How did I feel about it?
Let's do this in good and bad stages. And though this should go without saying, do not click on the links below unless you have read the book AND watched the movie.
THE BAD STUFF
1. Looks Like A Movie, Feels Like A Novel. A Russian Novel...
The biggest problem with the movie? It tries a little too hard to be a faithful adaptation of the book. Now, I know that may sound blasphemous to some and confusing to others but let me explain. It's obvious they put a lot of effort into getting as much of the book as possible on-screen but it doesn't look like much thought was put into exactly what should go on-screen.
Alan Moore himself pointed out the dangers of too-much detail in a film adaptation of a book in a recent interview. Oddly enough, he was talking about League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and not Watchmen but the same principles seem to apply.
"The things I was trying to instill in those books were generally things that were only appropriate to the comics medium. They were only about the comics medium, in a certain sense. To transplant them to the screen is going to chop off a good 30 or 40 percent of the reason why I wanted to do the work in the first place."
This is the grand irony of Watchmen. It is very faithful to the source material but in his efforts to get as much of the source material on screen, director Zack Snyder has created what is effectively a three-hour PowerPoint presentation on the Cliff Notes version of Watchmen.
There's no delicate way around it so let's be blunt - this movie is, at points, a little slow.
I admit that may be because I've read the book and knew what was coming for most of the movie... but I noticed very little gasping or audible reaction from the people around me as the movie went on.
The action-scenes all seem overly long with director Snyder's trade-mark slow-motion effects. Many of the action scenes are extended beyond what we saw in the comics - particularly The Comedian's death, which opens the movie and Veidt's battle with a would-be assassin. And the opening credits scene - while beautifully shot and set - has nothing to do with the main story of the movie though it does give us a lot of sly references to the books, such as the revelation that The Comedian was the true assassin of JFK.
And speaking of the opening credits...
2. I Can't Believe It's Not A Music Video!
There are a LOT of music-video moments throughout the movie, where a dominant song is played over a scene in order to suggest mood or place in time.
The effect works in some scenes, like the opening credits in which we see the history of the 1940's Minutemen heroes laid out to Bob Dylan's The Times They Are A-Changin'. In other points, like when K.C. And The Sunshine Band's Boogie Man blares as The Comedian is shooting protesters during a 1970's flashback, it doesn't. And in the case of Nite Owl/Silk Spectre's overly-long sex-scene - which is set to Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah - the effect is laughably awful.
3. The Devil's In The Details
Like the film-version of The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy from a few years ago, Watchmen tries and fails to achieve a difficult balance between being accessible to those who haven't read the book and devoted fans of the book. There are many images and moments which will mean something to those who have read the book but will be totally meaningless to somebody who hasn't. And the dedicated fans are likely to be annoyed at the minor details which are included in the final film while sacrificing some fairly major ones.
Example #1: The eventually destruction of New York does give us the scene where news-stand owner Bernard and comic-reader Bernie hug desperately in the face of their impending doom. In the book, it is a powerful moment given the slow evolution between the relationship of the two characters and their eventual friendship and the common ground they discover. In the movie, it is two random people who the sharp-eyed viewer may have been spotted in a blink-and-you'll-miss moment during an earlier establishing shot.
Example #2: The details of Walter Kovac's transformation into Rorschach are changed, with Kovacs' killing a kidnapper/murderer with a meat-cleaver to the head rather than by trapping him in a burning building. In the book, this scene is very cinematic and very symbolic as we see the depths of Roraschach's new-found resolve to punish evil as he waits for the building to burn while white smoke billows up and makes random shapes against the black sky. Just killing the man with a cleaver seems... anti-climactic.
4. Sexism Or Satire?
Quite a lot has been written about the lack of Feminist perspective in Watchmen. Certainly the book has a greater percentage of male characters compared to female characters, with only three female superheroes and none of these characters are particularly well developed. Laurie is defined almost entirely by her relationships to the male cast. Her mother Sally is a headcase who fell in love with her attempted rapist, with the implication that she dressed up in a sexy costume to fight crime because "she was asking for it". And all we know of Silhouette and her life comes through another character talking about her death.
