From the moment I read Watchmen all of those years ago I always wanted to see it as a film — and I guess the lesson here is is that you should be careful what you wish for because you may just get it. After seeing the film I was left with a vey flat empty feeling, yes on a superficial level the director got almost every frame right but there was something lacking: the soul of the comic book.
Firstly it may have been wrong of us fanboys to expect that you could cram all of that plot into a film that runs under four hours. There never would have been the economics to pull it off, but in retrospect Watchmen might have been better as am HBO or Showtime series on cable where they could have gone into detail. I think the proof of this is that if you hadn’t read the graphic novel I don’t think that a non-fanboy could fllow the plot.
The next thing that feel flat in the film is that the director didn’t get that while this isn’t a film about superheroes, but in fact a film about ordinary humans who have flaws. This comes out in the comic book, but the fight scenes in the movie give you the feeling that these characters have special powers when clearly in the book they don’t. The characters don’t get scratched up and the result is that they become less beliveable as ordinary people with flaws which was a major theme in the graphic novel.
Another thing that bothered me: The special effects were terrible! Special effects work best when you don’t notice that they’re special effects. Yes the scenes of stuff blowing up were great, but there were so many other failures in the film where the rubber hit the road. For example Adrian Veidt’s cat looks like a CGI creation, there’s no real gravity to that cat. And next you have bad touches like the poor makeup job on Nixon — and by the way Frank Langella proved that you can portray a believable Nixon on the big screen, here it just doesn’t happen.
Which brings me to the acting — it was just a step above what you’d see on a bad soap opera. Maybe the problem is that no single character got much screen time to develop a personality, but there’s a very 2D quality to way the actors deliver their dialog. Yes the casting was perfect and every actor matched exactly what the drawing in the comic book looked like, but there was a cardboard feeling to all of them. In fact I would have rather have seen better actors that didn’t look the part but who could have delivered the lines with some meaning. In fact take a look at the previous cast from the films that were never made and you’ll see the lost opportunity that I’m talking about:
The irony is that after watching the film I appreciated just how good the graphic novel was in terms of having been a product of its medium. To be fair to the filmmakers the graphic novel was very much a product of its era, but like an old Beatles record it wears its age well while the film has to struggle to deal with everything that’s come and gone since the comic book came out. But this makes for a very large problem: When the graphic novel came out the Cold War was still going on so the idea of a nuclear holocaust seemed very very real. But post-Cold War and post-9/11 we seem to be living in a different world. So the dramatic building tension of the world coming to an end seems to be missing from the film. But also the very idea of having a major chuck of New York City disappear had already become reality in the 21st Century so the very consequence of that seems less serious in our minds.
By my fear is this: My gut feeling is that this film won’t age well. Yes it looks good today, but five years from now I’m not sure that will be the case. And worst yet in a media age I’d worry that a bad film will be the first exposure to a new generation to this graphic novel and might turn them off. So the film might even damage the reputation of the graphic novel. I hope that isn’t the case but I can see that happening, which would be very sad.