Read our review of the Watchmen graphic novel.
We don’t often do film reviews here at Grovel, but when someone decides to make a film of what is perhaps one of the most interesting and culturally significant graphic novels ever written, it seems churlish to let it pass without comment.
A Watchmen movie has been on the cards for decades – almost as soon as it was published. But it was director Terry Gilliam who eventually declared it unfilmable, which has been at least partially disproved by Zac Snyder’s movie. The real question thrown up by Snyder’s contradiction of Gilliam’s belief is whether Gilliam was declaring it technically impossible to recreate, or impossible to do the book justice. Snyder and the wonder of computer graphics have made the film perfect in a technical sense, realising the world that Gibbons and Moore imagined with an incredible attention to detail.
As an homage to Gibbons’ ability to construct an extraordinary, visually stunning narrative, the movie is a work of art. Where Snyder works to simply fill the gaps between Gibbons’ panels, using the illustrations as key frames and Moore’s dialogue as the script, the film is a roaring triumph. The great shame being that Snyder didn’t leave it at that – he had to go and meddle with the plot.
In a story like Watchmen, which has something of an epic build-up to a sophisticated reveal, the journey is key. But the ending is equally important and should justify the investment that the audience has put into the piece. Moore and Gibbons ask a lot of their audience, hiding information for the second read and building up layers of such density and complexity that you need to pour over the book to appreciate it. Expecting the same of a cinema audience is asking a lot.
Gilliam’s answer was to decide not to make it because you can’t do it justice. Snyder’s response is to dumb it down, to strip out what are perhaps the most sophisticated layers of the story and temper the ending appropriately. There’s been lots of discussion about the ending and I’m not going to spoil it by talking specifics here, but I personally found Snyder’s Watchmen Lite ending feeble and lacking in drama.
Part of the problem is what’s been stripped out. It’s the sections of the book that give us empathy, that help us understand the nature of the final climatic horror. Snyder multiplies it in scope but diminishes it in drama and impact. He breaks it. You can’t help but wish he’d either left the whole thing alone or made the last act like he made the first two – with the utmost reverence for his source material.
You probably ought to see this movie but I beg and plead with you to read the book first, if you have’t done so already. The book is the original, definitive, and far and away the superior version of Watchmen. Go and see the film too – Snyder’s respect for and use of Gibbons’ design is phenomenal and awesome to behold. Two thirds of the film will hold you captivated as comic characters live and breathe on screen in front of you. A few script edits might grate but you won’t mind. Then try and ignore the ending. It’s worth watching with a certain amount of wonder at how they could have decided to move so far from the original at this point, though the wasted opportunity will still lie heavy in your heart.