This can be explained (and somewhat forgiven) by the fact that one of Alan Moore's goals with Watchmen was to satirize the cliches of Silver Age comics while examining and explaining some of the sillier aspects of those stories. Like why a woman would wear a swimsuit and high-heels to fight crime. But Snyder seems to have missed this angle of the story and - as he did in 300 ironically aggravated the problem with his attempts to ensure more equal-time.
You might recall that in that 300, Snyder introduced a subplot not in the original book where Gorgo, Queen of Sparta, attempted to field more troops to aid her husband through politicking. The problem was that this effort to bring a feminist perspective to 300 was negated when the strong-female icon surrenders her body to the whims of a rapist. In a similar vein, we learn about Silhouette in the opening-credit montage but we get no more information than Moore gave in the brief description Rorschach gave of her life.
How do we learn about Silhouette's life in the movie? Through two scenes with no dialogue. One shows her replacing the sailor in the famous Alfred Eisenstaedt photograph of a sailor kissing a nurse upon his homecoming from WWII. The other shows her and said nurse, bloody and suggestively dressed, stretched out on a bed with "Lesbian Whores" painted in blood on the wall behind them.
Neither of these moments were, it should be noted, in the original book and their addition does nothing save to add unneeded shock value or serve as pornography for a particularly disgusting breed of fan. One supposes they needed something to make up for the cutting of the Kitty Genovese scene.
5. Adrian's Not A Villain! Really!
I don't know if the problem was direction or with actor Matthew Goode... but those who didn't read the book will easily be able to pick out Adrian Veidt as the villain of the piece based on the way that he caries himself and acts. Goode plays Ozymandias as cool and dispassionate to the point of being near-Autistic - a far cry from the ever-smiling charmer of the original book. It was meant to be a shocking surprise that this man could possibly come up with the plan that he did, much less put it into action. The film Ozymandias never smiles and he'd certainly never demean himself by shouting "I Did It" and jumping up and down as his plan succeeds.
THE GOOD STUFF
1. The Ending
It never occurred to me before, but Nite Owl and Silk Spectre's reaction to Adrian's plan succeeding in the book basically comes down to "We're powerless to do anything and there's a bear-skin rug here. Wanna fuck?" In the movie, Nite Owl vents his rage in a much more convincing manner.
2. When The Music Works, It Works.
Distracting as the music is at some points, it is pretty cool that they played the Jimi Hendrix cover of All Along The Watchtower as Night Owl and Rorschach get ready to storm Adrian Veidt's fortress, given that the song was quoted in the book during that scene - "two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl".
There are a few other songs mentioned in the book which are used in the movie, such as Nite Owl's ship playing Billy Holiday's You're My Thrill during the apartment fire scene. And in one of the more few additions that works, a muzak version of Tears For Fears' Everybody Wants To Rule The World plays during the scene where Adrian Viedt meets with several American car company CEOs to discuss his plans for renewable energy. Would that more of the music had been so subtle.
3. Good Production Values
There's no denying that the movie looks amazing. The special effects are dazzling, with Dr. Manhattan being the best CGI creation since Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. But more than that, the sets... the costumes... the whole package looks marvelous.
4. Definitely Deserves The R-Rating
There were some fears that the movie might be "nerfed" in order to try and get it down to a PG-13 rating. Of course we all know that Dr. Manhattan's glowing blue schwanz has made it into the movie intact. But so did all of the other adult situations, for better or worse. Leave the kids, grandparents and conservative brother-in-law at home if you're going to see this.
Jackie Earle Haley nailed the part, plain and simple.
The Final Word? Out in the theater lobby afterward, I heard one tween say that it was like watching The Passion of The Christ without sub-titles. That seems as good a description of what the movie is like to someone who hasn't read the book as any. And as for those who have read the book - just stay home, reread the book and wait for my review of the even-longer director's cut that is promised for the DVD before spending any money on this.