the point that psychosis can almost spread like a disease. None of it is here. And while Tse and Hayter lifted chunks of Moore’s dialogue from the book, they reshuffled the words, strung them together in ways they were never intended to be. Now, in your usual retarded “movie” sense of the way that goes “Who cares who says the lines as long as they are being said” that apparently is quite the norm there… that might make perfect sense.

    Even at the beginning. The whole POINT of listening to Roschach’s mad ramblings “blood in the gutters… yadda… yadda… yadda…”, ending with “And all of a dudden, nobody can think of anything to say” is to COUNTER it with the police detectives saying. “Hm. That’s quite a drop” while looking down from Blake’s balcony onto the street below.

    Most of Moore’s lines not only have double, sometimes triple meaning, they are also very often the structural skeleton of the novel itself, giving multiple viewpoints and jumping off the art, not merely complimenting it but often juxtaposing the very thing you saw.

    This abortion of a movie is not particularly helped by a cast that showed the talent of a Junior High School production, surrounded by 150 million dollars o highly stylised, but ultimately moronic special effects. His feverish love for showing ultra violence (you needed to show the bone breaking out the thug’s skin during one fight in close up slow motion? Really? Did that add anything? Really?)

    The ending is supposedly trading the “comic book villainy” for something “realistic”, but not only took it away from the whole point of operatic grandeur, not only did it fall flat on its face with a loud “thunk”, it had the audacity to give the readers of the book the middle finger by naming the operation “S.Q.U.I.D.” Ha! Ha! Ha! And what a good laugh THAT must have been around the table, eh? The whole point of Veidt was that he WAS a Bond-ish villain, that he did think in those grand operatic schemes… and that the big reveal of it was, he did it all to save “the earth” (well, not in the Keanu Klatuu way, *shudder*, but still…)

    Maybe Snyder has read the book repeatedly, but like a bad student his delivery here resembles a 2nd grade summary of what Moore wrote. Like, uh, then there were those murders, and the cool guy with the shifting mask, he, uh, and Batman, uh, Night Owl can’t get it up. Hahahaha.

    Dear God, man, have you even READ the book? Or did you just look at the pretty pictures?

    The musical choices? I know that some are from the quotations AT ThE END OF THE CHAPTERS, but hello? Were they part of a SCENE? Like, that may be a bit of a difference right there. Dear god, no. Just… no. No. Sorry. No. Cohen? Really? What? Was “You’re my thrill” by Billie Holiday taken? Or did it not go with your whole “the times are dark, man, really dark, and like, that song, like doesn’t encapsulate it.”

    He didn’t even get the joke about Rorschach going to the loo during the prison breakout. Now, is that joke necessary to any plot or anything? No. But IF you decide to MAKE that joke, then MAKE the JOKE. And the joke is NOT “Rorschach in costume goes to beat the shit out of a little dwarf in a toilet”. The joke is that Walter Kovacs – from the point of view of his friends – takes a moment to take a leak… and only THEN do we realise he beat the snot out of the little dwarf.

    Monkeys could have done a better job out of that.

    What Snyder has achieved is the same thing he achieved with “300”. He created a slobbering blow job to single panels, which I am sure pleased Dave Gibbons to no end. Unfortunately, he tried to deal with an actual BOOK this time and not a singularly expressive, but rather retarded fighting orgy performed by men in short, short skirts.

    In an interview Snyder said that if this fails he might be relegated to directing romantic comedies for the rest of his life. And I for one wish him exactly that kind of punishment.

  12. I thought it was so-so, It’s a rather faithful adaptation of panels but not of the story itself.

    People were laughing out loud at the soft porn scene and the choice of music.

  13. One minor point on the songs. Snyder has said that Simon and Garfunkle’s “Sounds of Silence” has actually been used in one other film previously (The Graduate). It seems like an overused cliche, but the reality is the opposite.
    (Well, it may be a cliche, but certainly not overused).

    I was surprised how quickly the 2.5 hours went. Dark Knight seemed long, and the multiple endings dragged. Watchmen went by quickly, and I am eager to see the 30 min Snyder had to cut to fit the IMAX running times restored.

    I saw it with 7 people last night. Exactly half had read the novel (my son is only half way through it). All but one loved it, and that one thought it was good but felt some parts didn’t work (she had not read the book). Neither had my wife, but she liked it very much, and this morning was still talking about it.

    For those who have not read the novel, the movie works as a movie. If only those people who have read the book see the film – it will be a bomb of Ishtar proportions. It MUST work for newbies (Warner Bros.. and their stockholders have a legitimate expectation to recoup their investment), and my very tiny focus group seems to indicate that it does. I am super busy this weekend, but I
    am tempted to see it again.

    My two cents.

  14. Hmm, I distinctly remember “Sounds of Silence” being used in the Farrelly brothers’ movie Kingpin, and imdb confirms this…

    I thought the use of “The Times They Are A’Changin'” worked better than the other lame song choices, if only because it’s not the kind of song you’d expect a big comic book movie with.

    I agree with Brad. That the movie is quite enjoyable but only serviceable adaptation is only a testament to the unique advantages of the comic book form.

