Mar 6 2009 5:51pm

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.

1. edifanob
In 5 days I will get the opportunity to watch WATCHMEN. So I'm interested in comments about the film. It seems we are at the same age. In 2008 I read WATCHMEN for the first time and I have been blown away. When I read about the film and watched some trailers I was sceptical about the quality of the film.

Anyway after reading your post I feel relieved. Now I know I won't get disappointed. So I really look forward to see WATCHMEN.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
2. Martha Flynn
I also saw a midnight showing where a fistfight broke out during The Comedian's tearful visit. My main problem came from the actress who played SS - I just didn't feel any chemistry between her and Dr. Manhattan or Nite Owl and since that chemistry supposedly spurns major plot developments, those fell flat for me. But I don't want to be a hater. I totally recommend people see it!
Samantha Brandt
3. Talia
I just got back from seeing it, and it honestly rocked my socks off (of course I was in it for the action etc, not the relationship storyline.. and I've admittedly never read the graphic novel - though I'd like to now). I particularly enjoyed Jackie Earle Haley as well, although I am curious if the same people who complained about Batman's raspy voice in dark night will have an issue with his narration. Liked Crudup as Dr. Manhattan a lot too.

I live in CT, so when the title came up for "haunting in connecticut" there was much laughing/snickering amongst the audience members. True story my butt..
Jamie Grove
4. jamiegrove
I saw Watchmen at a movie-tavern theater, and I have to say that beers and beatings make an excellent combination. I agree with your assessment of Smith's ability to film personal interactions - boring.

There was a general question in the audience before the movie: how many of you work in IT? Answer 95% Rockin'
Soon Lee
5. SoonLee
I was very pleasantly surprised by WATCHMEN. My hope, above all else, was for it to not suck - I didn't go in with high expectations, the hype not withstanding; I've seen too many movie versions of Alan Moore comics.

The story has indeed lost some of its impact now that the Cold War is over but that's no different to watching any movie that portrays events in the past. What surprised me was how faithful the movie was to its source material, and how much the movie managed to pack in. There were changes & omissions to be sure, but there generally were good & logical reasons for them.

My main quibble was the soundtrack. I thought the song choices were heavy-handed & as a result I found some of the scenes a bit grating to watch.

And the ending? Still works for me, echoing as it does, Alexander of Macedonia and the Gordian Knot.
Jen Hayley
6. JenHayley
I saw WATCHMEN on Sunday and absolutely loved it. Rorschache was by far the best thing in the film. Best moments, best lines, etc.

I did feel like something was missing with Laurie. I'm not sure if it was the acting, but I wanted to care about her more than I did and wanted to see more chemistry with both Nite Owl and Dr. Manhattan.

Overall, though, I thought it was terrific.
Ben HM3
7. BenHM3
Thank you, I'm getting psyched to see it.

But folks, I must point out: The nuclear peril is not diminished one whit. In fact, status quo, the risk rises over time.

Vlad the Impaler is going to conventionally re-arm, the Chinese are lofting military orbital stations, and who the heck thinks our stewardship of 3700 warheads is perfect? (Terrorism is a red herring.)

Use Watchmen as an object lesson: teach your kids that the other members of the audience are ignorant of the problem. Not to scare them, but to empower them to act. Write your congresscritter: stand down, take them off hot-standby, and park 'em in Yucca or Cheyenne.

Please forgive the rant, but smart people failing to see this scares me.
8. Nikolos
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