WATCHMEN: In Retrospect

Zack Snyder's adaptation of Watchmen was released in 2009 and instantly polarized the CBM audience, with passions seeming to run for and against it with very little in between. What follows is a look back at the film from the days shortly before its release.

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By EdGross - 1/29/2012
NOTE: This article was originally written in early 2009

Zack Snyder is the Anti-Christ.
So is the rest of Hollywood.

At least that’s the impression one gets from comments made by Watchmen author Alan Moore following some pretty disappointing experiences dealing with the Hollywood system. Ironically, though, it is Snyder and his dedication to properly capturing the acclaimed graphic novel on film that would no doubt have provided Moore with a sense of victory.

“I wish that Alan can feel the same excitement that I’m feeling,” offers Dave Gibbons, the artist who collaborated with Moore on the original comic. “I wish that he hadn’t had such a bad experience in the past, because I’m certainly having a really good experience.”

Driving home the power of that experience has been watching the Watchmen come to life. “What really did it for me was the Owl Ship,” he says. “To step inside the Owl Ship. It first existed in a pencil scribble. And to smell The Comedian’s cigar and have The Comedian slap me on the back and proudly show me one of his guns. Just amazing. I was completely thrilled; it all went by too quickly. I felt like a kid at Christmas.”



There are a lot of Watchmen fans who are feeling the same way, though for them Christmas will come in March 2009 when the film is released. And that film, of course, like the comic before it, takes place in an alternate history where the United States is moving ever closer to a nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union in 1985. At the center of it all is a group of superheroes (all but one without any actual powers to speak of), who are about as dysfunctional (in a serious, not comedic way) as you could imagine. As Wikipedia notes, “Watchmen’s deconstruction of the conventional superhero archetype, combined with its innovative adaptation of cinematic techniques and heavy use of symbolism, multi-layered dialogue and metafiction, has influenced both comics and film.”

And that is the challenge that Snyder has purposefully put before himself, bringing this project – an R-rated, three-hour long superhero film – to life.

“People say it’s an out-of-control movie, and I know this sounds crazy, but I’m relaxed about it,” explains Snyder, who had previously helmed the adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300, to both critical and commercial acclaim. “I’m relaxed about it because I like the property. It’s a special thing, so we’re trying to treat it in a special way.”

As to the rating, he says that the studio is on board. “The book is dark,” he states. “We never thought, ‘Oh, gosh, is the movie too dark? Are we going to be plodding down this dark road so far that people slit their wrists and call it a day in the theater?’ Truthfully, you have these optimistic characters trying to find their way. It is a reflection on all of us trying to find our way. And the answer is so vague; it’s a moral question that gets answered, but there’s no real answer. It becomes up to you. What is darkness in a movie? Is it a metaphor, is it real? That’s the question of Watchmen. Is it dark just for the sake of dark? Saw is dark, because people get their arms sawed off. People get their arms sawed off in our movie, but for different reasons. Moral reasons. To teach a lesson.”



And in terms of cutting the running time, he points out, “You can only cut out so much before it’s not The Watchmen anymore.”

Most importantly, he doesn’t seem too concerned about Moore’s rejection of the concept and the belief some hold that you simply can’t adapt something like Watchmen into a film.

“But you could say that about any piece of literature turned into a movie,” Snyder emphasizes. “Look at No Country For Old Men, which is pertinent because it’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, a non-linear stream of consciousness style that got turned into a pretty linear movie, except for the ending. And it’s a great movie. The difference is that Watchmen is a book before it’s anything else, so we have to look at it in those terms. Other comic book or superhero movies are not based on a single work, but on a ton of works and years of evolution and different adventures and you can just cherry pick whatever makes your story work.

“And that’s not to say I don’t have a point of view – I think it makes the movie fun,” he continues. “I have a certain way of looking at things. I find certain things funny that other people don’t, I guess. Look, I think the best movies are movies with a point of view. They’re the ones that you remember, where you couldn’t have thought of it yourself. You just don’t think that way. A Quentin Tarantino movie – it’s not like they’re such visionary pictures, but the point of view is so particular that you say, ‘Wow, I never would have thought of that; I don’t look at the world from that perspective.’ I think Watchmen does that and I try and do that in my own way, and that combination then becomes the movie.”

