Monday, March 16, 2009

My Thoughts on Watchmen & My Favorite War Movies

Rorschach’s Journal. October 12th, 1985: Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach. This city is afraid of me. I have seen its true face. [Opening Panel]

Watchmen by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons & Jon Higgins
DC Comics, 1987
Science Fiction (Graphic Novel); 416 pgs

* (Very Good)

“In Europe and America, there’s a growing feeling of hysteria . . .” So begins the song Russians written by Sting. While the song plays no part in the graphic novel or movie entitled Watchmen, it certainly fits the dark and chaotic mood captured during that time period in history. During the early to mid-1980’s, in both our reality and the alternate one created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, the Soviets and the United States were circling around each other and the fear of a nuclear war was on many people’s minds.

In Watchmen, nuclear war seems imminent. The only reason the Soviets have not attacked is because of Dr. Manhattan, the United States' weapon that helped win the Americans the Vietnam War in the 1970’s. However, that changes when someone appears to be murdering masked crusaders in New York. Rorschach, a masked hero himself, is the only one who seems to suspect anything is a foul. He sets out to warn his fellow superheroes and get to the bottom of the recent murder of the Comedian, a hero that was both loved and hated by those who knew him.

In 1977, the Unites States passed the Keane Act, outlawing costumed vigilantes. It was a time when the general public was balking at authority figures and a major police strike only compounded the situation. Costumed vigilantes were no longer the heroes of society. Some turned their status as former superheroes to their advantage while others chose to fade away quietly into the background, resuming normal lives. The Nite Owl is one who chose a more quiet life, settling into a regular routine, middle age creeping up on him; whereas Ozymandias profited from his past as a superhero, using his money to better society and the earth. Dr. Manhattan, once a scientist whose fate was tied to a terrible accident in the laboratory, continues to work for the government. At his side is his lover, the former Silk Spectre. Rorschach is the only one among them who refused to give up his costume and continues to roam the streets, dealing out his own form of justice.

The characters, while parodies of fictional superheroes, are quite unique in their own right. They each have their own stories; stories that explain how and why they turned to vigilantism as an occupation and the direction their lives have taken with the changing times. The vigilantes described in the pages of the graphic novel and in the movie are flawed. It is not a simple case of right versus wrong or good versus evil. The characters as well as their stories, including the mail story arc, play on moral ambiguities.

Rorschach is perhaps the most sympathetic of the characters. My husband says he was the biggest parody of all in the book, and yet he tends to be many people’s favorite. Perhaps it is in part because his past is the saddest and garners the most sympathy. Or it could be because his view of the world in black and white is easier to stomach, especially when faced with the situations he has had to deal with. He fights on the side of justice, something most of us want.

Dan Dreiberg, the Nite Owl, is another of my favorite characters. He is good-natured and kind. He is a bit of a geek, interested in his gadgets and owl mythology. He became a costumed vigilante with the best of intentions.

My husband insisted I include something about the pirate story that runs through Watchmen. There were moments I found it a bit distracting, I admit, the constant interruptions from the main story, but it really is an interesting tale that fits in nicely with the overall atmosphere of the novel. A boy sits day after day entranced by a comic book, Tales of the Black Freighter, as the world around him appears to be falling apart, the threat of war imminent. In the story, a man rushes home to try and save his family, fearing he will return too late and the pirates will have gotten there first. By the middle to the end of the story, I was just as entranced as that boy must have been. I wasn’t surprised by the end of that particular tale. I was, however, surprised at how Watchmen ended.

When I finished reading Watchmen, I turned to Anya, my eight month old kitten, and said, “That was horrible.” Then when my husband asked me a few minutes later what I thought, I repeated the sentiment. Those who have read the graphic novel will most likely understand what I mean. I was not talking about the novel itself. It’s an amazing story. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons created a complex and intricate tale that has stood the test of time. I understand now why some consider it a classic in its genre. It was one of the first comics that dared to deconstruct the image of the superhero, painting them in more realistic and human light. The genius that went into the artwork and the structure of the book is also what makes it stand out. As for the ending, it really couldn't have ended any other way.

