Watchmen: Director’s Cut
I was happy I went into this “blind”, not having seen the movie in theaters. At the time Watchmen came out, I was kind of tired of hearing about it, so now I could approach it with fewer preconceptions. Plus, since the director’s cut is now about three hours long, I appreciated being able to pause it as needed. An extra 25 minutes have been added into this version, promoted as “more Rorschach and a scene of Hollis Mason’s death”.
I think most people have already made up their mind about the film, and I don’t disagree with the general opinion. I found it very visually faithful but cold and slow. It’s about style over substance; in this film, appearances are all. I’m glad I saw it, and certain images from it have stuck with me, but I don’t think I’ll be rewatching it. The effects were very well-done, but as others have mentioned many times, the music was ham-handed and obvious, symbolism with a sledgehammer.
I missed being able to set my own pace. When reading, I frequently move rapidly through fight scenes or violent images instead of lingering over them in detail, because I’m not that interested. Here, I had to sit through them, sometimes in slow motion and quite often gorier than needed. (During Rorshach’s origin flashback, I plugged my ears and put a pillow over my face. That wasn’t the only scene I didn’t want to see, either. Watchmen is definitely a hard-R movie.)
I had concerns about Malin Akerman, but she really looked the part of Laurie/Silk Spectre. Then she talked, and I was disappointed again. Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) was hard to understand and didn’t have the physical presence or charisma to pull off the role. Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson) was a forgettable schlub, which is good for the character, not so much for someone I’m supposed to want to watch on a movie screen.
Hearing Rorshach’s narration was too much for me. It sounded dumb and over-written in that hoarse whisper, whereas reading it gave it much more power. And the moving mask, when I could see it (lots of shadow in this movie), wasn’t very effective either. Glowing blue Doctor Manhattan was distracting and didn’t work in context with the other characters. I was reminded that things that looked cool in comics (especially twenty-year-old comics) don’t always look good in real life.
The Themes of the Piece
I think I could have stopped about 8 minutes in, when JFK’s assassination was shown. At first I thought, “how much difference could these heroes make, if they couldn’t stop that?” Then when the killer was revealed, that sort of summed up the whole film to me. At the beginning of the movie, KC mentioned that the visuals, especially the 1985 setting, reminded him of the classic Apple “1984” commercial in its lack of subtlety. Thus, we were tickled to see it appear near the end on Veidt’s wall of televisions.
It’s a shame that the Comedian gets killed at the beginning, because I wanted to see a lot more of Jeffrey Dean Morgan. He was the only one I could say that about. (Well, unless you want to talk about the horrible lighting; many times I wanted to see more of whatever it was I was supposed to be seeing.) It’s strange how the Comedian is one of the villains of the piece — a reprehensible rapist and murderer — and yet he’s also what we’re supposed to admire in superheroes, a macho vigilante. At least he takes action, you think, even if it is against his own people.
On the bright side, watching the film led to some interesting discussion between KC and me. I got to hear about when he worked with Dave Gibbons, for example. KC also had a surprising theory of what Watchmen suggested to him: all the characters are fanboy archetypes. The nerd, the psycho, the violence addict, the artsy elitist, the science freak (the kind who endlessly debates how Superman’s powers would work in real life), and the fangirl.
The Lack of Special Features
I was surprised that there weren’t more special features. There’s one featurette, some repurposed marketing material, and a music video. The lack is because this isn’t the real special edition. That one’s coming at Christmas. I know this thanks to a handy flyer in the package promoting the upcoming 5-disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition. Nice of them to let us know, but it also feels like they’re saying, “nyah, nyah, spend more money”. The UCE will have the movie interwoven with Tales of the Black Freighter, plus the “Under the Hood” fake documentary, all the motion comics, and commentary by Dave Gibbons and director Zack Snyder. In other words, it’s the package this should have been.
