Watching The Watchmen

August 10, 2009

I’ve now seen the movie Watchmen five times: once on the big screen, and four times at home. I like it more each time I watch it. This is not a unique reaction. But it’s interesting watching how this movie can get people stirred up.

Podcaster Richard Smith of Simply Syndicated spent a few days last week ripping into the movie. I don’t fault him for it. Actually, as a longtime listener and fan of the program Movies You Should See, I tend to run movies through a little mental filter as I watch them: “What would the MYSS crew think of this? Who would love it? Who would hate it?”

And I knew, the first time I saw Watchmen, that Rich would say something along the lines of “Well, there’s three hours of my life I’ll never get back.” In fact, I wrote that prediction down on a piece of paper and sealed it in an envelope and mailed it to myself just to prove the point. Maybe. Anyway, he said exactly that on Twitter the other day, and kept on going on his angry rant show, ... Or Do You Think That’s Just Bo!!*#cks?

This pissed off some people, even after Rich noted on the Simply Syndicated forums that he was just having a go at winding up fanboys. This is something I also like to do, Star Wars is terrible, carry on.

  • Note to Rich: Reading Watchmen won’t make you like the movie. But it might help you understand, as a film buff, why the movie was the way it was. If you don’t have a copy, let me know. I’m sure we can scrounge one up for you.

One interesting reaction to Rich’s rantings, though, came almost immediately. Several people told Rich — as they tell everyone else who expresses anything other than drooling worship of Zach Snyder’s take on the Watchmen — that he really should read the book. And they’re right. He should. Not that you need to read the book — a graphic novel, actually — to understand the movie, but it should be read to be appreciated for what it is: perfection.

I am a longtime fan of the Watchmen series. I have read it more times than I can count. I waited for the movie with a mixture of excitement and fear, knowing that the comic could never really be captured onscreen. I was wrong. Snyder nailed it. And that’s why some people don’t like it.

There are faults. Why does everyone seem to be superpowered? Why does President Nixon look like he’s wearing a rubber mask? What’s behind the decision to cast simpering, wimpy Matthew Goode as Adrian Veidt, who is supposed to be a big strapping ubermensch? Where are the pirates? Oh, they come later.

But the good outweighs the bad. Jackie Earle Haley and Patrick Wilson brought Rorschach and Dan to life exactly the way I pictured them. Jeffrey Dean Morgan understood the complexities of the Comedian, even in his brief appearance. And Billy Crudup was cool and blue.

Watchmen isn’t for everyone. It’s challenging, dark and twisted. It looks like a superhero movie — some guy had his little kids in the theatre when I went, and hustled them out before the amazing opening credits were done — but it isn’t. It’s a story about mental illness, compulsion, anxiety and delusions. It’s Alan Moore at his finest. This is why I like it more with each viewing; once I got past the bombast and action and slo-mo-kung-fu Snyder added to the mix, I started hearing Moore’s story in the dialogue. Line for line. Sometimes dead-on. It’s genius.

Moore, as is well known, does not allow his name to be used on the film adaptations of his comics. This is understandable if you’ve seen V for Vendetta or League of Extraordinary Suckness. But Snyder nailed it. He took a complex, intricate story and translated it to film as well as could be done.

Comic book movies are tricky to make. The producers have to take a spandex concept and make it palatable to moviegoers. When it works — X-Men, Spider-Man, Iron Man The Dark Knight — it’s because everyone nudges nudges winks winks and says “if there really were superheroes, this is how they’d be.” Watchmen is how they’d be. And any director making a movie of it had to make a a choice: tell the tale, or pander to Hollywood. Snyder struck a curious balance, but he made it work.

Anyway, if you’ve never read it, give it a shot. It isn’t for everyone. But at least you tried.



  1. Good blog Kennedy. I just bought the movie but the digital copy isn’t working so I aim to return it to Wal-Mart. But in December brings the Special Edition that has the motion comic, Tales of The Black Freighter combined with the director’s cut of the movie. I guess I’ll have to get that one too.

  2. Saturday Morning Watchmen is brilliant!

  3. Kennedy,

    I was only introduced to Watchmen when the movie was announced – a good friend at work put me onto this amazing novel. I read it twice before I went to see the film then I read it again. Then I watched the movie again. Rorschach is by far my favorite character. I’m waiting until the Christmas release so I can get everything in one package but I’ll be borrowing the movie before then so I can watch it again.

  4. Cool, Chris. And you’re right: Rorschach is the centre of the movie. “I’m not locked in here with you … you’re locked in here with me!”

    p.s. to readers: I know Chris in real life, and once saw him fight a naked guy in a duel with Darth Maul lightsabres.

    • You forgot the part where I kicked that guys ass….

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