A common grouse against comic book/novel to movie adaptations is that the movies do not stay faithful to the source material and that there are too many changes. Lord of the Rings, THE novel of all ages stayed true to a great extent and reaped the rewards, satisfying both fans as well as critics (Of course, one of the change I have no complaints on is giving loads of screen time to Liv Tyler). Watchmen, THE definitive comic book, completes a very faithful adaptation onto the big screen and still suffers. The problem lies in the unfilmable aspect of the original comic. Alan Moore, to further the plot of Watchmen uses a variety of techniques like Rorschach’s journal, excerpts from Hollis Mason’s book and even the comic within the comic, Tales of the Black Freighter. Not all these find their way into the movie for obvious reasons and things which make their way into the movie do not have the same effect and in some cases, get lost totally.
However, Watchmen is such an amazing comic that even a flawed translation into the big screen makes for compelling and fascinating viewing. Watchmen is set in an alternate reality in the year 1985 where the US won in Vietnam, Richard Nixon is serving his 5th term and the US and USSR inching towards nuclear Armageddon. Its the age where vigilantes have been outlawed by the government except the government sponsored ones. Watchmen essentially starts off with the murder of a vigilante named Comedian (Jeffery Dean Morgan) and the investigation by an outlawed sociopathic vigilante Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), who is convinced that this is no ordinary murder but part of a plot that involves killing off all masked faces. He relays this warning to the other vigilantes; Nite Owl (Dan Dreiburg), who was pretty much the gadget guy during his days as a vigilante, Silk Spectre II (Malin Ackerman), who is brought up by her mom Silk Spectre I to become a vigilante, Ozymandias (Mathew Goode), an Olympic level athlete and the world’s smartest man and Dr. Manhattan ( Billy Crudup), the only one with super powers, a god living among men. As Rorschach continues his investigation, there is someone out there manipulating events ensuring that the nuclear war is the only option as tensions between US and the USSR ratchet up. How all of this pans out is in essence the story of Watchmen.
Zack Snyder, the man behind another comic book adaptation, the 300, helms this effort. While 300 is primarily about action, Watchmen is more than action. Its strength lies in exploring what compels a person to become a super hero, what is the underlying motive that motivates someone to run around the street at night and finally what is the psychological effect of doing so. Its ultimately in this area that the movie adaptation falls behind. Primarily, the very beauty of Watchmen lies in the fact that it is a murder mystery and when in the end, the murderer is revealed, it is an unexpected one. However, in the movie, Snyder goes out of the way right from the Comedians’ murder to certain scenes in between, to point out the murderer is grating.
Watchmen the movie was created using the comic book as the storyboard and that effort shows. It is indeed a very faithful rendition of the comic and that is a huge effort.
Jackie Earle Haley is Rorschach. As the full blown sociopath cum vigilante, he delivers a masterful, controlled yet intense performance. Rorschach is chilling behind the mask and terrifying without the mask. The jail scenes of Rorschach are amongst the best in the movies and his dialogue to the prisoners ” I am not locked up with you but you are locked up with me” is menacing to say the least.
Jeffery Dean Morgan excels in the limited role he has. As the architect of several heinous acts, he hardly displays any regret. But as he realizes in the end, that it is all a joke, his reactions are very believable and entirely believable as the man who has gone over the edge. Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan is primarily CGI generated. Still he excels in that role and behaves amazingly as somone who is losing his touch with humanity.
Patrick Wilson does a reasonable job and produces nothing spectacular despite having a significant screen time. Mathew Goode as Ozymandias is disappointing. He is too clipped and too formal while appearing menacing most unsuitable for a smart business leader. Malin Ackerman is the most disappointing. She looks very uncomfortable in most of her scenes and while some of the strongest scenes in the comic are Silk Spectre’s, in the movie, she is disappointing and her role seems just to provide titillation in the movie.
The opening sequences of the movie set to Dylan’s “Times-are-a-changing” is easily one of the best introductions that I have ever seen and also quite innovative. Its indeed a pity that this couldn’t be carried over throughout the movie. The only significant change in the movie is the climax. While it might not satisfy comic fans, it certainly is a great way to end the movie.
As in 300, the action sequences have been shot brilliantly and with loads of gore. It looks real enough and some shots are brutal enough. Special effects are brilliant and shots of Dr. Manhattan and Silk Spectre on Mars is truly mind blowing.
In all, Watchmen is a case of a movie-oh-so-near-yet-so-far but it is in fact the closest adaptation possible and it is an entirely fascinating watch. A must watch for those who have read Watchmen. For those who havent, read Watchmen and watch the movie.
Rating – 8/10