I watched the Watchmen

What was watching Watchmen on an IMAX screen like? Even if you hadn't read the graphic novel? Arron found out...

Watchmen - set to arrive when the judge lets 'em go.

I’m going to open this by stating, quite openly, that I’ve not (yet) read the Watchmen graphic novel. This was my own choice, as I have a copy of the book which was given to me for my birthday, however, I wanted to go to see the movie as a blank slate.

I allowed myself the briefest of skims through Wikipedia’s Watchmen article to get the gist of just what was going on prior to heading to the IMAX to watch the movie. And what a movie it was. I was impressed beyond belief.

So many people that I’d spoken to prior to the film were ‘boycotting’ because it was ‘simply unfilmable’, and was seen as the ‘greatest graphic novel of all time’. Obviously, having not read the book (yet), I didn’t share their opinion, and put it to my boycotting friends that if it was a 90-minute popcorn movie, maybe I’d share in their pessimism. However, a buttock-numbing 2 hours and 40 something minutes would lead me to believe that someone’s clearly looked into this in great depth. I also, for the record, empathised with my friends by stating that I believe Kingdom Come to be the greatest graphic novel of all time, and completely unfilmable, so – imagining for a moment that someone gambled a lot of time and money on filming this – I could understand what they were feeling.

Back to the movie itself, as I said, I was impressed. It was also my first time at the IMAX, which I daresay, would have helped, but the fact that the auditorium was full, and pretty much silent throughout, gave Watchmen an additional buzz about it, and made watching it in the presence of pretty much every fanboy in Manchester seem like almost a spiritual experience.

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For me, Rorschach stole it. I know it was an ensemble cast, but wow. Jackie-Earle Haley was fantastic, and it seemed to dovetail nicely that, when the movie was at its most grisly and visually fantastic, there was Rorschach.

The most interesting bit, however, was listening in on everyone’s opinions in the lobby after the movie – a very mixed bag, indeed. I heard numerous fanboys voicing their extreme displeasure at the “many discrepancies from the original story”. I heard many a regular punter opining that it simply “wasn’t what they expected”. Indeed, the night after watching Watchmen, I found myself drawn into a minor debate with two members of our armed forces who described the movie simply as “crap”. From further discussion, I was able to ascertain their extreme displeasure lay primarily because the trailer promised an action movie, whereas what they found was more like (and I quote) “300, crossed with Columbo, with a bit of Spider-man thrown in”.

This is where I feel that people may struggle with Watchmen.

The fanboys expect a verbatim translation from the original source, regular cinema-goers will expect an action movie from the trailer.

I was left once more in deep discussion with the biggest comic book fan I know trying to ascertain why something which so many of the original fans of the novel were happy with, seemed to be turning off regular cinema-goers (and mainstream reviewers) as well as the most ardent of Watchmen fans.

We came up with a couple of issues. Firstly, the trailer does seem to show an action movie, and whilst Watchmen does have bundles of action, it’s the theory and slow-burning work away from the fight scenes which truly makes the movie what it is – and it simply isn’t what people were expecting. The only comparison which I can think of is the trailer for “Medellin” in the show Entourage, which I’m sure fans of the show will recall, and understand the analogy.

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The second issue is a sweeping generalization which I’m going to share, despite pretty much everyone who reads this probably panning me for it. When we read a book, our imaginations aren’t shackled by the realms of possibility. With most (un-illustrated) books, this ends up meaning that people’s imaginations run wild and we have our own mindset as to how this book would look on a big screen; off the top of my head, think of the many people you know who read the Harry Potter books, but steer away from the movies.

The difference is that when we read a graphic novel, however, what we’re seeing as we read is a very talented artist’s take on what’s going on (which is often better than our imagination), and we’re left to fill in the blanks ourselves as to how something happens, and how one frame flits to the next.

The issue here is that the guy filming this, even with massive advancements in CGI, can only film what he can film…regardless of whether this is true to the original source or not.

These issues led to an auditorium with the majority of people leaving, like myself, extremely happy at a visually-stunning, riveting film, with some of us having to explain what had happened in certain places to our other halves as we left. There was also a large group of diehard, Watchmen aficionados, and regular punters who were left wanting more.

For me, it’s by far and away the best film I’ve seen this year, and, although subtle re-writes were apparently necessary to make it more cinema-friendly, would be up there amongst the best comic-book adaptations that I’ve seen.

Watching the Watchmen proved to me that nothing’s unfilmable, but that not everyone’s going to be happy with the outcome of any text-to-screen adaptation.

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4 stars