Friday, March 06, 2009


Watchmen is a very good film, if not an outstanding one. The film adeptly adapts the epic graphic novel into a comprehensible 2-hour-and-40-minute film, and there are enough delightful little touches (Lee Iacocca! Pat Buchanan! Robert Palmer videos!) to make its chilling alternate-reality 1985 feel like a possible extrapolation of our own. Strong casting helps considerably, particularly in the cases of Patrick Wilson, who is so extraordinarily ordinary as Nite Owl, and Jackie Earle Haley as the simmering Rorschach. And perhaps it helps that I'm old enough to remember the Cold War and had, at one point in my childhood, a very real sense of terror about the possibility of global thermonuclear war (Thanks, WarGames!), but the constant sense of dread over the possibility of just such a crisis in the film resonated with me pretty deeply.

There are times where the film, despite all this good stuff, feels constrained. There's a section in the graphic novel that deals not only with the origins of Dr. Manhattan, but also with the unique way in which he perceives time, with every moment existing concurrently. I consider it one of the most remarkable things I've ever read, comic or otherwise. I think much of what helps drive its power and helps the reader relate to and understand Dr. Manhattan's existence is the fact that the panels for each moment do exist concurrently, and so we exist outside of them and can behold several of them simultaneously. The film, of course, is by necessity linear, and so I was a bit disappointed with this aspect, and never felt a very strong connection to the nude blue superdude, though I don't think the film could have possibly measured up to the comic here. On the other hand, the much-ballyhooed change to the story's climax for the film is, I think, an improvement.

Watchmen has moments of inspiration, such as its terrifically theatrical opening credits sequence. On the whole, however, it lacks the spark of passion required to make a cinematic adaptation truly take on a life of its own (I'm thinking particularly of The Lord of the Rings films there), and ends up feeling like more of a companion piece to the graphic novel than something worthy of deep consideration in its own right. But regardless, it's a fascinating, goofy, often thrilling film that's true to the spirit and the ideas of the graphic novel. 8/10