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From Under A Rock: Watchmen

November 28, 2017 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
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From Under A Rock: Watchmen  


So, timing was a little bit off on this one, but I wanted to take time to acknowledge that Zack Snyder has made at least one great movie for DC comics.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Michael chose Lock, Stock, & Two Smoking Barrels. This week Aaron takes Michael out from under the proverbial rock to show him Watchmen.

Released: March 6, 2009
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: David Hayter & Alex Tse
Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach
Patrick Wilson as Dan Dreiberg/Nite-Owl II
Malin Åkerman as Laurie Jupiter/Silk Spectre II
Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan/Jon Osterman
Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Eddie Blake/The Comedian

Aaron Hubbard: I picked this last year because I knew I wanted to talk about Zack Snyder’s work, and go in an opposite direction than usual for me. I always liked Watchmen, but rewatching it again for the first time in years has actually improved my opinion of the movie.

Michael Ornelas: I knew coming in that this movie was polarizing, and very little else. I’m not a fan of Zack Snyder, but I feel that this was the best he can do with a movie. That doesn’t mean I loved it, but I was able to appreciate a lot about it.
From Panel to Screen
Aaron: So, first, I feel it’s necessary to acknowledge that I consider Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ book to be the best comic book of all time. While that’s not an uncommon opinion, I know it’s hotly contested. But I did see the movie before the book, and I think the movie does an excellent job of adapting the material. Obviously it cuts corners, but the meat of the story is all there. Zack Snyder is somewhat limited as a director, but he was fully dedicated to recreating almost every page of the book. The script follows suit. For something many readers considered to be “unfilmable”, Snyder made it look easy.

Michael: It’s hard for me to speak on this film as an adaptation since I have not read the source material, but I can still tell you the effect that having such integrity to the source had on me as a movie viewer: off-putting. Many things about the way this story unfolded didn’t feel like a movie narrative the way I’m used to it. That’s not bad, but it is certainly jarring. I’m used to comic book movies with a major villain, and instead what we have for this film is a lot of backstory and in-depth vignettes for each of the characters. It felt like it was going into unnecessary levels of depth about these characters for what seemed like a fairly straightforward “whodunnit” plot that should have been for killing The Comedian. I will definitely compliment Snyder’s proficiency with the visual elements of this film however. He’s always seemed like a truly ridiculous filmmaker, but a lot of the specific shots he got for this felt like they were straight out of a comic book, and that’s not easy to do.

Aaron: If you do read the book (and you should), you’ll be amazed just how faithful it is. To me, this is where Snyder works best. He’s a great visual director and knows how to make every shot work, but he isn’t the best storyteller. Here, he’s just using flash and style to present someone else’s work in a new way, and it works for me. Granted, not everything works perfectly; one can almost see Chapter Headings between certain shots and some key information about the original Minutemen barely makes the cutting room floor. But overall? Great job. And the one big change from the comics in terms of plot? Yeah, I’ll take this version over the giant squid any day.
Character Connection
Michael: While the deconstructive format of the film was jarring for me, diving into each character’s backstory really paid off by the end of the film when I really felt invested in the whole crew. This would be like if The Avengers was the first Marvel movie and we didn’t get a chance to familiarize ourselves with the gang beforehand – it’d be a lofty task. Watchmen managed to pull that off, even if I didn’t realize what was happening until after I’d watched it.

Aaron: Watchmen is pretty unique in that the original story is confined to twelve issues and there was no other material for years. (And none by the original creators). While Moore and Gibbons used tropes recognizable to comic fans, they were able to put so much work into creating the characters and the world that it always felt complete. And to be clear; most of these characters are not people we would be inclined to like if we met them. Rorschach is a sociopath, Nite-Owl is a self-defeating loser, Manhattan is disturbingly inhuman. But Moore and the screenwriters adapting his writing not only help us understand them as people, but they make them matter to us.

Michael: I invested in all of them in different ways. I really liked Nite-Owl, Rorschach, and Manhattan the best. Manhattan’s backstory was so tragic, it’s hard not to connect and at least feel sympathy for him. We also see his dick a bunch and…well that’s a bond you just don’t shake off.
Ahead of Its Time?
Aaron: Something that struck me here is the thought that 2009 might not have been the best time to release this movie. Obviously the creators couldn’t have foreseen how comic book movies would only grow in number this decade. Superhero movies are now so ubiquitous that deconstructing them is a viable option for movies. Deadpool was a burlesque deconstruction, Batman v. Superman and Logan both deconstructed things in a more serious manner with varying degrees of success. But Watchmen adapts the great deconstructionist work of the genre. Perhaps the film would have been a bigger hit and even a cultural touchstone if it was to come out in 2018?

Michael: I can agree that in that regard it’s definitely before its time. But if made 8 years later, would it have been made the same way? It’s a product of the time in many ways and that’s part of its appeal. The technology is just the perfect mix of outdated and current that it gives the movie a really distinct idea. If it had come later, it could have ended up looking like Fantastic Four and…that would be bad.

Aaron: Nah, I don’t think so. With very small, understandable changes, the movie is a nearly perfect translation. This is one time where the director was perfectly suited to the source material and it came out the better for it. If nothing else, I think it definitely deserves to come back into the conversation.

Michael: This is a tough one to rate. I really enjoyed it by the end, but starting out it was slow and didn’t really grab me. The constant diving into backstories felt cheap at first and hurt the pacing, but I’m glad they did it by the end. It probably needs a rewatch from me, but for now, my gut feeling is a B+.


Aaron: I’m a bit torn on this one; I think enjoyment is somewhat predicated on knowledge of the book. At the same time, one has to be willing to let some things change. I fell in love with the movie all over again, but I think mileage will vary tremendously from viewer to viewer.


Michael: I had fun with that! Glad I finally got around to watching it since it’s been on my list since forever.

Aaron: As much fun as one can manage considering how disturbing some of it is.

Would Watchmen be a bigger success in the current climate?

Next week:

Michael: Next week’s pick is probably my favorite silent movie and a visual masterpiece. It’s also one of the earliest science fiction pieces, and that’s pretty cool, right?
Aaron: This has been on my list of things to watch for a while, so I’m glad I’ll be covering it here.

Michael: Let’s do it!

What’s your favorite early science fiction film?

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The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Watchmen is not the easiest movie to get into thanks to its fidelity to the source material. But narrative weirdness aside, it still does a fantastic job of getting the viewer invested in its characters and story. Also, Snyder is doing as good a job as can be expected adapting probably the best graphic novel of all time. It may not be the A+ work that the book is, but it's still very good and works as an introduction or a companion piece.