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Watching the Watchmen

I saw Watchmen yesterday. I was pretty nervous as Watchmen is one of my favourite graphic novels and the film had a lot to live up to. I’m happy to report that the film was great. I recommend you go and see it.

From this point on, I’m going to assume that you know the plot so be warned that there will be spoilers.

Firstly the look of the film is spot-on. Snyder has used the original comics as the storyboard for the film and there are huge numbers of shots which are almost identical to panels from the comics. A lot of work has obviously gone into making the film look as much as possible like the comics. Even the actors seem to have mostly been chosen to look as much as possible like the original drawings. I was particularly impressed by how much Jackie Earle Haley looked like the unmasked Rorschach.

Secondly, the plot is about as close as you could hope for. There’s one major change that I’ll discuss later, but otherwise the film follows the comics pretty closely. As always when moving a book to film, there are compromises that need to be made. There is just too much plot to get through in a film (even one that’s over two and a half hours long). Snyder has resolved this problem by removing a number of sub-plots. We still get all of the plot as it concerns the main characters, it’s just some of the minor characters that we lose. The policemen are only ever seen at the beginning in Edward Blake’s flat, Dr Malcolm Long is only seen when he is dealing with Rorschach in prison, Bernard the news vendor and Bernie the comics fan are only seen briefly at the end and Joey and Aline don’t appear at all.

In the comics we get a lot of our information about what is happening in the wider world from Bernard’s comments on the newspapers that he sells. In the film that’s replaced by footage of news broadcasts. We also see nothing at all about Nova Express and we only see the New Frontiersman when Rorschach sends them his journal.

Other than that, there is a big of jiggling with some scenes. Rorschach’s three visits to Moloch become two, Dan and Laurie decided to rescue Rorschach when they are still in Archie. There are a number of minor tweaks like this, but I really don’t think they matter.

There’s one major plot strand that is missing. And that’s Tales of the Black Freighter – the pirate comic which Bernie reads for free at Bernard’s newsstand. But I really didn’t miss it. I know I’ll be drummed out of the Watchmen fan-club for this and I’ll be forced to hand in my blood-stained smiley badge, but it always felt a bit unnecessary to me. Oh, I know it gives some nice counterpoints to what is going on in the “real” world, but I don’t think that Watchmen is ruined without it. I understand that a film of the story is being made for release on DVD later this month. I hope that satisfies the fans.

Oh, there was one small plot change that annoyed me. Laurie no longer smokes. I assume this is an example of Hollywood censorship. Good guys don’t smoke. The Comedian still has his cigars – but he’s morally dubious at best. Laurie’s smoking was an important part of her character (she sees it as a weakness in herself) and, if nothing else, gave her a good reason to accidentally set off Archie’s flamethrowers. In the book she’s looking for the cigarette lighter. In the film she’s just pressing buttons at random.

And now I can’t put off any longer talking about the huge plot change that was made at the end. This is where the spoilers really start.

In the book, Veidt’s plan is to build a giant mutant squid which he teleports into the centre of New York City. This destroys much of the city and as it dies the squid is primed to send out telepathic waves of anguish which send many people mad. The idea is that the world’s governments will see it as an attack from an alien race and will put their differences between them and join forces to combat this imaginary enemy. Sounds a bit silly when you describe it like that, but in the book it comes across really well.

In the film, this plan is changed. Instead of dead psychic squid, Veidt reverse-engineers the secret of Doctor Manhattan’s power and uses this to launch attacks on a number of major world cities. The result of the plan is the same. World governments join forces to fight Doctor Manhattan (who has left Earth and won’t be back) and the few people who know the plan have exactly the same moral dilemma as they had in the book – if they bring Veidt to justice for killing millions of people then the world will know it was a trick and will almost certainly return to the brink of all-out nuclear war.

So the change really doesn’t effect the outcome at all. Which raises the question of why Snyder changed the plot in this way. I’m sure there are hundreds of theories all over the internet, but mine is quite simple. I think it was easier to film this way. A giant squid is hard to film convincingly. And whilst I would have loved to have seen a filmed version of the carnage at the beginning of chapter XII, the scenes in the film with the city destroyed and no dead bodies (as they have all been vapourised) are almost as effective.

If you’re one of the massive Watchmen fans who are putting off seeing the film because of the lack of the squid, then I urge you to put your misgivings to one side and go and see it anyway. Yes, it’s different. But it still works in exactly the same way as the book did.

I admit to being somewhat biased in this review. I love the book and now I love the film too. I can’t wait to watch the DVD looking for all of the little references that I have, no doubt, missed (I did, however, spot the Mr Gorsky joke in the credits). I’m also writing from the perspective of someone who knows the plot inside out. I’d be interested to watch the film wilth someone who doesn’t already know the book (a hard person to find in my circle of friends) to see whether it still all makes sense when you brain isn’t filling in the plot for you.

I said to a friend on Twitter yesterday

If it’s “V for Vendetta” good I’ll be happy. If it’s “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” good I’m walking out.

It’s better than “V for Vendetta”. It’s easily the best Alan Moore adaptation I’ve seen. It may well be the best comic-book adaptation that I’ve seen.

I highly recommend that you go and see it.

5 replies on “Watching the Watchmen”

Also, the giant squid would be more difficult to introduce without the pirate comic book subplot.

I’m pretty much in agreement with you here – truly great film. The performances were excellent (especially the Comedian), they kept all the important stuff, the ending didn’t disappoint me at all.”I’m not locked in here with you, YOU’RE locked in here with ME!!” is something I can’t find in the comic, and is easily my favourite line :-)

“I’m not locked in here with you, YOU’RE locked in here with ME!!” is something I can’t find in the comic, and is easily my favourite line :-)

Chapter VI, page 13. Second panel.

thanks, the line was bugging me, as I expected it to be there. Rorschach isn’t in the frame, which is my excuse for not being able to find it.

Yeah we saw it on the weekend too – was really well done music/graphics and plot – even the twist worked. I had my head in Daves lap for a couple of the really graphic scenes though. One of the guys mentioned afterwards there is a directors cut they’ll be releasing if it does well with the pirate thread in there too.-grue-

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