I Watched the Watchmen!

Some time ago, actually. I’ve been meaning to blog about Watchmen, but I was waiting until I also had a chance to review the two supplemental DVDs – Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic and Tales of the Black Freighter / Under the Hood and discuss them all at once. But although I’ve watched the Motion Comic and Freighter, I still haven’t had a chance to see Under the Hood and I’m not sure when I will, so I might as well not wait any longer.


Short version: a) I greatly enjoyed it; b) it’s one of the most accurate comics adaptations I’ve ever seen – and certainly the most accurate non-Frank-Miller-related comics adaptation I’ve seen; c) Jackie Earl Haley rules; d) some of the departures from the original made sense; e) some didn’t.


As for a longer version – well, I’m mostly in agreement with this review, so that shortens my task considerably. Just a few additional gripes:

  • Rorschach’s last few words were changed. It’s not an improvement.
  • The way Rorschach kills the kidnapper is changed from the book; where the original is chilling, the new version is merely bloody. The common explanation is that the original version (which of course predates Saw) was too much like Saw; but so what? Who cares about Saw? Who’s going to remember Saw in twenty years?
  • Snyder tends to amp up Watchmen in the same way that Jackson amped up LOTR, making everything bigger and more gruesome. (Sometimes it’s an improvement, sometimes not.) Yet Snyder actually, inexplicably tones down the apocalyptic climax; that seems like an odd choice. The original’s sea of dead bodies is far more effective – especially since the bodies are of people we’ve gotten to know.
  • Snyder likewise makes the main characters more like conventional superheroes than they are in the book – e.g., better fighting skills and less dorky costumes. This makes the movie better eye candy, but sacrifices some of the meaning of the original, by turning Watchmen (to some extent) into precisely what it was trying to deconstruct.

Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic:

This is really good – but let me get the biggest gripe out of the way up front.

Motion Comic and Black FreighterDespite what the subtitle “The Complete Motion Comic,” along with the tag line “The Entire Watchmen Graphic Novel Comes to Life,” might lead one to believe, this is not complete; it’s radically abridged. Which is a shame, because I’d love to see the entire comic done this way.

Okay, so that deficiency aside: what this is, essentially, is a reading of the comic (one guy, Tom Stechschulte, does all the voices – and excellently too, though it’s a bit distracting when he’s voicing the female characters) accompanied by minimally animated versions of the original panels. The way the panels are presented led me to notice certain features of the originals that I’d never picked up on before (such as the moment when Laurie takes the dead cop’s gun).

But what’s done especially well in this version is the whole squidocalypse – the very bit that the movie shortchanges us on. Anyone who thinks the squidocalypse would have been unfilmable should see this scene; it’s so much better than the movie’s version, alas. (For one thing, it has the courage to slow down, a rare trait in action movies.)

Tales of the Black Freighter / Under the Hood:

As I mentioned, I haven’t seen Under the Hood, so I’ll confine myself to Black Freighter. I have to say I was somewhat disappointed by this.

One doesn’t realise how much the growing horror of the protagonist’s situation depends on little details (such as his having first to bury his crewmates and then dig them up again, or his remark that strangling the woman on the beach “took considerably longer than [he] had anticipated”) until they’re removed.

Also, it seemed to me to be a big mistake to follow the protagonist onto the deck of the freighter at the end; we should never see that – it should be left to the imagination. Worse yet, when he gets on board it looks as though the crew are about to attack him – which kinda misses the point.

That is all.

14 Responses to I Watched the Watchmen!

  1. Jeff April 19, 2009 at 2:26 am #

    Have you written anything on the ethics of Watchmen, Roderick? Because Watchmen seemed like a long ethics thought experiment to me, where each character’s strengths and weaknesses are directly linked to their ethical views.

    Ozymandias is a utilitarian, and it’s pretty obvious by the end the kind of monstrosities this view can be used to justify.

    Rorschach is a deontologist with a theory of punishment that leans strongly towards retributive justice. His lack of moral compromise is heroic, but his brand of justice is so brutal he actually does seems inhuman and a mentally unstable.

    The Comedian is a radical ethical egoist, and his vices are obvious; but at the end of his life hearing about the evils of Ozymandias’ plan forces him to reconsider his ethical presuppositions.

    Silk Spectre and Nite Owl, while they too have their flaws, ultimately come out being the most sympathetic characters. Their ethical system is the most Aristotelian; they recognize the virtue in the mean, and the vices in excess and deficiency. Like Rorschach, they do not stand idly by in the face of evil, but unlike him they are careful not to overreact.

    • sarah April 19, 2009 at 10:34 am #

      Nail on the head.

      Which is why my biggest disappointment was the way Veidt was portrayed in the movie. Snyder’s Veidt is an effeminate sleazebucket villain. (The lisp, the purple suit — he’s such a creep, he might even be gay! which is a bit of a nasty subtext.) Veidt really ought to be an almost plausible, successful, self-made idealist. He has a nice, open manner in the graphic novel. The point is that a rational, affable guy can believe that the right thing to do, the “hard choice,” is to kill a lot of people to save more. Movies aren’t great at ambiguity — so they villainized Veidt, and kind of heroized Rorschach and Dan and Laurie.

