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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Review: Watchmen the Movie

Watchmen the Graphic Novel has been called unfilmable, but I saw Watchmen the Movie on Saturday night, so the statement is at least partially untrue. What makes Watchmen the Graphic Novel so great boils down to three things: the plot, the characters, and the way the story is told.

The movie does a decent job adapting the first two, but the third is simply impossible. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons utilize the unique elements of comic story telling to elevate a good plot and great characters to a masterpiece of the comics medium. Watchmen the Movie is akin to Citizen Kane the Graphic Novel. Orson Welles used the unique elements of film to tell his story in a way that sets it apart from any other medium. A good writer and artist could adapt Kane, tell the story with all the necessary elements intact, but it wouldn’t be a comics masterpiece, just as Watchmen the Movie is not a cinematic masterpiece.

I think the movie looks great, the effects are good (especially Dr. Manhattan, and Rorshach’s mask), and the set pieces are great, creating the alternative world of 1985 in a believable way.

I think the movie is well cast, at least in terms of the major characters. Robert Wisdon as President Nixon is a little jarring and sometimes unintentionally comedic with the nose appliance, but as a secondary character this doesn’t bother me too much. I think Patrick Wilson as Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl II gives the best perfomance in the movie. He certainly captures the characterization of Dan from the Graphic Novel as I always imagine it. Jackie Earle Haley as Roshach also gives a good performance, although he plays the character far more intensely, than the oddly detached, but grim character I always see in my head. Everyone else is good to passable, with no real complaints.

The movie makes a major change to the ending as presented in the graphic novel, but it is so faithful to the spirit of the Graphic Novel, that I can’t say I’m anything but impressed. The decision to make Dr. Manhattan the threat from beyond that drives the world to peace is a beautiful solution to a problem that might have sunk the entire movie had it stayed true to the printed page. The decision to do this also streamlines the plot for the sake of a bearable run time, and allows the creators of the movie to do away with numerous subplots that would have been necessary to set up the original ending. I liked it, and it worked.

The only real complaint I have about the movie is the tendency to use dialogue verbatim from the comic. There are numerous examples of this, and it was always very apparent to me when it was happening. A friend who attended with me (who hasn’t read the book) noted that sometimes the dialog seemed off somehow, and I explained that some of the conversations were word for word out of the comic. Sometimes what reads well on the page, sounds odd when spoken aloud.

Good effects, a few fun action sequences and some really disturbing violence coupled with really good characters make for a good movie. I think fans of the Graphic Novel will enjoy it for what it is, which is a good adaptation of a story told in print. Unfortunately for the movie, the story is not what makes Watchmen the Graphic Novel great, but the manner in which that story is told, and that could simply never be adapted to film.

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