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The Watchmen


kimmy

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Eddie Blake is murdered in the opening scene of The Watchmen. He is an old man, but powerful: his sledgehammer fists smash the tiled walls of his posh New York apartment as he tries to fight his mysterious assailant. He wields kitchen knives and improvised weapons with a deft touch and remarkable speed, his strength and skill are obvious. And yet, he is no match for his attacker. Realizing he's beaten, he tells his attacker "it's all a god damn joke" before he is hurtled to his death through the plate glass window to the street 30 stories below. We quickly learn that Eddie Blake was a masked vigilante known as The Comedian.

A bittersweet historical montage brings us up to speed: this is an alternate reality where costumed crime fighters were a historical fact. The montage is, I think, beautifully done: it portrays the costumed vigilantes with at first idealism and innocence and optimism and frivolity... but gradually transforms into violence, corruption, and tragedy. In that sense, it mirrors society's transformation as a whole, certainly in the Watchmen's fictional universe, and possibly our own as well. In a "meta" sense, it also describes the evolution of the "superhero" genre, from the bright cheerful stories of days gone by to the bleak and violent medium it has become (compare "Batman" cartoons to "The Dark Knight"...)

By the end of the montage, we learn that the costumed vigilantes have been banned due to public outrage. Only three remain: The Comedian, who continues his work as a government-sanctioned operative who spends his time toppling Marxist regimes around the globe, carrying out assassinations for President Nixon, and so on. Dr Manhattan, also government-sanctioned, a scientist given god-like power through an accident. And, Rorschach, an outlaw who continues his work as a masked vigilante because he simply must. Others have retired, or met violent ends, or committed to insane asylum, or simply vanished. Eddie Blake's murder sets the story in motion, arousing the suspicions of the surviving costumed adventurers, leading them to a plot that is shocking in its ambition.

The Watchmen is based on the 12-chapter comic-book series of the same name, written by British writer Alan Moore in 1986. It was widely acclaimed, becoming one of the first English-language comic book series to be taken seriously as a work of literature, and winning honors that are normally reserved for traditional forms of literature. The comic book series created a wonderfully detailed alternate world, with startling well-developed characters, and explored many themes, such as humanity's need for myths and monsters, nostalgia and longing for simpler times and fear of the future, group-think and collective fear... the portrait of a society becoming increasingly claustrophobic, increasingly dispirited, increasingly choked by its own fear as the Doomsday Clock inches towards midnight, was tremendously compelling. The comic book created this rich world full of not just the costumed adventurers, but regular people, all crushed under the weight of impending doom.

I loved the movie. I might be one of the few who did. The graphic novel has a lot of hardcore fans, many of whom are undoubtedly upset at the liberties taken with the revered source material. And people not familiar with the source material may have found the movie overly long, overly complicated, or just plain confusing.

But personally, I loved it, despite its flaws.

There are several flaws. A major one is that Laurie Juspecyk, the second "Silk Spectre", is simply not adequately developed. Her complicated past plays a pivotal role in the story, and the film doesn't explain her adequately... so that when the Big Revelation comes, it is first off not very surprising to the viewer, having been clumsily hinted at earlier... and secondly doesn't seem like that big of a deal anyway, because her feelings have not been adequately fleshed out. What's supposed to be an astonishing revelation that changes the world view of the big blue man has very little impact to the viewer.

Second big drawback, the shocking plot turn has been deprived of much of its shock. In many places the movie exceeds the violence of the comic book by an order of magnitude... and yet, at the climactic event, where the comic book truly punches the reader right in the stomach, the movie gives the viewer a sanitized event that simply lacks the impact it needed. Intellectually, the viewer understands that what happened was almost unthinkable, and yet the viewer has not been *shown* that. Deviating from the book, the movie uses a simpler ending that requires less explanation for the audience... which is a choice I understand... but they didn't need to make it sanitized. It should have been utterly shocking, and it wasn't.

And thirdly, the movie fails to create the rich, full world that the novel creates. The comic series is full of characters, with which the masked vigilantes live and interact and are part of... while in the movie, the masked vigilantes seem largely detached from the people around them.

However, for all that, I thought the movie did a number of things really well. I loved that they did manage to convey some of the rich backstory that the comic book series created. I loved that they managed to fit in many of the same kind of visual "easter eggs" and symbols the comic book art was filled with. I like that they did manage to convey at least some of the things the book creates, and even though fitting all of that complexity into a 2.5 hour movie would have been impossible, at least they managed to hint at some of the richness of the book. Mostly I loved that they were able to recreate many of the characters so vividly.

