Watchmen: The IMAX Experience
David Hayter, Alex Tse, [Alan Moore], Dave Gibbons, and Zack Snyder, 2009

A while back I vowed never to watch a movie in a commercial theater again: too many ads, people talking on cell phones, crying babies, etc. But this morning suddenly a switch flipped in my head and I thought, wait — my favorite book, one of the three works of art I consider essentially perfect, got turned into a movie, and I'm going to wait months for it to come out on video when it's playing on an IMAX screen today? Are you fucking kidding me?

When I got home, Elizabeth naturally asked whether I had liked it. I don't know whether I'll ever actually be able to answer that. I really can't imagine how the movie plays on its own terms, because I know every panel of the book by heart; watching the film, I caught every reference in every frame and knew exactly how everything related to everything else. Would someone who'd never read the book have anything close to the same experience, or would such a viewer be as bewildered as I was when I watched The Lord of the Rings? Hell if I know. But what I can say is this:

This is the movie version of Watchmen. This is not some idiotic studio exec's half-assed story idea with the "Watchmen" title slapped onto it. This is... hell, from what I know of Hollywood? This is a fucking miracle. I mean, there aren't too many people out there who know Watchmen better than I do, and even fewer who love it more. And I really can't say that there's anything I'd change about the way this movie was done. Well, I probably would have dispensed with the jerky "two seconds of slo-mo so you can see this dude's elbow breaking" stuff. But otherwise, no. They did it right.

That's different from saying that it was a good idea to make a movie out of Watchmen in the first place. The story does lose something in the transition to the screen. If I had to put a name on it I'd have to say that it's missing the... chunking, I guess? The book is divided up into twelve chapters, each with its own internal organization, and I did feel that something was lost in running them all together (and blunting the impact of some of them through compression: at 2 hours 43 minutes, the film is way too short). Even more, though, I missed the way that in the book, a panel is eternal: you can linger over the words, study the image, contemplate it as a small work of art in itself. In a movie, speech becomes temporal. Sentences whip by and are lost in time. I can't imagine how much of the language would have blown past me if not for the fact that I could already mouth the words along with the characters.

I do have to mention one way the film improved on the book: Laurie Jupiter works better as a real girl. Dr. Manhattan returns to Earth when he realizes that the unlikelihood of any particular organism existing — "the odds of your ancestors being alive; meeting; siring this precise son; that exact daughter" — makes every lifeform a miracle. He looks at Laurie and marvels at the odds overcome "to distill so specific a form from that chaos." And, well, that line works a lot better when it is a specific form! A specific human actress, rather than a fairly abstract drawing that could be anyone!

(Also, in the book, when Rorschach encounters Dan and Laurie in prison, he says, "Incidentally, good seeing you in uniform, Daniel. Like old times. And Miss Juspeczyk. Although never liked your uniform. Nothing personal." Well, Laurie's costume in the movie is a huge improvement. It actually makes her look like a superhero, which is kind of important. In the (unlikely?) event that Watchmen does well enough that the studio demands a sequel, I would actually watch a Silk Spectre movie!)

So there you have it, my pretty useless writeup of one of the two movies that could make me voluntarily head out to the multiplex. And since I haven't heard anything about a Star Control II movie in the works, it's probably pretty safe to say that I won't be back for a while, unless I'm seized by the need to see this one again.

Return to the Calendar page!