Watchmen. It's often considered to be the greatest graphic novel of all time with the greatest cast of characters ever put into a comic book. Throughout the 80s, 90's, and 2000's, there were several attempts to get a film adaptation of the graphic novel produced with little success. However, in 2009 a film adaptation of the graphic novel was finally released under the direction of Zack Snyder who had already made a name for himself with his directorial style of 300. Reaction to the film from both fans and critics was....mixed, to say the least. Some thought it was the greatest superhero film other made, while others criticized it for the mixed feelings it induced upon its viewers and areas that were distant from the source material. I, however, saw the film before I read the entire graphic novel so comparing the two never crossed my mind and from the moment the credits rolled I considered it one of my favorite films of all time.
However, after finishing the graphic novel, I understood why reaction from fans was so mixed and I feel compelled to compare the two. I had been meaning to do something on Watchmen for a long time, and this seemed like the best thing to do. So in this special edition of Franchise V.S. Franchise, I will be comparing the graphic novel to the film and deciding which the superior is. This is Watchmen: Graphic Novel V.S. Film
To start things off, let's compare the closest thing this story has to main character, Rorschach. One thing I have to say about both versions is that they're both really, really good. But they are very different in very apparent ways. The Rorschach of the comic is described as a sociopath with a very flat, monotone, emotionless voice with an expressionless face and many of his actions reflects that. They're often carries out calmly and effectively with zero emotion and makes for a very unpredictable character.
In the film, the character is played by Jackie Earl Haley who could not be more different. He talks in a harsh, almost Christian Bale sounding Batman voice and always had a pissed off look on his face. He also seemed to come off as being a bit more of a maniac rather than a sociopath. As a result, he's very intimidating and you know if you cross him you're a dead man.
So in this, it's the sociopath vs. the maniac. And in this regard, it's definitely the comic version that wins. With the comic version, you never knew what the character was thinking simply because he kept a blank expression on his face and made for a much more interesting character. The comic version just seemed like he had a little bit more to offer and really got under the readers skin in a way the film version failed to. While the film version was badass and entertaining, the comic version was much more subtle and unpredictable.
I think the scenes/panels that really established this was the difference in the origin stories of the character. In the film, in the event that finally sent him over the edge he seemed more pissed off and emotional where as the comic version seemed broken and devoid of emotions. In the film, he chops the guys head in with a meat cleaver, saying “Men get arrested....Dogs get put down!” While in the comic he handcuffs the guy to a stove, pores gasoline all around the house they’re in, hand the man a saw while he's crying and begging and just tells him that he won't be able to cut through the chain in time before lighting the house on fire and watching it burn for an hour. That just leaves a bit more of an impact.
Don't get me wrong though. I loved Jackie Earl Haley in this role and thought he was an incredibly entertaining and memorable character. But in the one in the comic was just more subtle, got under your skin, and left an impact on both a conscience and sub-conscience level. Point goes to the graphic novel.
This is another character that was really good in both but were actually very similar. They both seemed emotionally devoid, monotone, expressionless, and completely detached from other people and as everyone points out, represented what a superhero with godlike powers would eventually become. So it really comes down to drawing style/acting. The problem with the comic was that every now and then he would really show an emotion, like anger, surprise and sadness. In the film, on the other hand, he just seemed blank and most of his emotions were very subtle. So subtle in fact that if you're not looking for them you probably won't see them. As a result whenever he says he is wrong or commits to something on an emotional level it make it all the more compelling and meaningful. With the comic, on the other hand, he just didn't seem as detached as he should during its first half. So in this regard, it's easy. The superior Dr. Manhattan is the one of the film. He ultimately just seemed a bit more detached, a bit more monotone, and a lot blander which, strangely enough, actually worked to the character's advantage. Point goes to the film.
I really hated Nite Owl/Dan Dreiberg in both the comic and the film. Why you may ask? BECAUSE HE NEVER DOES ANYTHING MEANINGFUL! Seriously! Have you reread the comic or re-watched the film lately!? He has next to no purpose in them other than to tie the characters together and be a Batman wannabe! But that aside, which one was the superior version of this useless character?
