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Watchmen Thoughts
Bar Harbor
alexx_kay
Went to see the Watchmen movie last night, along with kestrell and her MIT film class. Afterwards, most of the people ended up going straight home, but Kes & I went out to dinner with Henry Jenkins, and had an enjoyable time geeking out and comparing reactions to the film.

The film was more or less what I expected from the previews: Surprisingly faithful to many details, yet still missing many of the fundamental points of what made the graphic novel so impressive.

I think the scriptwriters did a heroic job of adaptation and compression. While they fell down in a few parts, especially in the extreme compression of the final third of the film, they overall hewed much closer to the book than I would have thought possible. I wouldn't have spent nearly so much face time on Nixon, personally.

There were lots of lines that I recognized from the book -- and which lost a lot of their point in the film's context. Mostly things where the verbal imagery was slightly strained or over-the-top, but worked in context because it was a perfect segue into the following scene. The movie would keep the line, but not the scene change, so the resonance -- didn't.

I found it interesting that they felt the need to "As you know, Bob" explain the significance of the Nuclear Clock, twice. I guess we really do live in a different world now.

The visuals were, overall, fantastically faithful. Lots of extremely recognizable images that were literally framed precisely to match the original panels. Props and set dressings all evoked the feel of the book, and of the time periods involved, most excellently. Costumes also, with the notable exception of the hero outfits, which looked far too modern and far too cool.

The musical choices were extremely bold, and I think very successful. Lots of pop music and popular classical, functioning either as straight soundtrack or as ironic counterpoint to the action.

But for all that, I think the director had some fundamental failings that really hurt the story. The movie is *much* more violent than the already-quite-violent book. For instance, there is one panel in the book where Doctor Manhattan is killig a gangster while thinking (paraphrased from memory) "The morality of my action escapes me." The gangster's head is exploding in a puff of smoke, while the bystanders look on horrified. That same bit appears in the film, but there, Dr. M explodes two gangsters' entire bodies into fountains of blood. There are two reaction shots of horrified gun molls who have been liberally spattered with this blood, and then an entirely gratuitous shot of ganster-guts dripping from the ceiling.

This fetishism of violence continues throughout. When Dan and Laurie are confronted by the gang members in the alley, their number of gang members in the movie are roughly tripled from those in the book; the ensuing violence is far more extreme, and involves our 'heroes' deliberately killing several of the gang members. As Henry pointed out afterwards, this level of violence completely undercuts the following romantic moment betweent Dan and Laurie; the brutality of their actions makes it hard for us to see that *they* see what just happened as sexy and exciting.

Which segues neatly into another criticism: The movie heroes were just way too effective at what they did. Every hand-to-hand combat in the film goes on much longer than the corresponding one in the book, and shows our heroes defeating significantly greater numbers of enemies. When Laurie and Dan fight the fire, a scene that was funny and slightly pathetic in the book, the movie has them both in full-on Action Hero! mode.

Acting varied. I quite liked most of the cast. Ozymandias bugged me, though. His appearace and accent, rather than projecting near-superhuman perfection, projected "effete, decadent, vaguely-European bad guy". I also thought that, while good overall, the Comedian really fell down on the job during his Vietnam dialogue with Dr. Manhattan. He just didn't sound like a man who had had his face slashed open moments before. Rorschach, on the other hand, nailed pretty much every moment he had on screen.

I liked that there was roughly equal time with male and female nudity. I was impressed that they managed to retain Dr. M's full-frontal nudity, though puzzled by the way they made his penis so much bigger. (I am informed that, due to a quirk in the ratings system, this was a prosthetic device. A *real* penis gets you an NC-17, but not a fake one. Go figure.)

The changes to the story were mostly acceptable, if annoying. Laurie and Jon on Mars was compressed to the point where it barely made sense. I may be alone in this, but I think the extra-dimensional Lovecraftian horror could work cinematically. What they went with instead did have the value of being more elegantly tied in to the rest of the action, so less out-of-left-field. I was bugged a lot more by the way they showed the immediate results of the disaster via focusing primarily on Richard Nixon. Props for including Jon's line about "Nothing ever ends", but half credit for putting them indirectly in Laurie's mouth. Minus points for giving Rorschach the last word, and completely undercutting the ambiguity of the book's ending.

The characters who, in the book, we came to know around the news stand were pretty much entirely cut from the film. They do appear for a few frames each in the Big Disaster Sequence, but having spent no time getting to know them, the audience doesn't care. This badly undercuts the impact of Adrian's genocidal act.

Overall, I think it compares well to the Lord of the Rings films. A better, closer adaptation than I thought I would ever see -- and yet still missing so much from the source material that it really isn't the same story. Just as well that Alan Moore isn't planning to see it.

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(Deleted comment)
I have nothing substantive to contribute, I just wanted to share a one-line review I saw somewhere that made me laugh: "Well, that was definitely the most big blue penises I've seen in a while."

It's been almost 8 years since I read the story, similar to jducoeur and I had forgotten the original, core ending entirely. I was tempted to re-read the weeks leading up but in some respects I'm glad I didn't. I saw the movie Saturday night with a friend but, man, to see it with Henry and then to have a geek out afterwords...nice. I'm going to miss him.

I think Ozy's character was definitely completely lacking in the Pharoh-like charisma that made him so wicked...

I gave the movie an 8 out of 10 and probably have far, far less of a comic reading history. Will definitely see it in IMAX.

Likewise on the decision not to reread--I agree with you that it made the viewing better in some ways, although it also meant that I was sort of surprised all over again by various bits of gender!FAIL; I remembered that they were there, but I was still a bit surprised by the strength of my reaction to them.

I didn't really have the option of "not rereading". That is, I've read the book so often, that massive chunks of it are embedded in my permanent memory.

I read Ozymandias as very much an Evil Queer, largely due to the effete quality you noticed in him--this was exacerbated, I think, by Moore's generally inadequate and/or downright bad treatment of sexuality and gender issues overall, so that it seemed worse in conjunction.

I absolutely loved the music, and thought that in general, they created that mid-80s dystopian atmosphere very, very well.

I'm a little curious exactly how much of this stuff the director's cut will fix. (I doubt it will, for instance, remove gangster gets, but.)

(Deleted comment)
Sent this way by siderea.

Thank you for outlining the violence issues. There are certain things I can't watch without nightmares -- Sin City being a recent example -- and my sister recommended missing Watchmen for that reason. Based on your description, I think she's right.

Pity. I finally read the book a couple of months ago and liked it immensely.

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