As always, I was most interested in the documentary about the comic origins of the film. “The Phenomenon: The Comic That Changed Comics” praises the graphic novel for 30 minutes. I was expecting a real examination, but instead, I got a promo reel. Most of the discussion is about the content of the comic (either describing it, even though any viewer is presumably familiar with it, or simply saying how important and revolutionary it was) instead of adding any new insight. Maybe you can’t say anything new about it, but I would have liked to have heard more comparing before and after the book was published, more about how it really did change comics, both in terms of content and the industry. Only Dave Gibbons really addressed this.
After quotes from the actors and Gerard Way (My Chemical Romance), KC and I were pleased to see a comic person appear. Richard Bruning, Senior VP – Creative Director for DC Comics, comments on how important Watchmen was. Jenette Kahn, President & Publisher from 1981-2002, is also there to call it “ground-breaking” and talk about changing comics into something that wasn’t just for kids. Also included are editor Len Wein, colorist John Higgins, the usual DC staff members, and many excerpts from the motion comics.
There are also 11 promotional “video journals” (3-minute behind-the-scenes webisodes) explaining various aspects of the movie’s premise; a music video for “Desolation Row” by My Chemical Romance; and instructions on how to download a digital copy of the theatrical version. The DVD is also available in Blu-ray, or the single disc carries the theatrical edition of the film, available in either fullscreen or widescreen. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the studio.)
It’s strange how the Comedian is one of the villains of the piece — a reprehensible rapist and murderer — and yet he’s also what we’re supposed to admire in superheroes, a macho vigilante. At least he takes action, you think, even if it is against his own people.
Wha? I don’t get this at all. Comedian is a thug who enjoys hurting people. He finds jobs that let him hurt people without repercussions. He takes on people who are weaker than he is and when confronted by someone who is just as tough or tougher than he is (like Hooded Justice) he runs away — and then comes back another day when the advantage is in his favor to finish the job.
He’s a bully and a coward — and no better example of that is when he discovers Veidt’s plot, recognizes that the sociopathy of it goes beyond even his limits, and then proceeds to do absolutely nothing about it. This is a man who has worked black ops for most of his life, has the President on speed dial, and could probably get the military out to carpet-bomb Veidt’s installation in a heartbeat – and yet he does nothing. He’s only comfortable taking action when he’s the stronger actor involved – when he has to do something actually heroic instead of thuggish, he fails.
See, this is why I love the book so much – different people can have completely different takes.
For me, the Commedian isn’t any more a villain than the others. They’re all totally screwed up psychopaths due to the power they have.
You’ve summed up nicely, Jer, why the Comedian is so reprehensible, but he’s also very much in the mold of a typical superhero macho tough guy. While the other main characters are remote (Manhattan, Ozmiandias) or paralyzed (Nite Owl) deciding what to do, he takes action. And he’s certainly more fun to watch than Rorshach. Perhaps much of that is due to Morgan’s portrayal.
For someone who professed such love for the book, Snyder doesn’t seem to have understood it’s fundamental premise. These people are psychopaths, dreamers, groupies, they are NOT Superheroes. They only THINK they are. Even Dr Manhattan, who actually has power. is so lost in his own head that he has surrendered all moral authority. Having this bunch of losers punching each other through walls in Slo-Mo was the kind of violence fetishizing that the book pointedly avoided.
Snyder is a stylist, not a gown-up.
Thank you for bringing that up. It’s a point I think most people seem to forget. These are NOT superheroes. They’re vigilanties. You automatically lose a layer in the story when you either choose to ignore the fact or just don’t see it, that these are regular people, trying to save the world, without any superpowers. The lack of powers was also what set Dr manhattan so clearly apart from not just his friends but all of human race. There’s more or less subtle thread of Dr Manhattan slowly realising his lack of humanity (or simple otherness) going through the book that culminated in the decision to fully accept his “godliness” and go off to create life of his own. The movie chooses to ignore any logical progression in that part and just lets him hop around naked for no particular reason.
I think it’s hard to make a case that the characters *as seen in the movie* don’t have superpowers, given the way they’re portrayed. Their fighting skills are certainly far beyond human.
I rented and watched it last night on Blue-Ray, and thought about what I did on seeing it in theaters.