In the comic, he seemed like a bit of a weak minded character with no confidence whatsoever. Even when he finally regained his confidence halfway through the book he still seemed like a very bland, useless character. In the film he was a bit different; not nearly as pathetic but never seems to evolve in the film either and seemed just as unneeded. But his equipment and outfits in the film definitely seemed cooler. His outfit in the comic on the other hand looked....well...stupid and at times Archie just looked like a walnut with headlights. Other than that, nether rendition of the character seemed better than the other. However, there was one thing he did in the film that I think drives the film version over the top; he actually goes after Rorschach at the film's end. In the comic, he just kind of says “see you later” and doesn’t even care what happened to him. What kind of a friend does that?
In the end, neither rendition of the character is really that good but the film adaptation was slightly better. Point goes to the film.
Silk Specter II/Laurie Jupiter
Despite the fact that most of the cast in this film were great in their roles, they really went wrong with Laurie Jupiter/Silk Specter. To make a long story short, in the film she just seemed more like a whiney, two dimensional, ditzy teenager then a thirty-five year old masked avenger. With her, I didn't see the character, so much as some actress trying to play the character but not doing a great job at it. The comic rendition of her, however, could be a bit of a bitch but was all around a better written character. In it, she was three dimensional, actually had emotions, and her reactions to various situations seemed very legitimate.
Not much else to say on this, other than the film version has nothing on the comic version. In the comic she was three dimensional, had good dialog, and was a very engaging character. The film version she...wasn't. Point goes to the graphic novel.
Even though I liked both renditions of this character, it was really easy for me to decide which the superior was. With the comic you had a character that was obviously tortured by what he was doing and what he was going to do and his facial expressions showed it. With the film adaptation he always had a blank, emotionless, face and spoke with a voice that was always kind of monotone. As a result when it was revealed that he was the villain, (or the closest thing you can call a villain in this story), it wasn't as much of a surprise. When I first discovered this I thought “Yea, that guy was kind of fishy.” The comic rendition was a lot less suspecting and made his actions that much more shocking. While I did like the film version, it just didn't have anything on the comic version. Point goes to the graphic novel.
The Comedian/Edward Blake
What can I honestly say about this character? In both the comic and the film, he had some of the most memorable dialog ever and understood that humans are savage in nature no matter how hard they cover it up. His solution to this: become a parody of it; a comedian if you will. But which was truly the superior?
In the comic, I have to say, he was a relatively forgettable character whose only apparent purpose seemed to be killed in order to start the events of the novel. Not to say that he was uninteresting but he just didn't leave much of an impression on me the way other characters did. I'm not entirely sure why, but he just seemed a bit dull to me.
The film, on the other hand, actually turned him into the most memorable and interesting character of the entire film and this is all due to Jeffery Dean Morgan's fantastic performance as the character. Despite having little screen time he just left a big impression with his body language, actions and lines that were delivered perfectly with great emotion and vigor, (even when they sucked). I'm not entirely sure why, but his thoughts toward humanity and civilization just seemed to be a lot more compelling in the film as well. You just felt it in a way that for some reason you don't in the comic.
Their really isn't too much more to say about this character other then the film version blew the comic version out of the water. In the comic he just seemed like another character that was ultimately overshadowed by the others. The film, on the other hand, practically turned him into the star of the damn movie. His dialog was perfectly delivered, his mannerisms and body language and facial expressions all complemented it, and he was just so despicably that you couldn't help but love the character. Point goes to the film.
In the original comic, Watchmen had a huge number of minor characters whose roles weren't immediately apparent. The most notable of these were the news stand runner and the kid who's always reading Tales of the Black Freighter along with a number of other people who interact with them. While they weren't nearly as interesting as the main characters, or nearly as necessary to the story, they did add another layer of depth to it and gave you a bit of insight as to what the common people thought of the current crisis. Unfortunately the film nearly cut these characters out completely. I understand why they did it, but it was still aggravating and I know a lot of fans were disappointed by it.
Then you have some of the other major supporting characters like Dr. Malcolm Long who had layers of depth added to him in the comic, whereas in the film he was just kind of there for five minutes. With the film rendition, I didn't see the character so much as an actor trying to play the character but failing at it. The same can be said for Hollis Mason/Nite Owl I and Sally Jupiter/Silk Specter I. The guy who played as Mason wasn't bad but he wasn't great either. He was just kind of there. The woman who played Jupiter...well...she just sucked.
