Alex's Reviews > Watchmen

Watchmen by Alan Moore
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's review
Jun 10, 2009

it was amazing
Read in January, 1990

Best comic book ever, nothing else even comes close. I recently watched the movie, which I think did as well as possible trying to portray this book.

There are two major directions on the word "Watchmen" itself which are interesting to follow.

One is the incredible structural detail of the plot, as each piece is a delicate piece of machinery moving with some overall purpose towards the plot itself. Watches and watch-like machinery is repeated all over the place, and the characters themselves each play their own role in this. This is one of the only pieces I've ever seen that jibes free will with predeterminism, the ultimate contradictory concepts, in a somewhat satisfying way- as each piece of machinery is self aware and exerting their free will, and yet predetermined to reach the final outcome. And it does it from a level of physics on up, with Dr. Manhattan as a self-aware entity able to perceive quantum time with a singular past and future. He is able to do literally anything, and is aware of everything that will happen to him, but does not alter anything in his timeline, and yet is not trapped by his fate.

And this steps into the other major theme on the word "Watchmen"- as protectors. With the necessary "Who watches the watchmen?" question. And in this story, the answer is no one. The Watchmen are the masters of the world, everything else from popular sentiment to government institutions are crushed by the direction the Watchmen take the world. And the philosophical guidance of the characters is what shapes their will. From the nihilism of the Comedian to the moral absolutism of Rorschach- but the "lesser" characters have their philosophy marginalized by the "might" of the greater characters of Dr. Manhattan and Ozymandias. But might does not necessarily translate to right. Dr. Manhattan's character represents all might, no will, the ultimate laissez-faire- he literally does nothing except at the will of others in the entire story- from his following his father's will to become a watchmaker and then a physicist, to his actions at the will of the government, to Silk Spectre, to Ozymandias and humanity overall. And Ozymandius represents the ultimate in the expression of human will- a totally self-made individual reaching the pinnacle in every category of human endeavor. In the end his utilitarianism appears to win out, but the book leaves the open question of whether human will (the world as we will it to be) actually trumps objective truth (the world as it is) via Rorschach's journal.

Now all of this works well in the book, because of the incredible depth of the structure, with multiple concurrent storylines, flashbacks, pieces on the Watchmen world's historical background, etc. You can read this book dozens or hundreds of times, and find new stuff every time.

Obviously you can't put it all in the movie- there's no room. A lot of it is in there as vaporware, but if you haven't read the book you probably won't see how deep the rabbit hole runs. So I'm not going to fault the movie for cutting this scene or that scene, even though it dropped so much depth out of the story. It did as well as it could do, in my opinion, keeping the story together and moving in an entertaining and coherent manner.

Stuff in the movie that I didn't think was that good:
A lot of the violence seemed gratuitous- eye candy to satisfy the people who went to the movie to see an action packed comic book movie. I don't remember that much joint snapping, compound fracturing fighting happening in the book- there was a lot of violence in the book, but it seemed a lot more muted.
The midnight scene at the end felt rushed and weird. It seemed like they were just trying to squeeze in everything and call it a day by the end. Zap Dr. Manhattan and the cat Ozymandius catches the bullet Dr. Manhattan's back! but what's on TV? how could you do this? we have to!, but Rorshach must die!, you understand, kthxloveyoubye. You could barely get the implications that this was the climax of the movie, and a climax of competing philosophical arguments.

Stuff in the movie that I did think was good:
The alternate armageddon I liked a lot. I think the movie did better than the book, to be honest. Blasphemy!

It fit better, because in the book, there were really only three things that were not grounded in reality.

1) Dr. Manhattan and his powers
2) Tachyons, which were a plot device needed for Dr. Manhattan's storyline- to limit the limitless
3) Psychics

Everything else, although fictional, was possible (at least theoretically).

By getting rid of the psychics and the psychic monster at the end, they eliminated everything impossible, except things related to Dr. Manhattan, which is a necessary plot device for exploring absolute conditions. I think that makes a more elegant framework, to be honest.

Plus, without being able to include all the foreshadowing on the abductions and genetic engineering, just dropping a psychic monster into the middle of New York would have been the most retarded climax possible.

So I liked the movie.

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