Its a very stunning movie visually, and I found large portions of it interesting, but it isn’t a very entertaining movie. Yet then I don’t think the comic is very entertaining either, its interesting for its importance but I never thought the story was all that great.
The violence didn’t bother me, because well I could always fast forward it.:)
The Blue-Ray did have a neat feature, where the director would pause the movie come on and explain a scene, point out an Easter Egg (like the Watchmen collection was on Nite Owl’s desk) or even popups comparing the scene with the comic.
I especially liked his explanation of changing the giant alien squid part. There was also a timeline that would come up showing the difference in history in our time to the Watchmen universe’s time line as well.
I can’t see myself watching it again any time soon, and don’t see myself buying it. Yet it was worth a rental.
“Having this bunch of losers punching each other through walls in Slo-Mo was the kind of violence fetishizing that the book pointedly avoided.”
I am not sure Snyder missed that…he and others spoke of this adaption as being to Super-hero movies what the original book was to comics. People may agree or disagree on the level of success, but I took the use of slo-mo at times as a direct mockery-unlike slick super-hero fare of recent years, it’s not pain free…it’s uncomfortable to watch.
As I said, I realize some people might argue they were not successful…but just because some viewers missed the point does not make that so. I mean, there are plenty of people that missed the point of Watchmen the graphic novel and thought it was cool because (for the time) it was ultra-violent and had sex in it. People missing the point does not make Alan Moore’s work a failure.
I’m not sure that Directorial Incompetence is a defence. The Slo-Mo was pretty laughable to watch, diluting rather than amplifying the violence. I’m afraid I can’t see any evidence that Snyder is mocking anything in this movie. The levels of irony and absurdity of the original have been replaced with nothing very much at all. Indeed one of the great frustrations of this whole movie is that intelligent, literate people went to see it , having not read the book beforehand, then came out going ‘meh, another dumb superhero movie ‘.
Same thing happened with League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and From Hell (although then it wasn’t book becoming “just another superhero movie”, it was “just another horror movie’). So are Alan Moore’s comics just unadaptable?
Watchmen, after all, is very faithful to the graphic novel. If it comes off as “just another superhero movie”… I’m not sure how a director could have fixed that.
I read the Watchmen comic when I first heard about the movie. After seeing the movie I was so completely disappointed that I will never watch the movie again. Moore himself was adamantly opposed to turning the comic into a film and now I see why. ‘When he was approached by Terry Gilliam on how to film the comic book, Moore stated that he “didn’t think it was filmable”. Moore clarified for Graydon, “I didn’t design it to show off the similarities between cinema and comics, which are there, but in my opinion are fairly unremarkable. It was designed to show off the things that comics could do that cinema and literature couldn’t.”‘ from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watchmen_(film)
This movie for me was in the same category as not buying things by Harlan Ellison because he is a sexist jerk.
The screenwriter wrote this in order to get people to watch:
http://www.watchmencomicmovie.com/031109-watchmen-movie-david-hayter-open-letter.php which includes the phrase “Trust me. You’ll come back, eventually. Just like Sally.”
After that I decided there wasn’t anything he could bring to the characters that I wanted to see.
I don’t particularly understand why there are such extreme opinions about this movie, to me, it just seems like a petty waste of time to continuoiusly argue about it. So I’ll only do it once. I read half of the comic before I watched the movie, and I enjoyed both. I’m the sort of person that enjoys differences in a book versus the movie adaptation of it. It just seems fun to think, “Oh, it’s almost like a parallel version of it.” I loved the movie, and I loved the comic as well. The movie was very well put together, so much so, that I was astounded at the attention to little details and the accurateness of the shots. The only thing that dissapointed me only slightly was that, if you hadn’t read the comic, you would have been lost, and not liked the movie at all. I can’t come off saying, “It’s just another superhero movie,” because it’s not. They took it to higher levels, and did a great job. I think that the people who worked on the Watchmen movie should be praised for all their hard work. It’s been said that “Watchmen is unfilmable,” and yet they did it. And I’ll let you know, I bought both the comic, and the movie, because they are worth my money.