Their really isn’t much else to say in this department other then the supporting characters in the novel were better. They had more depth to them and were just all around better developed. Point goes to the graphic novel.
Cold War Tension
Ah, yes. Nothing says the 80s like good old fashion Cold War tension. In both the comic and film, it's very apparent and plays a big part in the plot and ultimately, the resolution. But they could not have been more different.
With the comic it was very subtle at first but got more and more intense as time went on. At the start of the comic it was just a casual threat. No one was really concerned about it simply because they felt that Dr. Manhattan’s presence insured that the Russians wouldn't attack. According to Alan Moore, this was actually an allegory for the people of America's feelings of invulnerability when Ronald Regan was in office; one that could easily be broken by the slightest crack, (speaking of which, why the hell didn't he have a credit of co-creator of the comic in the film?). And in the comic it does. After Manhattan leaves, events slowly start to escalate, starting with a Russian invasion of Afghanistan, which spill into Pakistan and by the comic's ending they are poised to invade the NATO nations of Western Europe. As a result of the steady pace, you really feel the mounting tension of the coming war and by the end you'll be biting your nails.
In the film, however, it was really shoved in your face from the start. Right off the bat, it started showing interviews with various scientists and politicians on...whatever the hell was going on, (some sort of territorial issues and weapons tests). Where the film really dropped the ball was that the only apparent reason for the potential war was Dr. Manhattan’s leaving of Earth. That's it. The Russians never really made any major moves and Nixon seemed ready to nuke the entire country for no apparent reason other than to show who the bigger dog was and over a few minor infractions. It just didn't make a whole lot of sense to me.
To make a long story short on this section, the cold war tension was both subtle and apparent in the comic while it was just shoved in your face in the film. In the film it really didn't make a while lot of sense as to why a war was about to start and in the comic it did. Not much more needs to be or can be said. Point goes to the graphic novel.
This is an area that could not be more controversial among fans and critic alike. I'm honestly not sure where to begin with this section so I guess I'll start with the area that's the most controversial: The Brain...Squid...Mutant...thing vs. the Dr. Manhattan Bombs. The ultimate plan of Ozymandias, (as I'm sure you all know), in the comic was to release a giant Brain...Squid...Mutant...thing on NYC and give everyone the impression that an alien or extra dimensional creature had invaded. In the process, it gives both the Americans and the Russians a common enemy to fight against; for the world to unite against a much greater foe that threatens all of humanity rather than a single nation. For as stupid as the... Brain...Squid...Mutant...thing looked it was a very plausible solution, (if a bit over the top).
The film, on the other hand, was a lot different. In it, Ozymandias manages to recreate Dr. Manhattan’s energy and uses it to create bombs that destroy various cities around the globe. In the process, it gives the world the impression that Dr. Manhattan destroyed these cities and causes the world to unite against “the evils of Dr. Manhattan”.
Of these two solutions I definitely found the Brain...Squid...Mutant...thing solution to be a lot more plausible. Throughout the film and graphic novel, the writers go out of their way to establish just how godlike and indestructible Dr. Manhattan is. So in that, it really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that the world would unite against him so much as grovel to him. But even that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. If these countries were already ready to kill each other over...well...nothing why would they grovel to Dr. Manhattan if they were already on a suicidal course? I mean it just doesn’t make any sense!
However, where the film really shines is in the execution of the ending. Now granted there were some great and powerful moments in the comic. For example, Ozymandias’ speech on the pharos and uniting the world was much better done comic. When Laurie confronts her mother about the identity of her father she bursts out into tears after Laurie leaves and kisses a picture of the Comedian. However, the impact the film leave on its viewer was much greater. For starters, it was contained. It wasn't too long yet not to short whereas the comic's ending just seemed to go on and on.
