I am absolutely obsessed with Watchmen, which I read over the summer, as you can see here. I didn't have much room to discuss it in the article, but there were really great points to the movie, little references to the book that only die hard fans would catch. For instance, Snyder always lets us know that he understands the book completely, and needs to get rid of a few plot points to allow the movie to flow easier-- for example, the newspaper vendor and the boy, and the comic book/meta-fiction interweave in the novel. But they appear, if only for a few seconds. They say: "I exist! I am not forgotten!" and are quickly disregarded. Also, sometimes the music itself copies the end-quotes of each chapter, such as Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" (Snyder used the Jimi Hendrix version). However beautiful and however passionate the movie was, the music really ruined it for me. I snorted every time a song came on.
Well, on to the actual review...
Watchmen Jumps From Page to Big Screen, But Not Without Stumbling
It is the only graphic novel to date ever to win a Hugo Award or make Time’s 2005 list of All-Time 100 Novels. By making a movie of a brilliant comic, director Zack Snyder attempted the impossible.
In an imagined America threatened by nuclear holocaust, where Richard Nixon is still president and we won the Vietnam War, a group of vigilantes wiped the streets of crime and became America’s superstars. Now in 1985, their heyday is long gone, and when one is found murdered, a new generation of “Watchmen” suspect conspiracy.
Snyder is reasonably faithful to both plot and artistry—although over two hours long, many plot points are eliminated, though the narrative meat remains on the bones. But even if it was highly entertaining, the movie seemed a little useless in relation to the graphic novel. Could it ever meet our fanboy expectations?
Isaiah Everin: An inevitable fact of adapting any artistic work is that an adaptation is not the same as the original. Although a cinematic translation of Moore’s work is a beautiful thing to see on the big screen, the ethical concern of whether it should have been adapted in the first place is moot to Snyder.
There are liberties that must be taken to accommodate for a feature-length film, but those should not include reducing characters to sexualized Hollywood shells, as was the case with Malin Akerman’s portrayal of the Silk Spectre. And while some plot details must be chopped, this does not excuse Snyder from changing the inherent content of the story’s ending.
Not only were major scenes in the film changed entirely—with only Moore’s most apparent points arising—but the soul of the work never comes across. The most subtle emphases were crossed out with a big Hollywood Sharpie, leaving an oversimplified representation meant for a lazy audience.
Alekseyeva: But how could a graphic novel ever be represented on screen? The film and comic can never be perfectly synonymous, simply because the act of reading a graphic novel is so different from watching a film. If Snyder hadn’t created an entertaining Hollywood movie, if it was instead longer and more pensive, a significant portion of the population would be isolated. Watchmen is an accessible graphic novel, but it is still no action flick.
Regardless, I also had a few qualms about the film editing. The music directly borrows from the sound track of many classic films, using Dylan, Hendrix, and Wagner. Was Snyder paying homage to films such as Apocalypse Now and The Graduate? Regardless, the soundtrack was too much: too epic, too loud, and too self-referential.
Also lost to Hollywood was the highly intellectual feel of the comic. Moore’s comic ends chapters with quotes by Jung and Nietzsche—can one ever do this and still have a box office smash?
Everin: If Snyder is borrowing from old cinema with the soundtrack, most audience members, ironically, may not realize. To me, the music is the only thing that gives the film a place in time besides the presence of Nixon and old television sets.
Many fans will agree that subjecting Watchmen to a standard Hollywood interpretation bastardizes the original intent of the novel. The film fails to meet the nearly impossible challenge of making a movie both for the box office and with artistic integrity at the same time. It simply may not be possible to effectively render Watchmen through a camera lens—especially one as shallow as Snyder’s.
Despite these issues, Snyder did capture several of Moore’s characters flawlessly and created a film that the audience can enjoy. Maybe the extended director’s cut will let the spirit of the novel return.