Watchmen is Zach Snyder’s film adaptation of the popular Alan Moore graphic novel of the same name. Moore’s comic books in recent years have become a popular source for Hollywood adaptations with varying results. From Hell and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen were of questionable quality but V For Vendetta was a much better effort.
Moore himself has rather notably removed himself from any involvement with these film adaptations, insisting on having his name removed from the credits. Moore took the artistic high ground insisting that the films are removed from the spirit and intent of the original material and objected to their commercialization.
I feel like with Watchmen in particular, the millionaire movie exec who owns the cinematic rights felt like that they not only wanted to prove Moore’s point but felt they should figuratively piss and shit all over Moore’s artistic integrity stance by whoring out the Watchmen brand in epic fashion. Go to a Borders and you’d be forgiven for thinking Watchmen was actually seven different graphic novels. There’s about six different print versions, several ‘Making Of’ coffee-table books, multiple spin-off DVDs featuring ‘bonus material’, action figures, $5 mobile phone games, t-shirts, socks and Halloween costumes. They only just stopped short of serving them up as Happy Meal toys. I swear all of this is done as a hearty ‘fuck you’ to Mr Moore.
As for the film itself, fortunately, it is given a pretty good treatment by Zach Snyder. Its similar to the adaptation of 300 in a lot of ways. There’s a very faithful, almost literal recreation of the novel, with plenty of shots and lines of dialogue lifted straight from the source.
Watchmen follows the lives of several superheroes living in an alternate universe America in in the Eighties where Richard Nixon is serving a third term, America has created a giant blue superbeing and has won the War in Vietnam. Snyder employs the use of an montage to set the scene and its work very well. Its a device he used so effectively in his debut film Dawn of the Dead which had a zombie infested world crumbling to the tune of Johnny Cash’s When The Man Comes Around.
Speaking as a big admirer of the graphic novel, I was unsure as to how well a literal translation to film would work. Consider Doctor Manhattan, the giant naked blue omnipotent being who is so pivotal to the story. In the book, there is a scene in which Dr Manhattan exists in multiple forms, several of which are having sex with the Silk Spectre and one of which is working on a physics experiment. When she finds out, she feels betrayed and appalled. He is confused as he feels this is logically the most efficient use of his time. While this works effectively in comic book form to show their troubled relationship, I was concerned that as a film, it would come off as an awkwardly comedic gangbang involving the Blue Man Group.
Fortunately, Snyder manages to make this approach work by employing the ‘80% in slowmotion’ method that he used in 300 and mashes it up with montages aplenty set to a highly prominent soundtrack. Even the most silliest concepts on paper seem palatable using this method and there wasn’t even a hint of snickering in the cinema I attended when a 100 foot high Doctor Manhattan is charging around Vietnam with his yard-long dong flapping in the breeze.
During Watchmen’s lengthy preproduction period, it was also considered a near impossible feat by fans of the novel to fit the contents of the novel into a single film. Snyder admirally manages it in 2 hours 40 minutes. The ensemble cast are all given time to shine.
Rorscach was a character whose anarchic behaviour would always lend itself well to a cinema re-enactment and sure enough, his scenes are particularly crowd pleasing. Snyder doesn’t shy away from the more heavy-handed scenes from the graphic novel either, typically involving The Comedian and well, pretty much any time he’s in a room with a female. Dr Manhattan, Ozymandia, Nighthawk and Silk Spectre all make the transition to film with fleshed out storylines intact too.
As an end product, I think whats left is a faithful interpretation of the graphic novel with very little else added by Snyder himself. I also feel that the film is the product of a very specific time (the Cold War) and its effectiveness as a story is dimished somewhat by missing the boat on being released during the Bush Administration at the height of the post 9/11 climate of terrorist paranoia.