  15. I loved the movie. The changed ending is superior to the original I think. Civilians will accept concepts like framing someone and a nuclear bomb, they are not going to accept a giant squid–especially if you actually show it. I was not familiar with most of the actors but they all did a decent enough job, especially the woman who plays Sally Jupiter, and of course Jackie Earle Haley.

    Anyway, the movie is 3 hours long and trying to cover as much as possible, I think it can be excused for short changing the psychiatrist scene a little. The mark of a good movie is not whether it is a perfect adaptation of the source material, but whether it is a good movie. I think most people–most non nerds even–will conclude it is.

  16. I thought the movie was great. Personally I haven’t read the novel, and I purposefully didn’t read it before seeing the film. As a film on its own, I think it works quite well. I actually enjoyed the soundtrack, and although (as pointed out above) some of the songs were quite obvious, I think they worked really well in communicating what is obviously an intricate plot (well, maybe not in the film, but of course the novel). I especially liked the use of Nat King Cole’s ‘Unforgettable’ in the scene of the Comedian’s murder, which Snyder points out was referenced to in the novel itself.
    Overall, definitely worth the $12.50 I paid to see it.

  17. I guess I am in the minority, I thought the movie stole two and a half hours of my life I can never get back. I never was a fan of the graffic novel and it honestly took me years to finally finish it in one sitting. I had hopes that the movie would actually be better but I can now say I will never read it or watch it again.

    One thing, how come the “Visionary Director” behind 300 can put clothes on the spartans, but leave clothes off the smurf. Unnecessary use of a blue genitalia.

  18. I think the song choices were to connect the audience into this alternate history. Not all matched their time periods but did put down an anchor to the craziness they were being asked to accept. Sorta like the Forrest Gump of comic movies.

  19. I liked the song choices because I assumed they were intentionally humorous. Sure, they were “on the nose”, but I thought that was the point.

    “how come the “Visionary Director” behind 300 can put clothes on the spartans, but leave clothes off the smurf. ”

    Realistic penis would almost necessitate an NC-17 rating for 300. Obvious SFX Blue penis can be written off as silly and therefor unoffensive. Americans are dumb when it involves nudity and sex.

    “People were laughing out loud at the soft porn scene and the choice of music.”

    But can you tell if they were laughing because it was ridiculous or because it was satirically funny. I laughed for the latter reason.

    I liked it a lot, and I don’t think Paul Greengrass or Terry Gilliam would have done any better.

    I like V for Vendetta more. Both the comic and the film.

  20. Heidi said:

    “Suffice to say that the days of female badasses like Sigourney Weaver, Linda Hamilton, and Lucy Lawless are long over in the movies.”

    I know, Heidi, that you can’t possibly think this because of one movie.

    I sure wish you’d give one or two more examples to justify such a sweeping statement.

  21. Fabulous review of flawed but, I think, vivid recreation of the book. Heidi hits all the right points about the film–Snyders ability to bring its signature points to life and make arguably useful changes for the film–without getting lost in hagiography over the book and its author’s status. I’m not sure I agree with every point–despite the legacy of stupidity in the comics industry about women supes, all superheroes are oversexualized and the silk spectre is not different; I thought she was pretty good. In fact I thought the while film was pretty good. Anyway, Bravo Heidi.

  22. Did anyone see the japanese Trailer for Watchmen? It seemed to show the knot tops holding the statue of niteowl 1 and about to deliver the coup de grace to Mason.

    Also, it showed a brief scene of rorshach pulling Dan off of a gang kid in the Bar interegation scene. I’ve also heard that the deleted footage totals out to close to an hour as opposed to half an hour.

    I think there was a bloated and stuffed feeling to the movie that the dirctors cut and the integration of the Pirate stuff might help to loosen the belt and relieve that overstuffed feeling. As far as Malin, yeah, she was a B level actor, but she had her moments, considering that most of the dialogue between her and Sally were heavily edited or just plain cut, as were the scenes with Ozzy.

    I know that I did enjoy it more upon second viewing than I did the first time around. But the high moment for me was the opening credits. But in my book, there is no such thing as being too faithfull as the critic for the AP pointed out. And the USAToday review, comparing it to Catwoman was pretty harsh. I did like the addition of Niteowl getting to wittness and mourn Rorshachs death, but wished they would have sticked to the comics version of how rorshach killed the kidnapper. Anyways, in spite of all my nitpicking, I loved it. Can’t wait for the directors cut.

  23. I had problems with the two changes to the ending. If you blame Dr. Manhattan for destroying cities all over the world the rest of the world would see that as an attck by an American super weapon (even with New York getting hit.)

    But really the end of the story, for me anyway, the thing that absolutely made the story was always the line “Nothing ever ends”. No matter what you do, who you vote for, what countries come and go, mankind will always be the same. And taking that line away from the man who can see the future leaves that line with no impact.

  24. Oh…I hated the pop songs. Other than Dylan over the opening credits trash the rest of them. “Sounds of Silence” over the funeral scene? You know what would have worked better. Actual silence! Did anyone read the comic and hear anything other than the preacher and the rain in their head?

    80’s music would have at least help establish the decade better.

  25. You say “the Nerdocracy controls electronic literacy.” I say “it’s an echo chamber”. Potato, Potahto.

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