I was planning to write a new rant on the film adaptation of Watchmen after seeing it, but having seen it recently, I think it turned out to be mostly acceptable.
I have decided to make my complaints and praise spoiler-free, so read without fear.
Good things first. There is a LOT of eye candy. The opening montage is particularly well done and manages to establish a fair amount of the backstory that’s handled with lengthy textual inserts in the graphic novel. It’s a cliche to say it, but the production values were very high.
Most of the characters are true to the novel, particularly Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, and the Comedian, who all make the transition to film largely intact. Rorschach is particularly well cast and projects exactly the right manic aura. He moves like the comic Rorschach, which is an impressive visual feat. Some of the prison material is compressed, but it didn’t bother me too much; all the juicy bits are still there.
Speaking of impressive visual feats, the film translates countless panels from the graphic novel very well. Some particular standouts are Dan flipping the Comedian’s button into his open grave, Rorschach in the butcher’s house, and the many flashbacks of Dr. Manhattan.
I thought the decision to cut the Black Ship material was a good one; it was a trick that really only works on the page.
Now the bad.
Nite Owl II and Silk Spectre II have perhaps the worst sex scene in the history of cinema. The actors are ok and do the characters justice otherwise, but man, that was bad.
The two of them are also turned into Matrix-wannabes (and remember that the Matrix is largely a series of kung fu-wannabes) through several pointlessly extended fight scenes, one lengthy one of which is not in the novel at all.
The original Silk Spectre is miscast. They should have used two actors; the current one for the younger SS, and another for the old SS.
Ozymandias, however, is the real casting mistake. He’s not David Bowie, and I was left unconvinced that he was roughly the same age as the others. Frankly, I would have welcomed seeing Kevin Sorbo work through his Hercules baggage.
The changes to the ending have been discussed to death already. I actually don’t have a problem with what was done, as it preserves the basic theme. I do have a problem, however, with the length of the fisticuffs, Nite Owl’s scream, and the omission of the final chat between Dr. Manhattan and Ozymandias. I also really missed the eerie but fitting sequence just before that chat, where Dr. Manhattan walks past the sleeping Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, a sequence rendered impossible by the aforementioned scream.
Another thing I noticed was that in the novel, the Comedian’s smiley-face button takes a while to register as a complex, meaningful sign. In the film it takes on significance far more quickly, even immediately. I think this is due to the limit of film in focusing on one object at a time, wheras in the novel the button is often just one more thing going on in nine or so panels on a page.
There was a lot of unnecessary blood in the film. I thought the novel was violent – and rightly so, given the material – but the film is even more so, to the point of being gratitutious by showing what the novel often only implied or cut away from, and letting the camera linger too long.
Overall, I would give the adaptation a B-. For the most part, it follows Mike’s cardinal rule for film adapations of literature: ONLY SUBTRACT MATERIAL; NEVER ADD. The Godfather is the shining exemplar of this rule. In the case of Watchmen, cutting the extra fight scenes and adding back most or all of the original coda would have made it an A. It’s worth seeing, though, even just for the opening 5 minutes.