Went to see "Watchmen" yesterday afternoon, and while I'm no longer quite as gung-ho for the film as I was when I saw the first 18 minutes at Comic-Con, I'm glad I saw it. More specific thoughts (complete with some spoilers) coming up just as soon as I go to the men's room...
A few casting issues (which I'll get to in a bit) aside, I thought Zack Snyder and company did as good a job of adapting the story of "Watchmen" as I think a movie can. I thought the revamped ending worked fine (especially since I always found the alien squid from the comic to be really cheesey), and there were a number of moments (Rorshach in the cafeteria, Dr. Manhattan alone on Mars) that played out so closely to how I imagined the comic would look as a movie that they gave me a massive fanboy thrill.
But simply telling the basic plot of "Watchmen" kind of misses the point of "Watchmen." Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons were trying to deconstruct superhero comics, examining everything from the psychology of it (what kind of lunatic/pervert puts on a mask and tights to fight crime?) to the impact superpowers might have in the real world (Dr. Manhattan wins Vietnam, turns Nixon into a dynastic president, and alters the course of the Cold War) to the actual layout of comics (Gibbons' brilliant use of the nine-panel grid and his transitions from one similar image to another). And that's not even counting all the supplemental material that was either left out for time (the pirate comic, which is getting its own DVD before being spliced back into the DVD cut of the movie) or because there was no way to incorporate it into a film ("Under the Hood," the psych profiles, magazine excerpts, etc.), but that made the world and point-of-view of the comic so much stronger.
Even the character material has to unfortunately be condensed for time. Even in a cut that runs close to three hours, I realize there's no realistic way to give us all of Rorshach's backstory. But the rushed way they do it(*) doesn't really capture all the motivating forces behind his gradual descent into madness, and Silk Spectre's realization of her true parenthood comes so quickly that it loses the impact of finding out after a long swing through her biography.
(*) In thinking back on it, the only stuff the movie really omits is the Kitty Genovese incident and the glimpses of Walter Kovacs as a young man out on his own. But the way the scenes of his childhood come across is really illustrative of the difference between the two mediums. Comics are static; you can linger as long as you want on any given page or panel. Movies are constantly moving forward (even though you can freeze-frame DVDs, people don't usually do much of that the first time through). So a scene like little Walter listening to his whore mom yell at him feels much longer and more powerful on the page than it does on the screen, even though Snyder is basically using Gibbons' images to storyboard the sequence.
Some reviewers have suggested that people who never read the comic won't understand the movie. I disagree, in that the story the movie tells makes sense and is relatively linear (other than the flashbacks and the occasional Dr. Manhattan digressions). I just can't imagine anyone new to this world understanding what the big deal is.(**) Without all the things that Snyder had to or chose to leave out, "Watchmen" the movie is a very violent, very bleak, very odd movie with a bunch of superheroes no one's ever heard of beating each other up.
(**)I suspect word-of-mouth on this movie is going to be awful, and it's going to have one of the steepest week two box office drops in recent memory. The ad campaign has done a very poor job of selling what the movie actually is, and the big crowd I saw it with was silent throughout and even after the credits rolled -- not in a "We're so engaged we don't want to miss a thing" way, but in a "We have no idea how to respond to this" way. And I've heard a lot of anecdotal evidence from other people who saw it that my crowd was not atypical.
As for the casting, Jackie Earle Haley is as perfect as I assumed he would be as Rorshach (like I said in the Comic-Con post, it almost feels like all the previous attempts to make the movie were destined to fail until Haley resurrected his career for this part he was born to play), and Jeffrey Dean Morgan is as charming and evil on screen as the Comedian was on the page. Patrick Wilson is surprisingly good playing a paunchy, middle-aged dweeb, though he's still not pathetic enough for a moment like Ozymandias telling Nite-Owl "Do grow up" to sting as much as it should. Snyder obviously wanted to cast young for the flashbacks and then age up a guy like Wilson with make-up and other prosthetics, but there's a part of me that wishes they'd actually cast a dweeby middle-aged guy to play him, and found a workaround for his brief '70s appearances.
Still, Wilson mostly maintains the illusion, which is more than I can say for the miscast Matthew Goode and Malin Akerman. Goode always seems too young, but more importantly seems too slight and effete to play Adrian Veidt, who's supposed to be as perfect a physical specimen as he is an intellectual one. Also, the weird mash-up of British and German accents feels like a blinking neon sign that he's the bad guy.
Akerman, meanwhile, doesn't look like or have the gravity of a thirtysomething Laurie Jupiter (I know she's 30, but she comes across much younger and flightier). She has a very flat affect, and her voice sounds distractingly like Drew Barrymore's. Carla Gugino, who's fine as the original Silk Spectre, would have been a much better choice (with an '80s hairdo, of course) to play Laurie, or any one of a number of actors of the right age and talent level.
I want to be clear: "Watchmen" isn't a bad movie. It's probably about the best possible movie that could be made out of this material, and features some dazzling moments. (The opening credits, with Snyder transforming a series of iconic American moments from the '40s-'70s to show how they might have played out in a world with superheroes, is both the biggest departure from the book and the best thing in the movie.) But I think the only way to even come close to capturing what "Watchmen" is really about would be as a 12-part HBO series.
And, really, I feel like it's really best off being experienced as a comic. They called it the unfilmable graphic novel. Snyder showed it could be filmed, but the movie makes me question whether it should have been.
What did everybody else think?