Starring: Jackie Earle Haley, Patrick Wilson, Carla Gugino, Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Carla Gugino, Matt Frewer, Stephen McHattie
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: David Hayter, Alex Tse
Rating: R (US) Running Time: 2 hr 42 min (Director’s cut: 3hr 6 min – Ultimate cut: 3hr 35mins)
I’ll start by telling you I saw Watchmen in the theaters before I read the graphic novel, and I only read the book recently while simultaneously watching the director’s cut of the film on Blu-ray. I wanted to completely immerse myself in this world before logging my thoughts, and for two whole evenings I’d read, then watched, read, watched, and compared.
Watchmen is set in an alternate 1980’s, where Richard Nixon is starting his third term as the president of the United States of America. It’s a gloomy piece of work that presents the darker sides of human nature in a way that’s begrudgingly believable. Costume vigilantes have been outlawed, but some still operate either secretly for the government, or privately through their own sense of justice. There’s also the looming terrible inevitability of a nuclear war between the US and the Soviet Union, so you probably won’t be too surprised when I tell you Watchmen is light on laughs.
After viewing the movie again and reading the graphic novel, I can tell you the film is very faithful to the source material. Obviously, a book of this size isn’t going to make it to the screen without some concessions, but I believe writers David Hayter and Alex Tse have made a lot of great choices in their screenplay. Some elements play out of step with the novel, but in a way that makes sense. Some main characters also receive slightly less development, but not so much that would effect your understanding of the plot. Other sub-story components, like the Tales of the Black Freighter only make it into the Ultimate Cut of the film released on Blu-ray. But that omission doesn’t really effect the main plot, and would only be noticed by fans of book.
I have to say I really enjoyed the book, and the film. I loved the varied characters, and the sombre tone of both media formats. The book is obviously more detailed because it can be, and I did find this format does a better job of explaining how Dr Manhattan (the only ‘superhero’ in this story to have powers), views time and space. On the other hand, I found the end of the movie to work better than the novel.
The movie also strikes the right tone, and while grim I liked its depiction of human nature for good or bad. The characters in this story are black, white and every shade of gray in between. The society they live in has lost its way, and each hero fights to contain the madness. The ultimate solution to this crisis ends up being extreme, but oddly convincing as a way to move forward, while simultaneously exposing the childish nature of humanity, and restoring a sadly required belief in a vengeful higher power.
If you’ve read the book, then you’ll likely be okay with the movie. The sections of the book it leaves out are not overly critical to the plot and understanding of the characters. However, if you haven’t read the book, this movie may be a little hard to follow. If you’re in the mood for a more adult and somber comic book story, then this is the movie to watch. The movie earns its R rating through its depiction of sexuality and often extremely graphic violence.
This is a beautifully shot film, and there are some moments that are truly spectacular to watch. If your local movie theater were screening this I suggest you catch that show. At home a HD viewing of the director’s cut on a nice big TV is the way to go. Watching this on a smaller tablet or phone sized screen would be a mistake.
I absolutely loved the performance by Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach. Brooding, violent and even a touch vulnerable, with a psychotic obsession for right and wrong. The unmasked scenes he has throughout the film are some of the most entertaining and powerful moments in the movie.