One key question is whether or not a summer that has seen such mega superhero successes as Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Hancock and The Dark Knight will be viewed as a help or hindrance to the considerably darker, more complex Watchmen.

“In my opinion, they’re a huge help,” Snyder muses. “If you take every Hulk, every Batman, every Iron Man – though Dark Knight not as much as the others because it’s kind of transcendent of the genre in its own way – and look at the mass of people who have seem them, that’s what I would call kind of priming the pump for Watchmen. It’s cool, because Watchmen basically deconstructs those things. The more superhero movies you get, the better because it makes the mythology stronger in the culture, and when you start to take that mythology apart, people have the reference to understand the ‘why’ of it.”

What are thoughts regarding Watchmen today? Has the film improved or gotten worse in your minds since the release? Sound off below.

And to read comments from each of the Watchmen cast members (also from shortly before the film's release) and for other Action-related headlines, just click on the image below.

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65 Comments
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IDKwhatToChoose - 1/29/2012, 10:46 AM
I tried I really tried to like this movie. The big blue penis just ruined the whole thing for me
MarkJulian - 1/29/2012, 10:54 AM
"Looking Back" is kind of my thing. I dispute the title of this article. :P
ironpool007 - 1/29/2012, 11:02 AM
It was a good movie. I saw it in theaters and recently watched the Ultimate cut. It's really a story that deserves to be seen by a lot of people, and having it be so true to it's sourse material lets people who have not read the comic still experience that story.
BatSlam - 1/29/2012, 11:03 AM
it was almost an exact copy of the book, i dont think anyone who liked the book could complain, the only change was the alien thing at the end, but in my opinion snyder's end with the dr. manhattan twist was better than the ending in the book. it tied in the hole story even better than the alien invasion plot.
RyanLantern77 - 1/29/2012, 11:12 AM
I loved the book and the movie, the Dr. Manhattan ending over the alien was fine by me. He gave the fans of the book the movie that they deserved, he didn't try to soften it or water it down for a mainstream audience.
ThreeBigTacos - 1/29/2012, 11:14 AM
I couldn't really get into it, then again I've only ever read the Graphic Novel/comic once. Not a huge fan, but to each his own.
darthbobtarkas - 1/29/2012, 11:16 AM
@Batslam I love the comicbook ending, but the movie one made more cinematic sense. One does not simply put a giant exploding psychic squid into a mega-budget movie.
I only watched the Ultimate Cut, and really loved it, although, it was more or less a translation of the graphic novel into another medium, like Sin City...
OnLeatherWings - 1/29/2012, 11:17 AM
Great movie. yes it has some flaws. but all in all its what us as comic book fans want to see. movie deserves more credit than it got from critics. def one of my fav comic book movies
RickMorris - 1/29/2012, 11:19 AM
@Batslam Agreed! I love the book and I love the movie!
HellsHammer - 1/29/2012, 11:29 AM
I personally loved the movie. The intro with Bob Dylans 'Times they are a changing' was amazingly done. But yeah, DR. Manhattans big apple was a little too much
Mastyrwerk - 1/29/2012, 11:31 AM
They ruined the ending. It's not as powerful as the comic. I really hope one day Snyder goes back and changes it.

Psychic Squid FTW!!!
SkateandDestroy88 - 1/29/2012, 11:33 AM
Great film. I took my now X-wife to midnite showing. . . also read the greaphic novel before
viewing
Some of the scenes were a little over the top
but still appreciate Snyder.
Rewatching it and knowing when to turn away helps
(yeah I'm kind of a softie) The soundtrack and imagery and faithfulness and action scenes raise the bar very high for CBM.
When we walked out of the theator we didn't know how to react. She hated it but appreciated Rorshache, I was blown away- Might have to Re-read Watchmen now. . .
MarkJulian - 1/29/2012, 11:34 AM
Was kidding, Ed
redleaf - 1/29/2012, 11:35 AM
@MrEko That's a great idea, although it may be risky if the first movie failed.