I think Rorschach, Dr Manhattan, and The Comedian really came across brilliantly in the movie.

Jackie Earle Haley is amazing as Rorschach. The clenched teeth, the jaw jutting forward, the sneer of contempt, the measured pace, the stare, and especially the voice... he simply radiates the kind of seething hate and contempt that the character demands. He's a true psychopath, capable of startling violence yet filled with unwavering conviction. His name comes from his mask, the endlessly shifting blots of black on white, which also represents his outlook: black and white, twisted into whatever shapes but always black and white, never mixing, never allowing shades of grey. "Never compromise." Hard to believe that such an unsympathetic character, with few human qualities left, would be the primary character in a story that's ultimately about human nature, yet there he is.

Billy Crudup, as Dr Manhattan, is also impressive. Of all the "super heroes" in the story, only he has any "super" power, the rest are simply regular people in funny costumes. The portrait of a being who is becoming less and less connected to humanity is convincing. If you could travel the cosmos or shape worlds with your thoughts, why WOULD you hang out with humans, anyway? And yet, the one instance in the movie where he raises his voice above the even blank monotone he speaks in reveals he does still have a heart to break.

And I loved Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian. The Comedian's "happy face" pin (with the drop of his blood approximating a hand on the Doomsday Clock) became the iconic emblem for the comic book series, and though he dies in the opening moments, he is a towering figure in the story. Through 40 years of flashbacks, we learn he is a bastard whose brutality and callousness touches the lives of two generations of costumed adventurers (and not for the better.) The colorful clown costume of his early career, and the "happy face" pin of his later career are pure irony... there is nothing happy about him. His outlook is total nihilism, the belief that human nature is savage and contains nothing worth preserving, and the belief that nuclear war is inevitable and imminent and that nothing anyone does has any consequence. "Once you realize what a joke everything is, being The Comedian is the only thing that make sense." The Comedian is the character that sort of ties all of the other characters together in one way or another, and Morgan brings a swagger, a physical presence, a charisma, and sex-appeal to the role that brings all of it together.

-k

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The movie, much like the graphic novel, is an onion. The more you peel back, the more you find. I loved that the graphic novel lent itself to being re-read because you could always find something new each time you picked it up. I believe the movie is going to be the same for people, if they give it that chance.

On the other hand, the biggest disappointment for me was that they completely dropped the ball on developing Ozymandias's reflexivity. Without giving away too much of the film, what I will say is that "the smartest man in the world," needed to be so brilliant that he hyper-analyzes himself. This acute awareness was crucial to not only the story, but also the philosophy in the novel, but was conspicuously absent from either the acting or the direction (I'm not entirely sure which).

Regardless, I can't wait until it comes out on video. Deleted scenes. Director's commentary. Production notes. All of these things will continue to peel back the layers of the onion. Every time I discuss the film, I learn something new about it. I see it from a different angle. What could be better than the features they add to DVDs for that?

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I have a feeling that those who went into this movie expecting a typical superhero flick came out seriously disappointed. The beauty of Moore's work is that he deconstructs the archetype, and gives the middle finger to the Superman, Spiderman, and X-Men type characters.

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This really turned me off the movie. I was expecting a story of flawed heros like batman but I was not expecting on a on-screen rape and bloody killings straight out of the latest Freddy movie.

The "18+" rating is definitely well-deserved...

an on-screen rape

The attempted rape is a key event in the story... I don't think you can tell the story without it. And doing it in such a graphic, brutal scene gives it the impact it needs. Where Snyder screwed up is that he failed to capitalize on that... failed to connect this event to later events (I filed this all under the general heading of failing to give Laurie the dramatic weight she needs to play her role later in the story.)

It's also thematically important... it marks the end of the golden age of innocence and idealism, breaks up the Minutemen, disenchants the members, gives the nagging doubt that they're no better than the criminals they beat up.

Great, powerful scene... but mostly wasted in the film.

bloody killings straight out of the latest Freddy movie

If you're talking about the scene with the cleaver... then yes. I don't think that was necessary. In the book... dowses room with gasoline, gives man hacksaw, drops lit match. Watches building burn down, listens to man's screams for as long as they last. To me, that's a less bloody and yet also more chilling way of showing he's lost his last shred of humanity. I don't know if Snyder thought the cleaver would be an easier way to make the point on film, or if he thought it would be more effective in representing the brutal violence he's become capable of.

