Personally, I thought that despite all they had cut out, there was nothing substantially missing. If anything, I thought the film could have been much leaner. There is so much going on, whilst other might consider it sacrilege to suggest further cutting, I think it would have been possible. The many, oh so many, transitions into various characters’ backstories, flashbacks to the 40’s, to Vietnam, inevitably slowed the film down. So much so, that by the time were done with them, it feels like we’re just about getting going, whereas in fact the climax is upon us. I understand that much of the information garnered from those flashbacks is essential to inform us of things we need to know to understand the larger mechanics of the story.
But adaptation is not that simple. It’s not an easy task, I know that. But just because you’re adapting from a medium that looks like a movie storyboard doesn’t mean that you can just follow that exactly. Cuts that will anger the fans of the source material have to be main in order to preserve the integrity of the story so that it works in this new medium of film. As it is, you have to strain to pay attention and understand how all the pieces fit together. Lots of the pieces shown are largely irrelevant. There are multiple ways of showing character. We don’t need to see one of Rorschach’s previous investigations, or - hell - even his childhood, to understand that he has a rigid moral code which he will live by until his death. No matter what. Yes, it might help the audience sympathize with him to learn of details from when he was growing up, but do we really benefit from any of those visions? Could the same effect of sympathy not have been created by some other means for the sake of it working better within the medium of film? I propose that it could have been far more efficient to show the adult Walter Kovacs before we know that he is Rorschach, as we do in the novel. A pathetic doom-obsessed loner. The revelation then, that he is Rorschach resonates far more effectively in the book because we have seen his existence outside of the mask. That is what makes us feel empathy for him most greatly. Yes, the glimpses of his childhood are informative, but we don’t need to know. They don’t add anything. I’m just using the Rorschach elements here as an example. There are many more characters and flashback elements which could have been handled far more succinctly for Watchmen to work better as a film.
The problem is one that we come across time and again. Look at the Harry Potter movies. You can just take an article from one medium and transplant it into another. It doesn’t work that way. It’s not that simple. The result, as with Watchmen, is that it is a disappointment. Of course, I completely understand, having read the graphic novel, that Watchmen is a particularly difficult article to adapt to the screen. And as with any beloved book (or cartoon, or TV show) you’re gonna anger some fans by the changes you make. But the final product will be all the better for it. As it is, although it had its faults, I didn’t hate Watchmen the movie, but I doubt I’ll ever watch it again in my life.
One aspect of the film, though, I feel I must champion is the change made to the ending. Without spoiling anything, let’s just say in the book the climax pivots on an alien element which is introduced only within the final pages of the story. In the film they’ve done away with that concept completely, and instead reframed the denouement on an element already firmly established within the world of the Watchmen. It works. It covers all the bases, leaves the larger framework intact, and satisfies the movie audience far more successfully than introducing a brand new thing right at the end of the movie. In a recent interview for Creative Screenwriting magazine, the two writers defended the change for the film version. “It was a solution that happened to fit in perfectly with the puzzle pieces that had to be there,” Hayter said. “The result is the same, which is important,” said Tse. “I can defend it a million different ways as to why it still accomplishes exactly the same thing.”
It’s a shame neither extended that attitude to the rest of the picture.