I would have liked Ozymandias re-cast and shown in good light more early on, but other than that it was awesome including the changes. It's a shame some people don't get the movie though.
MarkJulian - 1/29/2012, 11:38 AM
Was kidding.
EdGross - 1/29/2012, 11:42 AM
GraphicCity, truthfully things are sometimes taken so seriously that I can't always tell. So better to play it safe....

As to the movie itself, I just rewatched it this morning, which inspired me to post this story. I remain pretty blown away by all that the film accomplished. I think Snyder did a great job and despite my disappointment in Sucker Punch, I really do think he's the right guy for Man of Steel. But Watchmen... really, some movie!
vtopa - 1/29/2012, 11:42 AM
Wish the sex scene was longer...
RunDTC - 1/29/2012, 11:45 AM
I second what @BatSlam said.
IDKwhatToChoose - 1/29/2012, 11:49 AM
@MrEko That might have made the movie better for me.
superbatspiderman - 1/29/2012, 11:58 AM
I think Watchmen is one of the best CBMs ever created. It is a stunning and powerful movie. Many people say it is crazy and too long but I still loved it.

The only thing I was disappointed with was the scene where Rorschach kills that child murderer and they changed the way he killed the guy. I liked the one in the book better.
ManOfKrypton - 1/29/2012, 11:59 AM
I thought Watchmen was a great film.... And I'm a big Watchmen fan!
marvel72 - 1/29/2012, 12:01 PM
loved the graphic novel loved the movie,some fantastic performances,good soundtrack & very faithful to the source material.

yeah it did differ to the comic/graphic novel in places but slight changes are fine by me.

best dc movie so far.
cmax - 1/29/2012, 12:19 PM
I loved this movie. It was awesome. I agree with those who say Synder's ending was better. Music, costumes, acting - it was awesome. Directors cut is even better especially the original Nite Owl's death scene.
Action - 1/29/2012, 12:24 PM
I wish there was more scenes about the main characters lives. In the graphic novel we get to know about the characters upbringing and Zack snyder traded the background stories for action.
Scooby - 1/29/2012, 12:29 PM
Watchmen was amazing! Snyder is one of the greatest directors of our generation - the critics just don't get it. After he's dead and gone then the critics are gonna talk about what a genius he was.

Sucker Punch was good too.






soberchimera - 1/29/2012, 12:32 PM
If Snyder had toned down the slow motion, the film could've been half an hour shorter.
Christuffer - 1/29/2012, 12:40 PM
One of the best movies ever.

Suck it.
Mastyrwerk - 1/29/2012, 12:40 PM
I'm watching the movie and read the comic at the same time. It's really uncanny how close shots and dialogue are. I still think the ending in the comic is better. Veidt's super genius left nothing to chance in saving the world. He knew Dr Manhatten was the weight on the scale to drive other countries to war. That's why he manipulated him to leave, but making him the threat that unites the world is illogical. Veidt wanted peace against a common enemy, one that is so mysterious and foriegn that the world can cooperate to fight. Fight is the operative word. Making an enemy that is known and unstoppable is forcing everybody to behave.

It's like kids fighting in a sandbox. There're two endings here. In one, one of the kid's dad comes out and says, "Everybody play nice or you're all grounded!" so they tentatively play nice for fear of punishment. The other, someone on the other side of the fence starts throwing rocks at the kids. The kids then join forces to stop the new threat, putting their own differences aside.

Dr M as the bad guy is like 1984. It's like the Bible. Someone is watching you and you behave or they will know.

And what happens when someone tries to start a war again? Will Dr M come down from space and take them out? What happens when he doesn't show? After a generation or two, will anybody actually believe he exists? Will people start wars in his name?

Veidt's not an idiot. He would know how dumb of an idea it would be to put all the blame on him.

