Well, I finally got around to seeing The Watchmen earlier today [ed: I wrote this several weeks ago, almost immediately after seeing it, and only slightly edited it today], and I wanted to get a lot of my initial impressions down before I forgot about them. I should preface this, I suppose, by saying that I re-read the graphic novel a week or two ago (it had been ten years or more since my previous exploration).
Overall, I have very mixed feelings about it. I think it did a good job of staying true to the story. It was way too gory (people had told me it was quite gory, which didn't bug me, as the original was pretty gory as well, but this was much more graphic, to no real purpose). The soundtrack was fantastic (except for the closing credits music, which was awful). I did not like how the masked heroes were suddenly superhuman in abilities; that was a significant change. They did a very good job of keeping most of the best lines; in fact, all of the best lines were straight out of
the graphic novel.
To get into more specifics: I loved the opening montage introducing the milieu. The Times They Are A-Changin', indeed. That was gorgeous, and hit all the right notes, both high and low.
The setup they did for John's martian "Fortress of Solitude" was also incredibly cool. In the graphic novel, I hadn't really seen it as a clockwork apparatus, but I loved what they did with it.
The (almost) rape scene was a very important one. I thought having Sally hit The Comedian, especially as it occurred before he'd done anything physically, really changed the character of the encounter. Not a plus. The only explanation I can come up with for it was to make her appear stronger, but it failed signally at that.
And, while I'm looking at that vein of the movie, her reason for forgiving Eddie didn't really make sense, on the face of it. If the rape had actually occurred, and she had conceived from it, it could have worked as a reason to forgive him (it seems a bit of a stretch, but at least not... uh... inconceivable). But as it was presented, she had to have forgiven him before the conception ever occurred. Hard to forgive someone based on something that hasn't yet occurred. Perhaps she just didn't want to tell her daughter the truth, I suppose.
Ok, moving along. As I said, the movie added a great deal of gore, for no purpose. My objections on this center around three scenes.
The first of these is the fight in the alleyway. We really did not need to see exposed bones and knees bent backwards. Seriously. The only word I can come up with to describe that is fetishistic. It does nothing to advance the story. If you want to show how strong they are, have the sound of bones breaking when they punch people, maybe. But you really don't need to even point out how strong they are. There was no indication at all of them having superhuman strength in the original. In fact, now that I think about it, Dan's ED doesn't really make sense, even vis a vis the Keene Act, if they're superhumanly strong. It's kind of hard to make someone feel emasculated if they still have that kind of power. If they only seem to have power (hyperintelligence notwithstanding, I suppose), but are actually just normal people, then the Keene Act was a whole lot more emasculative.
The second scene was Rorschach's origin. Yes, they needed to show the dog's head. And perhaps the shoe on the bones the dogs were fighting over (I can't think of a better way to show that). But killing the guy with a huge cleaver? Come on. The original way of killing the guy was much better; not least because it did give the guy a chance to live. Plus it would have spared us on-camera shots of a guy being brained with a cleaver. And it had style.
The final one that really bothered me was the guys breaking in to Rorschach's cell. Specifically, cutting the arms off of the guy who was "in the way". Really, a sound effect would have been quite sufficient for that.
Hmm... And this reminds me of what bothered me about the end of that sequence, when Rorschach follows the midget into the bathroom. By showing it through the swinging door like that, I got the impression that that was showing Dan and Laurie's view of the proceeding. And that didn't really make a whole lot of sense with their lack of reaction. But I will applaud the pan to the blood flowing out from under the door. That was a nicely understated touch, of which the movie could have used a lot more.
Alright, let's get back to what I did like. Jackie Earle Haley did an absolutely magnificent job as Rorschach. Seriously, he nailed 'im. My only complaint with Rorschach through the whole movie was the line as Dan and Laurie passed him, unknowing, on the street. He said they didn't recognize him because he didn't have his mask on, rather than because he didn't have his face on. Small script error.
Also, as I said, the soundtrack was fantastic. I already mentioned The Times... The Sound of Silence also worked very well where it was used. And Ride of the Valkyries, while ripped off from Apocalypse Now, was still a solid choice. All Along the Watchtower, while unexpected, worked perfectly for the approach to Karnak. 99 Luftballons, while I thought it worked when watching, I'm now wondering if I thought that just because I like the song. Thinking back to the lyrics, I can't see any special aptness to it. And Me and Bobby McGee? I must have missed
them using that one, although I'm not sure how I would; it's an awesome song. Oh, yes, and one minor note about the music created just for the movie? The Requiem while they were leaving Karnak was also very well done. Oh, and that crap they used for the end credits? Come on. How about something a little more meaningful? Maybe a longer version of that requiem, and then following with something more hopeful (Ode to Joy, maybe)?
And speaking of the ending: I had read in a review beforehand (without spoilers) that the ending was significantly changed in a way that was much more clean and elegant than the original. I will agree with that analysis, however it misses a bigger issue. Being faced with the prospect of an alien race would be a very effective means of bringing lasting peace and cooperation, particularly if the capabilities of that race were unknown. However, having a known "enemy", and especially one of virtually infinite capabilities? I don't see how that leads to cooperation. They can't keep him away from the ones in power, since he can either teleport or just walk through barriers; they can't keep him from "exploding" like that repeatedly. They really can't do anything to stop him. So where does the cooperation come in? What makes it last? I guess I just don't buy it, that that would lead to peace.
So, to sum up, I guess I mostly liked it, but it is a movie that definitely has its flaws. Certainly, it was a heck of a lot deeper than the vast majority of action movies.