Who Watches the ‘Watchmen’?


Mason Giustino, Editor in Chief of Broadcast

I recently read Alan Moore’s graphic novel, Watchmen. I was thoroughly impressed and enthralled by the story and how relevant it still feels 30 years later. Knowing this, I had the same hopes for Zack Snyder’s film adaption of the novel which was released 10 years ago.

Set in an alternate universe where superheroes have been outlawed from using their powers by the Keene Act of 1977 put in place by President Nixon, the Watchmen now live normal lives in 1985 New York. It’s the height of the Cold War and Soviet Union has invaded Afghanistan and the United States are preparing for the depressing reality of nuclear war. To add on to all of the imminent chaos, The Comedian has been mysteriously murdered and Rorschach is seeking answers. The superhero group consists of Dr. Manhattan, Nite Owl, Ozymandias, Rorschach, Silk Spectre and The Comedian.

Although I am not a fan of Snyder’s directing style, I felt that his talents may work in the world of the Watchmen. Dark visuals, gritty characters and some unnecessary violence–all fit into Snyder’s movies. But after watching the film I was disappointed, I felt anger and sadness that the film was just okay.

Watchmen has often been thought unfilmable by many because of Moore’s use of the comic medium that could be impossible to replicate in film. Despite this, I watched with an opened mind, understanding that the movie can never be exactly the same as its source material and that’s okay.

On the positive end, Snyder didn’t attempt to stuff the movie with everything from the novel, because it’d be four hours long and that doesn’t excite audiences. Snyder’s desaturation of color is visually stunning in many moments throughout the film as it represents the looming idea of death over the characters throughout the film. His utilization of slow motion in fight sequences and heightened sound effects adds something unique that stands out from many other superhero movies because it is done well and not overused.  I also appreciated that a great deal of the dialogue from the comic was used in the movie which added to my liking of the characters despite many of their traits changing from the page to the screen.

Now onto the negatives. Recognizing that the film was made in 2009 I tried not to criticize the CGI knowing how much it has evolved in 10 years. But I will criticize the lack of practical effects used. Snyder’s over-reliance on CGI for basic overview sequences of the city feel outdated and over stylized. Using practical effects such as filming the actual skyline and desaturating in editing would improve this immediately. The modernization of the Watchmen’s costumes look more like 1997’s Batman and Robin than they do of gritty vigilantes in the 80s.  The spray painted plastic chest pieces meant to resemble a look metal or steel has never and will never add anything positive to the perception of a film.

As I mentioned earlier, to Snyder’s credit he included much of the dialogue from the Moore’s novel, but it doesn’t adapt smoothly to the screen in all cases. The overuse of the comic’s dialogue takes away depth from the characters and drags the story down with clunky acting and little to no original dialogue added to smooth out the wrinkles.

Watchmen is an adequate film adaption of the graphic novel but it failed to deliver anything original that didn’t hinder the film as whole. Unnecessary changes to important plot points gave false perceptions of the actual heroes and lacks respect of Moore’s creation.

I recommend this movie on a few conditions. If you have not read the book it may be beneficial to look up some sort of background on the plot first as many parts can be confusing in the movie as many characters backstories are not developed or glossed over. If this movie hadn’t been adapted from something as great as the comic Watchmen I’d be much less critical but the reality is Snyder failed to deliver and the movie suffers because of it.

Grade: C+