Again, disappointing that Snyder went over the top with gore on scenes like this... and yet gave us a bloodless climax. The climax needed to be horrific.

-k

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If you're talking about the scene with the cleaver... then yes. I don't think that was necessary. In the book... dowses room with gasoline, gives man hacksaw, drops lit match. Watches building burn down, listens to man's screams for as long as they last. To me, that's a less bloody and yet also more chilling way of showing he's lost his last shred of humanity. I don't know if Snyder thought the cleaver would be an easier way to make the point on film, or if he thought it would be more effective in representing the brutal violence he's become capable of.

Again, disappointing that Snyder went over the top with gore on scenes like this... and yet gave us a bloodless climax. The climax needed to be horrific.

I had a discussion about the adaptation of that scene with a friend a few days after seeing the film. He raised an excellent point. That scene is supposed to be the death of Walter Kovacs; he says as much in the film. The way it was written in the book, tied to the psychologist's side-story, allows the reader to reflect more on the context of the situation. Having Rorschach kill the pedophile with is bare hands, I thought wrongly took the ambiguity out of him being a killer. The way it was written in the book, with the hacksaw and house fire, offered an out, that made you question whether or not Rorschach was a killer. My friend suggested that this kind of subtlety doesn't work on film, but more importantly, it was necessary to show Walter Kovacs dying by his own hands, through the act of murder, to become Rorschach. It raises a good point, but I still contest that the way it was written in the book is important to show that he didn't lose ALL attachment to humanity. Walter Kovacs gave the killer a way out, brutal as it was. This kind of ambiguity about right and wrong is the entire point of The Watchmen. Perhaps Snyder didn't want to be accused of ripping off the Saw franchise with the scenario, even though Watchmen was written well before that. I don't know, but to me, the change was a mistake.

Edited by cybercoma
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I had a discussion about the adaptation of that scene with a friend a few days after seeing the film. He raised an excellent point. That scene is supposed to be the death of Walter Kovacs; he says as much in the film. The way it was written in the book, tied to the psychologist's side-story, allows the reader to reflect more on the context of the situation. Having Rorschach kill the pedophile with is bare hands, I thought wrongly took the ambiguity out of him being a killer.

I don't think there was any ambiguity about him being a killer. He became one, and not as result of how he dealt with the kidnapper, but because of what he had witnessed earlier. Earlier in the film his old comrades laugh about the time he dropped a guy down an elevator shaft on a whim... there's no ambiguity.

The way it was written in the book, with the hacksaw and house fire, offered an out, that made you question whether or not Rorschach was a killer. My friend suggested that this kind of subtlety doesn't work on film, but more importantly, it was necessary to show Walter Kovacs dying by his own hands, through the act of murder, to become Rorschach.

That's an interesting thought. But I think the point was that he changed when he learned of the little girl's fate, not when he disposed of the murderer. By the time the killer returns to the house, Kovacs is already gone and Rorscach is there waiting.

It raises a good point, but I still contest that the way it was written in the book is important to show that he didn't lose ALL attachment to humanity. Walter Kovacs gave the killer a way out, brutal as it was.

I don't think he was giving the man a way out. I think he was taunting the man, expressing his utter contempt for him. "Here, take this. You could use it to save yourself, but I know you're too weak to do what you need to do."

It was just sadism, really, forcing the man to contemplate his own cowardice during the final moments of his life.

This kind of ambiguity about right and wrong is the entire point of The Watchmen. Perhaps Snyder didn't want to be accused of ripping off the Saw franchise with the scenario, even though Watchmen was written well before that. I don't know, but to me, the change was a mistake.

I didn't care for it myself.

I also thought some of the fight scenes were excessive, in the level of violence, and in their length, and in the style. The style was so over the top that one of my friends was under the impression that all of the characters have super strength and speed.

When Dan and Laurie are attacked in the alley, they seem to be looking forward to the fight, and the Matrix-style kung fu they dish out seems out of place. I thought the scene was supposed to be a reawakening for them, a reminder that they used to be exceptional... it should come as a surprise to them to discover how capable they still are. Instead they act (and fight) as if beating the shit out of large street-gangs is still a day to day event for them, when it's a part of their lives they turned their back on a decade before. Saving the more spectacular antics for the prison riot scene would have been better, I think, reflecting that they're "back in the game". Why did they go into the alley, anyway? Subconsciously looking for trouble?

