Watching

Today I watched Watchmen ( 2009) for the morning. It is based on a graphic novel of the same name, is very loyal to the tone of the source material in the imagery and even the music (I recall there being a list of songs the author notes to read along to somewhere in the book), but it has some Zach Snyder problems of pacing and overly melodramatic acting.

A year or two before I knew this movie was being made I read the book. I didn't know what to expect from the book as my only exposure to it was seeing it was in a list of top all-time graphic novels. The experience of reading it for the first time was amazing as I felt like I had no idea what was going on but I still couldn't stop reading it. It's a book that breaks apart so many conventions, whether it's the super hero story and making fun of how cumbersome a flamboyant comic book hero's suit really is, or the means of telling a story. Watchmen is more than just a story that's read straight through, there are artifacts of the broader world or broader characters peppered throughout, whether it's a chapter of one of the character's autobiography, or a typo-filled police report.

The book and the movie are almost identical (aside from the movie cleaning up the ending of the book) and most of the imagery and dialogue in the movie seems to be direct from the book. The problem is that in pacing a movie, some of the effect of the book is lost. One of the first scenes in the book and the movie has a pair of detectives trying to piece together a crime scene. The book makes it feel as though this story line is going to carry through the book and the detectives are main characters we are going to follow. They end up being beat up by one of the main characters and we learn early on how brutal the main characters are and that they don't live by traditional white hat/black hat morals. The movie doesn't pull this off as well as the book and the main reason for that is casting. The characters aren't played by recognizable actors so the viewers brain knows to ignore their appearance. The movie does try to give the experience of the book by being paired with the release of the animated representation of The Black Freighter fictional comic book that a character in Watchmen is reading that is shown in the book in snippets.

I have had mixed experiences with this movie in the several times I've seen it. Some viewings of it give me an amazing viewing experience that takes me back into the excitement of the book while others feel like a dragged out slog. I went into this viewing thinking I would feel nit-picky, but as the movie moved on, the visuals pulled me in and got me back into the mystery of the story. It's a fun movie, it does show hints of the failings of Batman v. Superman, although it gives no hints of the true Zach Snyder disaster of Sucker Punch.

Another tidbit about my reading experience of Watchmen was that I read Marvel's original comic of Civil War right after I finished because I thought I would be really into reading comics again. The funny thing was that Watchmen opened my eyes to the silliness of heroes wearing tights and it was hard to look at their brightly colored muscled outfits. Oddly, Marvel seems to understand the lessons of Watchmen, to be mindful when placing heroes in the real world, and has succeed much more than DC (publisher of Watchmen) in recent years with their movies and comics. I didn't realize at the time that Civil War (the comic) was a bit of a failure with most readers and not just me. Oddly, the Watchmen movie gets a bad rep now despite the book, and The Civil War movie was a hit with viewers despite the poor reception of the comics.

Check out the review on Letterboxd!

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