It was thanks to the film that I
discovered the graphic novel. I’m not
normally into graphic novels and so I hadn’t heard of Watchmen until I saw the
trailer a few months ago. I first looked at the official film website but that
site commits the heinous crime of resizing the browser window (I really
hate it when web designers think they know better than me what size I want my
browser windows). I turned instead to a Wikipedia
article which intrigued me enough that
I bought the graphic novel itself.
Suffice it to say that I feel that the graphic novel lives up to the hype -
there is so much going on so many levels. So, does the film do it justice?
Given the complexity of Watchmen it was inevitable that the film was going to
have to make compromises and for the most part they make sense. For example
the plot by Veidt is changed to remove a whole host of minor characters.
“Tales of the Black Freighter” is also gone completely and the kid reading it
and the news seller appear very briefly. Other changes are stranger: why is it
Dreiberg and not Rorschach who goes to warn Veidt about the threat against
masked vigilantes for example? An environmental theme is also present in the
film that I don’t remember from the graphic novel - Veidt sets out to produce
free energy to make fossil fuels obsolete - this does not advance the plot and
is a distraction from the main concern: the threat of imminent nuclear war.
For the most part the dialogue is relatively close to the original but the
screenwriters (David Hayter & Alex
Tse) don’t have Alan Moore’s talent and
the modified dialogue doesn’t live up to the original.
The main trouble with the film though was the action scenes - part of the
point of Watchmen is that, with the exception of Dr. Manhattan, none of the
characters have super powers. The graphic novel gets away with cartoon
violence because it’s a cartoon but, IMHO, it does not work at all well in a
live action film. We accept exceptional strength or speed in a Spiderman or
X-men film because the point of those films is that the characters have
exceptional powers and we can still suspend disbelief. Unfortunately, I don’t
think this works at well for Watchmen and seeing ordinary people punching
through walls, for example, just doesn’t work.
Watchmen the movie is not a bad film, but it’s not a great one either. As
entertainment it’s not bad, as an attempt to bring the graphic novel to the
screen it’s a disappointment. Given the complexity of Watchmen it was
obviously going to be a challenge and, unfortunately, it seems to be a given
that great books often result in mediocre films. There have been exceptions -
Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy for example - sadly Watchmen the
film is not one of them.