Watching the Watchers of Watchmen

Have you seen Watchmen yet?  No?  Is the reason that you read some reviews and decided against it based on all the negative things they said?

One thing I have always talked about in my life is managing expectations.  Many times when people don’t like a movie or book or some other form of entertainment or experience, the blame can be laid at the fact they went in to it expecting it to be monumental and moving, “the best ever”.  With lofty expectations like that, rarely do those movies or books or whatever actually live up to them.  So, let’s take a couple paragraphs and talk about how you can review the reviews in order to distill what you need to know before deciding if you want to see Watchmen before you let someone else’s opinion get you to dismiss it out of hand.

If the review you read spent more than half of its words pointing out the flaws of the adaptation from the book to the movie, you might be able to completely ignore them.  First, did you read the book?  If not, then why do you care where the movie failed to convey the exact same message as the book?  You aren’t reading the book, you are going to see the movie.  The only thing that matters is if the movie is self consistant and works as a movie.  If you did read the book, are you expecting a shot-for-frame transfer of the book from page to screen, or are you looking for an adaptation?  Adaptation, by definition, means change.  Books are hundreds of pages long.  Movie scripts tend to translate as 1 page of script is equal to 1 minute of film.  Watchmen, as a comic, is over 400 pages long.  And while Watchmen the movie is nearly 3 hours long, 3 hours is only about 180 pages.  The movie would need to be around 7 hours long to faithfully translate the book to the screen.  So, when you go to see the movie, expect changes.  To be honest, it is best to approach Watchmen the movie as being “inspired by” the book.  If you love the book so much that you can’t possibly accept any changes made during its translation between mediums, then you probably should avoid the movie.

If the review you read spent a lot of time comparing Watchmen to Iron Man and Spider-man and other comic book films, it shows that the reviewer entered the theater with the wrong expectations.  Watchmen is not, and never has been, a story about spandex super heroes saving the day.  When Alan Moore wrote the book, his intention was to take all the current super hero elements, put them in a “real world” type scenario and turn them of their ear.  Its horribly violent, the characters are spectacularly flawed, the world is a cynical depiction of the worst aspects of humanity.  All of those things are what made the story so great and so shocking back when it first appeared.  Twenty years have passed, and elements of Moore’s grim and gritty vision of super heroes have rubbed off in all corners of the genre, but his vision is still much more bleak than just about everything that has come since.  Spider-man accidentally let his Uncle Ben die, and his life is spent trying to make up for that mistake.  Tony Stark built weapons that killed people, and as Iron Man he’s trying to undo the damage he has done.  These characters have flaws, but they are nothing compared to the Comedian or Rorschach from Watchmen.  Most comic books have characters who are driven by their one (or two or three) flaws to be better people and do good.  Watchmen is mostly about people who are a bundle of flaws who are driven by their one (or two or three) redeeming qualities to try to make the world a better place.  If you want to see a movie like Spider-man or Iron Man, don’t go see Watchmen.  It is just not that kind of film.

Also, the movie is more dramatic than action driven, so if you get bored when people stop fighting and start talking, Watchmen probably isn’t the movie for you.  Watchmen is more of a thriller or mystery than an action film, much like the book.  The story begins with the death of a former hero, the Comedian, and it follows from there as Rorschach tries to find out why someone would do it.  This isn’t the formation of a super hero team riding out to save the world… this is the remains of a dilapidated hero team who have been told we don’t want them to save the world anymore.

It may sound like I’m apologizing for the film.  People often mistake my “managing expectations” talk for that.  I just hate it when people say that anything categorically and globally failed just because it didn’t meet their personal expectations.  When I go to buy things from Amazon, I always read the negative reviews first, because someone pointing out their expectations and the failure of a product to meet those expectations gives me far more information about how I might react to the product than someone gushing about how awesome it is.  From reading the negative reviews of Watchmen, I determined that it wasn’t exactly the book, and it wasn’t a typical spandex super hero movie, and those two facts are all I need to frame my expectations before walking into the darkened theater.

In my opinion, and from my point of view, Watchmen the movie perfectly captures the tone and spirit of the book, even if it has to deviate in order to make a watchable running time.  It isn’t the best film ever made, but it is far far far from the worst.  And in the end, I enjoyed it quit a bit.

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