-k

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The trouble is I did not see that until after I bought my ticket and had no way to distinguish between 'sexually explicit' meaning 'some nudity' and 'graphic rape scene'.

I dunno... the "R" rating, the words "Graphic violence, sexuality, nudity, language" being affixed to listings and reviews... I think viewers were warned that they weren't going into a typical superhero movie.

Being shocked that a superhero movie contained such dark subject matter to me seems a bit like assuming that "Family Guy" or "Ninja Scroll" are going to be cheerful children's entertainment because they're cartoons...

-k

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I dunno... the "R" rating, the words "Graphic violence, sexuality, nudity, language" being affixed to listings and reviews... I think viewers were warned that they weren't going into a typical superhero movie.
It was 18A in BC which means kids under 18 admitted with adult supervision. R rated is one level above that which is no kids allowed. I think it should have been R. I would not have gone to it if it was an R movie.

BTW - It not that I thought it was a bad movie. It just really graphic violance - especially rape (attempted or otherwise) makes my skin crawl.

Edited by Riverwind
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It was 18A in BC which means kids under 18 admitted with adult supervision. R rated is one level above that which is no kids allowed. I think it should have been R. I would not have gone to it if it was an R movie.

BTW - It not that I thought it was a bad movie. It just really graphic violance - especially rape (attempted or otherwise) makes my skin crawl.

So... "The Accused"? "Thelma and Louise"? I'm not trying to pick on you, I'm trying to figure out if it's the scene itself you found upsetting, or just that you weren't expecting a scene like that in this genre of movie.

It was certainly an upsetting scene, which I think was entirely the point. Of all the gratuitous violence in the film, it was one scene that I didn't think was gratuitous at all... it was integral to the story, and I think it had a ring of truth to it as well.

-k

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So... "The Accused"? "Thelma and Louise"? I'm not trying to pick on you, I'm trying to figure out if it's the scene itself you found upsetting, or just that you weren't expecting a scene like that in this genre of movie.
It is a bit of both. There is some stuff I that I just despise even if it has artistic merit. I am not saying that the movie should have deleted that scene. I am just saying I wish I had not gone to see it. It been a long time since I saw Thema & Louise and the Accused and it did not bother me as much then. In the case of the accused I knew the entire story revolved around a rape before I saw it. In the case of Watchman I did not know it had any relevance to the plot and saw it as completely gratuitous. Edited by Riverwind
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This movie was a bad one, plain and simple. I actually walked out with 10 minutes to go, and I'm not one to walk out on movies. I had lost all interest and only stayed that long because of one character, who they killed off.

BTW, what a cheap shot making Nixon's nose like that. How petty can you get, and I am not a fan of Nixon.

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Better than I expected, but not as good as the book for reasons already expounded upon here.

I think Silk Spectre 2's limited presence in the plot was a blessing in disguise given that Malin Ackerman's limited acting chops. On the other side of the spectrum, Morgan was fantastic, as was Jackie Earle Haley (though I was hoping his delivery would be more monotone than guttural.)

I miss the space squid.

Flawed though it may be, it did, IMO, set a new standard for superhero films (and it showed The Dark Knight up as the piece of crap it really is).

Edited by Black Dog
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This movie was a bad one, plain and simple. I actually walked out with 10 minutes to go, and I'm not one to walk out on movies. I had lost all interest and only stayed that long because of one character, who they killed off.

He had to die... any other resolution would have been like Captain Ahab deciding to just let the White Whale go.

I don't know if the movie adequately expressed that aspect of his character.

I miss the space squid.

I miss the numb, queezy feeling the space squid climax provided in the book.

Flawed though it may be, it did, IMO, set a new standard for superhero films

I personally thought so... but now have my doubts. There seems to be a big disconnect between people familiar with the source material, and people who weren't. The extent to which people who've read the book liked the movie and people who haven't read the book just didn't care leaves me wondering whether the movie only works for people whose knowledge of the book gives them some emotional investment in the material, and or fills in the gaps left by the movie.

(and it showed The Dark Knight up as the piece of crap it really is).

Well, thank god I wasn't the only one who thought that thing was a steaming pile of shit. One riveting performance surrounded by a whole galaxy of nothing. Absolutely nothing to say, took a very long time to say it, and every moment without the clown on the screen was just a crashing bore.