Besides, the whole point of Watchmen was something Reagan said about the only way to have world peace would be to have anl alien threat from another world. Dr M is not an alien threat. He's familiar. He's the reason they're going to war in the first place.
comicoverlord - 1/29/2012, 12:47 PM
The ending of the movie was a near brilliant compromise. And left the audience thinking: "So does Manhattan have to be god now?" It's friggin' genius. And for those who have the erm... penis problem. You need to direct those questions inwardly. Not publicly. If you are straight, then you are indifferent to male nudity. Otherwise...
2gold - 1/29/2012, 12:52 PM
The thing with me is Comedian would not been shocked, upset or anything by bombs. He wouldn't have cared at all. And yeah, other countries would have still blamed the US for Dr. M, him attacking them or not. If they didn't want a giant squid, use a different alien threat that would have left the US blameless. Yes, a giant squid looks dumb probably on film so make something else. A bunch of bombs still leaves the US as the country that helped make them, that gave him haven while he did so the world would still blame them. That's the major flaw. Him betraying the US would have been seen as deserved. And even if its Dr M flipped, he was still the US beast. Fear would not end the resentment that they caused this.
Bartman87 - 1/29/2012, 1:30 PM
Get over the giant squid it was a lame aspect of the comic also, sorry for the diss but it was, Dr. M was a good concession and tied in the all aspects of the movie for those who had never read the book.
captquirk - 1/29/2012, 1:49 PM
Never read the pulp version, and thank God, never even knew about the cartoon. That said, I loved the movie. The way they cut some of those scenes together, with the forced perspective in the photos was amazing. The only scene I didn't like, was the sex scene. Don't get me wrong, I like good sex scenes, and Silk Specter was a knockout... but they went too far and made it all artsy fartsy.
KnobGoblin - 1/29/2012, 1:50 PM
Zach Snyder did an admirable job adapting the book, he captured I'd say at least a good 90% of what WATCHMEN is on film. It's as good of an adaptation as fans could have hoped for given the nature of the material with how dense and interwoven it all is. It would be impossible to film it word for word, panel for panel, and even removing the smallest thing could unravel the intricate plot threads. Adapting WATCHMEN to film is no easy task, and I think Snyder did a fantastic job in doing so. Zach Snyder actually pulled off a big budget R rated blockbuster WATCHMEN adaptation in a PG-13 era. Now you can argue for or against Snyder's stylistic flourishes like slo mo and filling out the action sequences, of which there are few in the book, but personally I'm a Zach Snyder fan so it's like peanut butter and chocolate to me. Two great taste that taste great together.
thedude2936 - 1/29/2012, 1:54 PM
i liked the movie, i really dont know why some people and the critics ripped on it so much.
tjgosurf - 1/29/2012, 2:03 PM
I'm not sure why everyone claims Dr. Manhattan has a giant penis. I only have myself to compare to though
FlashhGordon27 - 1/29/2012, 2:21 PM
I loved the comics, and the movie was awesome too, it was extremely accurate (apart from the end) and yeah alot was cut out, but with most movie adaptations you can't have everything or it'll just be too much to fit in one film. Love the ending of the book and the film, both equally awesome. And the opening credits with Bob Dylan = EPIC.
GreyChaos13Zero - 1/29/2012, 2:26 PM
Watchmen was great all the way up to the ending, didn't really care for the ending. tho Rorschach was one badass character?)
nuck82 - 1/29/2012, 2:48 PM
never read the book, I thought the movie was great!! its up there with the best of them, for me
luckylu - 1/29/2012, 3:01 PM
imo best cbm to date.
LoudLon - 1/29/2012, 3:23 PM
I loved it from the first frame to the last. I saw it three times in the theater and have watched the Director's Cut DVD about fifteen times. I thought Snyder and company did a bang-up job adapting the comic to the screen, and in all honesty I preferred the film's "Doc Manhattan-powered bombs" to the comic's "giant alien squid" ending.

As far as the characterizations, Jackie Earle Haley was exactly what I always imagined Rorschach to be, but what I found even more interesting were Patrick Wilson's performance as Nite Owl II, which he brought a certain humanity to, and Matthew Goode as Ozymandias. I thought it was interesting and even symbolic that he played Ozy with a slightly German accent, bringing to mind another megamaniacal German who thought he could save the world from its evils by forcing his own perspective on it. I also thought the sooth, dulcet voice Billy Crudup used for Doc Manhattan was highly effective, and helped illustrate Doc M's sense of detachment all the better.

So, yeah. Great flick. Loved it then, still love it now.
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