There were two things, however, that really put the execution of the film’s ending over the edge. The first was Rorschach’s death. In the comic, it just kind of happened. There was no suspense, no build up, and no tension, as if the writers were in a rush to finish it. In the film, they really drew it out, building as much tension and suspense as possible and gives close ups of the actors’ faces which were full of emotion and I found myself praying that Dr. Manhattan wouldn't do it. And when he finally killed him, my heart dropped and my eyes watered. The comic just didn't have the same effect.
The second thing was the final shot/panel. In the comic, it just ends with some retarded looking news guy sorting through a crank file, finding Rorschach’s journal. In the film it slowly zooms in on the book and Rorschach’s voice over says “Rorschach’s journal. October 12th, 1985. Tonight, a comedian died in New York.” That ending had me saying “hell yea”, lifted my spirits, and left a much bigger impact.
Even though I felt the Brain...Squid...Mutant...thing was a lot more plausible then the Dr. Manhattan Bombs, the film just succeeded in leaving more of an impact and was better executed. Even though I know this area is open for debate, I going to give it to the film on this one. Point goes to the film.
Now for the big one. The plot arc and storytelling. Sadly this is an area where 99% of source materials are better than the adaptation and Watchmen is no acceptation to this. That's not to say that there weren't parts of the film that were just as good, if not better, then the comic. For a film adaptation just over two hours long they really did a great job of adapting the novel to the big screen. But unfortunately, too much always gets lost in the creative process and editing rooms.
Areas that were better in the film include the majority of the action sequences. Unfortunately some of them, such as the fight between Nite Owl II, Silk Specter II and the prisoners seemed a bit forced. Like they were trying a little too hard to put a little more action into the film. The opening credit role also did a really good job of summing up the evolution of the masked heroes and it always makes me a bit sad to see the fate of some of these heroes. But unfortunately, it didn't get as involved as the novel did and, as a result, lacked the same level of depth.
There were a few areas, however, where the film blew the comic out of the water. Now I'm not talking about sequences like the ending, (which is open for debate), but the areas where the film makers really surpassed the comic. One was the opening fight between the Comedian and the mysterious assassin. It was just awesome to watch and made the viewer sympathize with a character you knew nothing about. You also had the Vietnam sequence, The Comedian’s drunken talk with Moloch, and Dr. Manhattan’s origin story; all of which I felt were undoubtedly superior.
The rest of the storytelling, however, was undoubtedly in the novel's favor. It just added more depth to the plot, character, and really made you feel the tension the story and did a better job of putting you into the lives and minds of the characters. Not to mention you had all the scenes and sequences that were cut down or out of the film, such as Rorschach’s sessions with Dr. Malcolm Long and, most notably, Tales of the Black Freighter, which, in my opinion, left more of an impact than anything else in the novel. Others include Rorschach’s talks with Moloch and the reveal of who Laurie's true father was, which were better written and executed. The way the story was put together was brilliantly done and the way the narratives overlapped the events was perfectly done and really transported you to another state of mind. It's just has an effect on the readers that usually only novels can pull off and the film just didn't do as, (key word being as) good of a job at this.
Granted I do understand why so much had to be cut out of the film and I feel that the filmmakers really did a great job of adapting it to the screen. I know the result of this section probably doesn’t surprise anyone but I felt I had to address areas where the film had it. But, ultimately, it's the graphic novel that has the better and more engaging storytelling. Point goes to the graphic novel.
9.5 times out of 10 an adaptation won't be as good or superior to the source material and, quite frankly, Watchmen is no acceptation to this. Now don't get me wrong. I loved the film and believe it's one of the best adaptations out their but it just wasn't as good as the comic. Now there were many sequences where the film was just as good if not better then the comic and it did do a great job recapturing much of its essence. But it just wasn't as good, (key word once again is as). With the comic, you had layers of depth that the film just couldn't recreate and most of the characters were better written and drawn in novel. It's not really anyone's fault, it's just the way it is. In the end, both are really good, and the film is a great adaptation with many strengths but ultimately, (and I know this probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone), the graphic novel is truly the superior.
Well, that's if for this installation of Franchises vs. Franchises. As I said above, I've been meaning to do something on Watchmen for a long time and this seemed to be the best thing to do. Thank you to those who stuck with me this long, screw you to those who didn't and burn in hell to those who don't like Watchmen. So until next time this is the Illusive One saying...