Here's the Protoclown take:
Though I'm not sure a Watchmen
movie should ever have been attempted, it was inevitable that Hollywood would get around to it sooner or later, and chances were that it would pale in comparison to what many people consider the best comic ever written. I'm happy to say that Zack Snyder's version was actually pretty good, all things considered--he managed to condense the story down into less than three hours and keep all the major themes intact, which is a pretty impressive feat by any measure.
However, I couldn't help but feel as I watched the movie that the plot seems rushed along--too many characters suffer from truncated back stories (Rorshach and Dr. Manhattan in particular), and this really lessens the emotional weight of the film. By necessity of the immensely complex story and the time constraints of film that don't affect the comic, the story doesn't have nearly the gravitas that its print version enjoys. This is one of many reasons why Alan Moore said way back when that he wrote Watchmen
to illustrate the things that the comic book medium could do that neither film nor straight prose could accomplish. This movie only serves to prove his point. While the book is an innovative, revolutionary masterpiece compared to other comics (especially in 1986!), the film fails to tower above its celluloid siblings in the same way.
It was a damned fine adaptation, don't get me wrong--I don't think anyone could have done it better--but so much of the mind-blowing synchronicity and symbolism in the comic is completely lost here. Even if they do restore the "Tales From the Black Freighter" story into the director's cut, I doubt its parallels to the main story will be as apparent or as poignant to the viewer. And the fifth issue, "Fearful Symmetry", which is probably the most ambitious and elegantly designed single comic ever put to paper (wherein the second half of the issue visually mirrors the first half) is by its very nature impossible to replicate on film. It's not that the film was particularly lacking by any stretch--it's just that the comic has a whole bag of tricks to employ that the film can't possibly take advantage of.
A friend of mine after watching it said that he couldn't believe that anyone who hadn't read the book could make much sense out of the story, and I'm inclined to agree. Granted, being very familiar with the book it's hard for me to see the film through the eyes of someone new to the story, but I can see where the events of the film might have seemed somewhat disjointed and chaotic to the average audience member who didn't walk into the theater already a fan.
A lot of people complain about the removal of the squid from the film, but I'm here to tell you that swapping out the one MacGuffin for another doesn't really affect the outcome of the story, so I don't have a problem with it. The aftermath of the squid is far
more visually striking than what they used in the film, but ultimately the difference means very little. And Dave Gibbons, artist of the comic, endorsed the new ending and even drew up storyboards for it in the style of the comic. If half the creative force behind the book is okay with it, then that's good enough for me.
The most offensive thing about the film to me was the fact that they referred to the group of characters as "the Watchmen". Those who have read the comic realize that there was not only never a team called "the Watchmen" (in fact, the word never once fully appears in the comic--you only ever see portions of the word in various instances of wall graffiti), but that those characters never existed as a team in the first place. They had one
group meeting, during which the cheesy name "Crimebusters" was proposed, but the Comedian pointed out the absurdity of their foolish dream and that was that. Some of the characters worked together afterward, sure, but not as a cohesive "Justice League" kind of team, coming back to headquarters after a job well done and giving each other high-fives before hitting the showers. The title refers instead to the concept of authority itself--"who watches the watchmen?" basically means "who's keeping tabs on these guys who have appointed themselves our protectors?" The fact that Zack Snyder utterly ignored that tells me that he either doesn't understand the title himself, or (more likely) he or the producers felt that the average American was too dense to get it. Sadly, they are probably right, but given that the film was smart in so many other ways, shouldn't they have given us the benefit of the doubt, rather than insult our intelligence?
If I hated
any one thing about the film, it was that. If I hated two things, it was that and Richard Nixon's ridiculous nose, which made him impossible to take seriously. Any other changes made I can live with, and I suspect (and hope) that the upcoming director's cut may alleviate many of the problems I had with truncated back stories. I look forward to seeing the full version of the movie as Snyder intended, and I think that might be just the thing to bump this up in status from "good" movie to great
Oh, and for my money, the most exciting and interesting part of the movie was the opening credit sequence, where Snyder really got to flex his imagination muscles, putting together an extremely effective montage sequence showing the history that leads up to this alternate 1985, set to the perfectly chosen "The Times They Are A'Changin'" by Bob Dylan. Snyder gave us his interpretation of a bunch of moments that were mentioned but never actually shown in the comic. It was the only time that the movie brought something new and creative to the table, and given how much I loved
that brilliant sequence, it's almost a shame that Snyder didn't take a few more creative liberties here and there, fleshing out the previously unseen bits of the story with more extrapolations.