      I would also have liked to see more shots of early-80’s New York, in all its grimy and dangerous romance — but that’s just me, because that’s where my parents courted. An Elvis Costello soundtrack wouldn’t have hurt. (How about “Alison” in place of that horrendous “Hallelujah”?)

  2. Adam April 19, 2009 at 6:00 am #

    Your thoughts mirror mine nearly exactly. The other great performance was Dreiberg, though none of the rest of the acting stood out. The Comedian’s delivery was downright awful at times.

    The ending being changed doesn’t bother me in principle, but its unclear why the US and USSR are suddenly friends afterward. Couldn’t the USSR just blame the US? What do they think they’re going to do against Manhattan or what his motives were (he just went crazy)? Most importantly, why would he have stopped attacking after just a few cities? The narrative implanted in the squid’s brain serves these functions in the comic book, but there’s no parallel here about manipulating the interpretation of the event.

    Under the Hood is awesome. Much better than Freighter. Sometimes though its obvious they filmed it with a new camera then did a mediocre job making it look old. They couldn’t find an old camera?

  3. Richard Garner April 19, 2009 at 2:56 pm #

    I thought the change to the way Rorschach killed the kidnapper was unnecessary, too. I did not associate the original method with [i]Saw[/i], actually, but with [i]Mad Max[/i] – Max kills a guy the same way. And, hey, its been more than twenty years since [i]Mad Max[/i], and I still remember! And [i]Saw[/i] is a great film that should be remembered, too!

    • Roderick April 19, 2009 at 3:55 pm #

      I am less enthused about Saw than you are; but in any case I don’t see why an adaptation should have to change itself just because the original has been copied in the meantime.

      By the way, I suspect one reason that Dr. Doom was changed in the Fantastic Four movie was that the original one was too much like Darth Vader in origin, personality, and powers. Although of course Doom came first.

      • Roderick April 19, 2009 at 3:55 pm #

        P.S. – Italics work if you use < > instead of [ ].

  4. Jesse Walker April 19, 2009 at 10:43 pm #

    Snyder likewise makes the main characters more like conventional superheroes than they are in the book – e.g., better fighting skills and less dorky costumes.

    I think this is much more than a gripe. It gets to the heart of what’s wrong with the movie. (This comes, of course, from someone who has a much lower opinion of the film than you do.)

  5. scats April 20, 2009 at 9:51 am #

    Spot on youse guys. Even more than the nonsensical ending, the villainification of Veidt and superheroizing the other protagonists completely guts the movie of meaning. It’s pretty, but ultimately a hollow shell.

  6. Tom G April 20, 2009 at 2:05 pm #

    After watching the movie – and it IS great, I thought – I realized that the changed ending (specifically who gets blamed for the “attack”) is simply not plausible….
    The villain already showed he could provoke an emotional response from Jon during the news interview – so why would he set Jon up as the scapegoat and IN HIS PRESENCE show that it was done? Highly risky to piss off a demi-god, in my humble opinion.

  7. Richard G. April 20, 2009 at 9:04 pm #

    I think I’ll wait for the director’s cut, which is rumored to add something like an extra 40min or so.

    I just reread the collected edition a couple of months ago, which was only the second time that I had read the comic. The first time was not too long after the first trade paperback came out. Wow, did I ever miss a lot during the first reading. My own worldview has obviously changed after so many years, but also, I’ve been reading a couple of different “study guides” to the series, and they have been quite helpful in getting the most out of this landmark comic.

    BTW Roderick, I don’t believe that you ever gave a review of the Iron Man movie. I reckon that I’m not the only one interested in your take.

    Richard G.

    • Roderick April 20, 2009 at 10:27 pm #

      I don’t believe that you ever gave a review of the Iron Man movie.

      I really enjoyed it. Downey was terrific. I’m not sure I have any deep philosophical thoughts about it.

      • Richard G. April 21, 2009 at 12:10 am #

        What did you think of Stark’s “change of heart” (no pun intended) after coming back from captivity? I liked how Rhodey tried to convince him that he was shell shocked, and that he just needed some time to get over it (just what a military man would think, no doubt). Clearly Stark didn’t become anti-war, but he at least made a good first step (wanting to get out of the military-industrial complex).

        Also Roderick, what did you think of the movie as a Marvel adaptation? A fairly faithful translation of the characters? I thought the slight tweaking of the origin (eg. Afghanistan for Vietnam) worked quite well.

        Richard G.

        • Roderick April 25, 2009 at 8:17 pm #

          Yeah, those things were good. Stark’s characterisation was a bit more extreme/humorous than he’s (usually) been in the comics, but I liked it. But then Iron Man was never an especially iconic character for me so I didn’t have much in the way of fan prejudices to overcome.

  8. MBrown April 22, 2009 at 4:21 pm #

    Interesting. Both your assessment, and the longer review you site pretty much match my feelings of the movie.

    And I think they better explain then I could why the changed ending wasn’t an improvement over the original.

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