3AM: I Watch the Watchmen

I went to the midnight showing of Watchmen this morning. I know there are other reviews/reports of the movie, but since this is the first time in my life that I’ve gone to the midnight showing, I thought I’d throw in my thoughts.

Keep in mind, this is from a person who worked 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday, went to the midnight show of Watchmen, got to bed at 4 a.m. and was up at 7 a.m. to get to work again by 9 a.m. I’m just saying my thought process might wander a bit.

We had quite the rowdy crowd in our theater. It saddens me a little to know that I was on average 20 years older than my fellow moviegoers. There was a lot of noise during the 30 minute infomercial, and during the previews (A Haunting in Connecticut, Knowing, Terminator 4, Monsters vs. Aliens, Star Trek, Up, and Observe and Report*).

But that all changed when the movie started. After the last preview the screen went completely yellow and the theater went utterly silent. You could hear your clothes rustle when you shifted in your seat it was so quiet.

The opening fight scene between The Comedian and his assailant was just brutal. I actually winced a few times during the scene. Of course, part of that comes from how loud the sound was. The blows were so loud that I wondered if I was getting socked in the head.

From there, I felt we got a pretty faithful retelling of the graphic novel. I was pretty sure I was going to be disappointed with the film, but I wasn’t. I do remember having a distinct impression from the graphic novel that the Watchmen did not, outside of Dr. Manhattan, have any superpowers, and while no one in the movies has overtly superhero abilities, their fighting fails outside of the skill of normal people. But, some of that seems to be the way it was in the source.

Being a fan of the original work, I was pleased with how content I was with the adaptation. I thought the casting was particularly effective, which comes in part from casting relatively unknown actors who then don’t predispose the audience to certain expectations. If Vin Diesel played Dr. Manhattan, you’d expect something quite different from the movie. Or imagine Robin Williams as Rorshach.

Speaking of Rorshach, Jackie Earle Haley was the star of the movie for me. I really felt he captured the dangerous creepiness that Rorshsch exudes in the graphic novel. The prison scenes were just about perfect. He was as brutal as you would expect, but it also came across that he was following his own set of morals to mete out justice. I hope that Haley is able to get some sort of recognition for the work he did in this film. The Comedian was particularly well cast, too.  Whenever he was onscreen I just felt unclean.

I’ve not seen many films by Zack Snyder (although I’ve seen two of the three, missing out on 300 to date) but it strikes me that his strong point is not filming people interacting with each other. Unless they use their fists. When people need to be on screen showing emotions for each other, it comes across flat. I felt like the second half of the film had a lot of scenes of people “feeling” things for each other and there would be long moments where I was waiting for Rorshach to come back. In particular the scenes between the Nite Owl and Silk Spectre felt forced and unnatural. I don’t know is this was Snyder or the actors or both. Regardless, it’s unlikely that you’re going to this movie to see well-crafted relationships.

My main problem with Watchmen comes straight out of the story. I’m not sure how well the story holds up. Our concerns over nuclear holocaust are not the same as they were in the mid ’80s (at least they aren’t for me) and therefore a lot of the tension that’s supposed to be there just feels missing. Snyder updated some of these things, but the story is set in 1985, so fear of nuclear holocaust makes sense in the context of the film. The tension just wasn’t there for me, and I was in tune with the storyline of who killed the Comedian (despite knowing the entire story anyway).

But for everything groundbreaking about the Watchmen, it almost comes across as mundane and everyday now. I think this is tempered, personally, by the fact that I did not read the graphic novel until the mid ’90s, and a lot of the changes the series made to the comic world were already in place. For that reason, while I thought the end game that Alan Moore presented in Watchmen was interesting, it never clicked for me. So my problems with the source material are translated directly into the film. I just don’t find the ending very plausible.

Perhaps my outlook on the world is just too bleak, or perhaps from a comic point of view, that didn’t matter to Moore. The plausibility of the story’s end was a side effect to the changes in the comic book structure—both in storytelling and in graphic representation—that Moore and artist Dave Gibbons were making. What does it matter if the end doesn’t work for a reader if they can still read the graphic novel multiple times and glean new information from every new reading?

You might be surprised to hear this, but I’d recommend that people go see it. I doubt that I’d sway anyone away from the movie if I wanted to, and I don’t want to. I don’t want to portray this as THE GREATEST MOVIE I’VE EVER SEEN, because it’s not. But I think Snyder did a better job of adapting Alan Moore than many others have, and I think fans of the graphic novel will be able to enjoy the movie.

I had to run to the grocery store after the movie and I have to say that a grocery store at 3 a.m. in Iowa is a pretty desolate place.


* From the trailers, I definitely want to see Up. I laughed OUT LOUD in the theater during the trailer. I think it will be typical Pixar greatness. And Observe and Report, starring Seth Rogen as a mall security guard and Anna Faris, also looks genuinely funny. I’ll admit that I want to see the new Star Trek film, but the remainder of the films I could skip.

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