Sorry, not a regular here but interested in comments on the director’s cut, which I haven’t been able to find anywhere and had hoped would be more in line with the book.
As above, I had difficulties with some of the actors chosen, particularly for Ozy which was really quite poor. And, again as above, I thought JDM as the Commedian was the best of the lot – truly the one I wanted to see on screen the most as the character of the Commedian I’ve long thought to be the most compelling. JDM was truly wonderful in the role.
Visually the movie was slick in production, but in story retelling it just didn’t quite succeed. Mind you, I think Moore is correct, that the book wasn’t really intended for translation into film, at least not into the kind of film that is generally successful financially. And there’s the rub.
However, the same could be said for V, which I loved even more as a book. As a movie, I felt still had a political punch (more tailored to the Bush era than Thatcher) while offering appealing violence for the masses. And Hugo W. gave a most incredible performance for a man within an all concealing mask. It’s one case where, IMO, Hollywood overcame the curse of Moore (not wanting anything to do with the film) and was able to do something pretty fine. The Watchmen, no so much but still, it could be (pending on the willingness of the viewer) more challenging than many other films of the genre (or in general).
That’s a good comparison, because I agree with you that V for Vendetta was a more successful movie. I suspect that’s because they treated the comic as source material, not storyboards, and they considered what would need to be changed to both bring it up to date and make it work as a film.
I agree with Allyson.
They had no idea the novel would become such a hit, just happened to be, I believe its because it relates to the mind set and fears of that era, the approach was something new, with different kind of “super” heroes, us, what made us who we are and whom we can become if we’re fully committed to what we believe.
The only mistake from the studio is that there’s no way this movie would appeals to a mass audience. The majority of people didn’t even know about the novel to the day the marketing campaign started, curiosity brought them to see it, they expected a superhero action packed movie, instead they got a slow paced psychological thriller.
The box office numbers make sense to me.
I love the novel and the movie, I think Snyder did an amazing job, the story is so complex, people will always complain, the truth is, they’re not complaining about the movie but the fact that it isn’t the way they would’ve wanted it to be or imagined it would be, that’s all.
I don’t agree with everything in the movie but who cares, the essence is there.
Can’t even be compared to V for Vendetta, cause this one is way more complex with the many characters development, etc…
These people became superheroes w/o powers except the one that counts the most, the mind/will and the belief you can change the world, to the point that Veidt perfected and marketed a method to reach that super human potential.
So if Batman can defeat Superman, well I believe in what they can do in this movie.
Do not forget to dream, be inspired and entertained, that’s what this is about, not to analyze.
This is the birth of an instant “underground” cult classic;o)
I’m not sure that Directorial Incompetence is a defence.
I am not sure this is necessarily a situation Directorial Incompetence. For one, the director has shown himself competant in the past. And as for audiences not appreciating what was intended…that happens to a lot of directors. Some “classic” films were met with a resounding thud upon release and only became treated as works of art years later. While I am not claiming this will be the case for Watchmen, to suggest initial audience reaction means the film failed as a peice of work really jumps the gun. It could very well be audience incompetence for missing the point of the slow mo and so on.
Zack Snyder has proven himself to be a strong , even innovative, stylist and a good director of action setpieces. He hasn’t so far proven that he has any intellectual capacity beyond that. The Watchemen movie tends to indicate that he doesn’t have strong grasp of the character of the work he was adapting, which for material like Watchmen, which rises or falls on it’s intellectual aspirations, is a deal breaker.
There is no such thing as ‘Audience Incompetence’. You could argue that a film is , ahead of it’s time. In 1969 2001: A Space Odyssey was ahead of the audience. However that film was obviously visionary and hugely ambitious, even to people who didn’t ‘get it’ at the time and the track record of Kubrick is almost without peer in the history of Cinema. He managed to make something that wildly surpassed his source material ( Arthur C. Clarkes SENTINEL short story. ) So far Snyder has yet to make anything that aspires to anything higher than making people buy Popcorn.