When watching WATCHMEN at the Landmark earlier tonight, one thought that crossed my mind was that this movie could not have been half as effective if it had been made in the late eighties, or the early nineties, as was planned then.
It's not just the improvements in special effects; that's relative, and what's cutting edge now will be hokey in just a few years. When WATCHMEN was first serialized in comic book form in the mid-eighties, the irony of a comic book -- the home of costumed heroes for several decades -- commenting on and examining the concept of superheroes in relationship to Western civilization was potent. At that point, there had been only a few superhero movies, and no high-budget major ones apart from the Christopher Reeve Superman films.
Now that comic-book movies have all but supplanted the comic book as the superhero medium (at least in the public eye), the irony of a superhero movie commenting on and examining the superhero concept (while using the conventions of superhero movies -- suspensions of physics, "bullet time" manipulation of images, and people taking superhuman amounts of punishment)is almost as potent as the comic book was back then.
Having seen the movie, my opinion is the same as it was when I saw the first clips from the film: It's still unclear whether there should have been a WATCHMEN movie; but now that there is one, this was a pretty good stab at it. It's coming under criticism as too slavish an adaptation (and indeed, numerous scenes are copied panel for panel and word for word from the graphic novel) while never coming close to the wonderful density of the actual comic. And there is no way that the entire graphic novel, along with all the supplemental material stuck in the back of each issue, could be shoved into a single movie -- some support for the argument that the film should never be made.
But you can enjoy a good book, and enjoy an effective film adaptation of it, without regretting what got cut out or changed in the transition. So it was with WATCHMEN. There were definite missteps (particularly some ham-handed use of music behind some scenes -- Mozart's Requiem should probably join Carmina Burana as classical pieces that should never again be used seriously as film music); but I found most of the film effective as a film. Particularly good were Jackie Earl Haley's performance as Rohrschach and Billy Crudup's (and some superb motion capture's) emotionally lost god Dr. Manhattan.
The question remains whether those who never read the graphic novel -- those who, unlike me, don't find themselves recalling where they were and what they were feeling when they were reading the comics -- will think of the movie.
If they thought the DARK KNIGHT movie was bleak, wait'll they get a load of this.