-k

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I personally thought so... but now have my doubts. There seems to be a big disconnect between people familiar with the source material, and people who weren't. The extent to which people who've read the book liked the movie and people who haven't read the book just didn't care leaves me wondering whether the movie only works for people whose knowledge of the book gives them some emotional investment in the material, and or fills in the gaps left by the movie.

-k

I went to see it with my son, who already read the graphic novel, whereas I hadn't, but am somewhat familiar with the superhero genre. I liked the movie, even if I had a hard time following the unfolding of events as they moved back and forth through history. The big blue guy - Dr. Manhattan, was a good object lesson for what would happen if someone actually developed godlike powers.

In WWII, many issues of Superman had him fighting against Hitler, but they didn't deal with the implications that the course of history would change if one nation had a superman on its side. Superman was always winning battles against the Nazis, but never wins the war outright so everyone can just go home. In Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan does what 50,000 U.S. soldiers could not -- he wins the Vietnam War for America, with the unintended consequence that Richard Nixon becomes the greatest benefactor and is still president in 1985, after winning four or five consecutive terms.

The physics of how a superman would relate to the world was another interesting angle -- Dr. Manhattan can directly experience all phenomena, right down to the movements of subatomic particles, which makes it increasingly difficult for him to relate to humans and their emotions, and life in the world of middle dimensions that we live in....he becomes so absent-minded about human needs that when he takes Silk Spectre to his new home on Mars, he almost kills her by forgetting that he needs to provide an atmosphere for her.

On Mars, when informed about the problems on Earth and the danger of all out nuclear war, he responds that life is over-rated and is more interested in the elaborate crystal clockwork machines he has created out of the Martian desert. It makes me wonder, would such a god-like creature open to all physical experience really consider the little human dramas to be the most important thing to him, like Superman does in the old DC comics? Would a real superman consider worship and adulation from crowds of humans to be the most important thing in his life?

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  • 3 months later...

The "director's cut" was released on home video this week (my first Blu-Ray disc! It seems oddly fitting to have Dr Manhattan on Blu-Ray.)

I take issue with the phrase "director's cut". The theatrical release was the "director's cut". The version I have on disc contains about 25 minutes of extra stuff that Zach Snyder filmed, but cut out to make the movie a more reasonable length for theatrical release (and at two and a half hours, many thought he should have cut more yet.)

Watching the uncut version, I felt that for the most part Snyder was very astute in deciding what to cut. An overly long and completely pointless scene has Laurie detained by Dr Manhattan's government handlers. The scene serves no purpose at all, other than to disrupt the flow of the film. Another has Rorschach wandering through the alley pondering Laurie as a possible suspect in his "mask killer" theory... Laurie as a possible suspect is not explored previously or afterward in the film; throwing this scene in seems like a completely red herring in an already involved plot. The only value in using the scene in the film would have been to illustrate the fear and dislike Rorschach holds for women and sex and lust, an aspect of his character that's quite evident in the book but rather unnecessary to the movie. A lot of the material cut from the movie consists of alternate reality newscasts, as well as alternate reality politicians and military people discussing nuclear war. Again, completely unnecessary; the movie already paints a pretty convincing picture of a world living in deep fear of nuclear war; the extra material in the uncut version becomes a little tedious.

The one scene that Snyder cut that I would have been very tempted to leave in was the murder of Hollis Mason. After I read the book, I wasn't really sure why it was necessary. Did Moore just do it to upset the reader, or was there some more important thematic reason? Mason's death is an unexpected consequence of Dan and Laurie's participation in the prison break, I suppose, but I'm not convinced that Moore intended Mason's death to have direct a cause-effect relationship with the prison break.

After seeing the movie, it occurred to me that Hollis Mason and Edward Blake are opposite sides of the same coin, and that the symmetry of their fates is completely intentional. Mason represents the idealism of the Golden Age heroes, just as much as Blake represents everything about the masked vigilantes that wasn't golden at all. Both characters are a bridge between the events of the story and the backstory. The flashbacks of Blake's cruelty and cynicism tie all the characters together in some sense, but so do Mason's reminiscences, particularly in the book where pages of his autobiography provide additional background material. And while the two characters couldn't be more opposite in terms of their outlook and their spirit, they meet the same fate: attacked and beaten to death in their own homes.

Or, as Sally put it, "it rains on the just and the unjust alike."

-k

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