Who Watches the Watchmen?

By Abrahim Harb 

Watchmen, both the movie and film are densely packed with text and set in an alternate reality which had the presence of superheroes, and mirrored society during the 1980’s. The book follows a strict nine-panel layout; the movie follows the text very closely, leading first time readers/movie-goers to become slightly confused. Although, both the movie and the book were crafted with diligence, precision and perfection, the story lacks cohesion with the constant flashbacks and leaps through time, space and plot. According to hwww.johncoulthart.com Moore said, “Watchmen was designed to be read 4 or 5 times, with some links and allusions only becoming apparent to the reader after several times.” This in return does not allow the viewers to fully comprehend the characters and their back stories. Therefore, I will focus on the characterization and how it differs between the book and the movie, of the same name, as well as some aspects of the plot expanding in the movie. 

The constant flashbacks leave the viewers of the movie version in a haze and utterly confused for most of the movie. One must read the book, several times and understand the text to fully comprehend the context of the movie—narrowing down the demographic drastically that a movie should reach. Towards the end of the movie, the ‘superhero’s’ who fought crime in the 1930’s and 40’s are left cripple, misfits who differ on the ideology behind a ‘superhero’. This group of superhero’s known as ‘The Minutemen’ are not only given an alter ego—but they have a human element that strikes the right chords specifically with movie-goers. The Minutemen go through the trials and tribulations that other ‘normal’ people go through, such as dating and breaking up, rape and inter or intrapersonal issues.

The characterization of these characters redefines what a superhero is, ditching the typical stereotype given to heroes. In the book, the superheros fulfill their duties as heroes to a certain extent. They are the antagonist and protagonist at the same time; they are extremely violent compared to the book. Additionally some of the actions they do or the way they respond seem to be taken directly from the book and executed with caution.

However, Rorschach, in the book handcuffs the child molester to the stove and sets the house on fire. Whereas in the movie he slices the top of the child molesters head with a cleaver, hacking away at it several times. Both are equally brutal, however the book version inflicts the pain the child went through, upon his molester, as he slowly burns to death. The movie version is blunt and evokes the emotion of deep hate for this molester, perhaps Rorschach was molested as a child. 

Another instance is during the scene when Rorschach encounters Big Figure (who is ironically a midget) and his minions who have ‘a beef’ with him. In the book, he gets his arms hacked off, however in the movie he gets his arms handcuffed to the bars and his throat cut was another gory detailed added by the director. Additionally one minion says “he can’t wait to smell Rorschach cooking” before attempting to go after Rorschach with a torch. After some research, I discovered that “The Questions,” a Ditko Charlton character is the inspiration behind the character of Rorschach. The majority of the characters are spawns of other well-known cartoons. When the idea for the book first began, the idea was to take a set of characters and by the end of the series leave them physically and mentally crippled and no longer capable of doing anything in society, but take. 

In the beginning scenes of the movie, superheroes were outlawed, under the Keane Act. It was not elaborated upon, implying that it disbanded The Minutemen leaving them to either join the police department or lead lives as normal people. The Keane Act has a larger portion in the book, explaining its purpose and significance to the plot. 

Rorschach continues to ‘fight crime’ under the cover of night, Ozymandians works for the police force, everyone else disbands and Nite Owl II and Silk Spectre reunite to fight the forces of Dr. Manhattan and get Rorschach out of jail. 

The character of Ozymandias in the book seems be more likable, smarter and popular. He comes off as an arrogant, self-absorbed person; his character gave out odd vibes, implying that he had something hidden in the movie. His aesthetic look is reminiscent of somebody evil and has the spiteful look in his eyes. 

The casting and characterization sticks closely to the original book, but it comes from a different viewpoint through the eyes of Zach Snyder, the director—and seems to hit the same plot points. Moreover, many of the fighting scenes were draw out, almost to the extent of loosing authenticity. 

One scene in particular that sticks in my mind, is the scene between Silk Spectre and The Comedian during a flashback. It reveals the deeply angered side of The Comedian when he slaps and punches Silk Spectre after he attempts to rape her and somebody intervenes. His character is murdered at the beginning of both versions, which spawns the series of events that occur. Through the flashbacks of other characters his personality and life become apparent. 

In the book he is a cynical, cold and thinks he is almighty. This is essentially a contributing factor in his death. He is capable of having deeper insights other than hiding behind his mask as a superhero; however he continues to portray the male stereotype. 

Janey Slater, Dr. Manhattan’s former love reveals that she is dying of cancer and takes her wig of in the movie. In the book it takes an in-depth look at that very moment in time. In the movie, that moment suffices—the acting is superb, the moment is crafted perfectly leaving the audience shocked. If Snyder had decided to take an in-depth approach to this scene in the movie, it would have ruined the moment; however it would have allowed viewers to gather more sympathy for Slater. 

Alan Moore crafted the characters and plot with extreme detail, sometimes to an excessive extent. Zach Snyder adapted the then deemed ‘unfilmable’ script which had been shoved between many different studios for 21 years, eventually ending up in the hands of Warner studio. As any good director does, Snyder added his flare to the movie, adding a new element to the film.