In regards to the graphic novel, I at first struggled to get a handle on who the characters were and at times the jumps in time and stories got a little confusing, but it all came together in the end. Watchmen is much deeper than one might assume at first glance. There is a lot to it. A lot more than I expected, that’s for sure. This is definitely a graphic novel that deserves to be reread. I am sure there are many nuances I missed this first time around. This book would actually make a great book group selection.

I am quite glad I watched the movie so soon after having read the graphic novel. It made all those little movie Easter eggs stand out. I got a kick out of each one. The movie actually cleared up a couple of questions I had after reading the graphic novel.

Director Zack Snyder went to great pains to try and make the movie as close an interpretation to the book as he could. He did a pretty job of it too. There were definite differences. The pirate comic book story (Tales of the Black Freighter) that ran through the graphic novel had to be left out (it will be included in the DVD version), the 1st generation of costumed vigilantes was glossed over quickly, and the biggest and most obvious change: the ending (the mood and outcome were more or less the same, however). There were others, of course, but you don’t really want me to go into each one. And even if you did, I wouldn’t. I have to let you find out some things for yourself, after all.

There were a couple of instances when I wished I could rewind the film to see a scene over again. Not because I was confused, but because I felt like I had missed something I should have caught.

Both my husband and I walked out of the theater satisfied with the movie. It was not last year’s The Dark Knight, which I loved. This is no five star movie. Sure the Mars scene wasn’t nearly as spectacular as it is in the novel. It is obvious the story and characters came straight from a comic book. I especially appreciated how well the movie was cast—many of the characters looked exactly like they did in the pages of the graphic novel.

It is a very dark film in terms of storyline. It has its more violent moments and there is occasional nudity. Overall it was a fun movie. It was also thought provoking. The movie captured the overall feel and mood of the graphic novel—the moral ambiguity so well expressed in the book.

It’s been a long time since my husband and I had so much to say about a movie over lunch as we did Watchmen. We’re still talking about it days later.

Movie: Watchmen
Genre: ‎Action, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Thriller
MPAA Rating: R
Directed By: Zack Snyder
Writers: David Hayter & Alex Tse (screenwriters); Dave Gibbons (graphic novel illustrator) & Alan Moore (graphic novel, uncredited)
Rating: 3 Bags of Popcorn

Monday's Movie hosted by Sheri at A Novel Menagerie

I considered skipping this week's Monday Movie Meme simply because my review of Watchmen is just a wee bit long, but the topic this week is just too good to pass up. The Monday Movie Meme is brought to you by The Bumbles.

This week's movie topic is all about War . . .
We were determined to make some headway in our Netflix queue on Saturday night but when we turned on the T.V., the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan appeared on the screen. It is impossible to turn away from the entire opening sequence of that movie - regardless of how horrifying the images. We feel it is one of the most jarring images of war you can find in a movie. War lends itself well to film and here are some of our favorites. What about you?
I love war movies. I am my father's daughter after all. I was raised on war movies. Well, war and action movies. I am sure the fact that my father is a war veteran himself plays a part in that as well. Just a few of my favorites that come to mind immediately:

Glory (1989)
The Great Escape (1963)
Dirty Dozen (1967)
Empire of the Sun (1987)
Schindler's List (1993)
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Band of Brothers (2001, TV mini series)
Letters From Iwo Jima (2006)
Flags of Our Fathers (2006)
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Platoon (1986)
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Hotel Rwanda (2004)
Black Hawk Down (2001)
Three Kings (1999)
Star Wars

Do you have a favorite war movie? Tell me about it!


  1. Great review of the Watchmen. The main thing that bugged me about the movie was the choppiness of the violence. It was normal, and then suddenly you're seeing a guy's arm broken in half with the bone and everything. It was distracting. (Not to mention gross) I also thought the movie slightly missed the point of the costumed heroes being real people without super powers. At times they did seem inclined to supernatural talents. But overall it was enjoyable and visually it was a faithful representation of the book. I went back and thumbed through my copy and most of the sets were exact.

  2. Great review, Wendy! I haven't read the graphic novel yet but have heard a lot of great things on both the novel and the movie. My husband wanted to watch this too but I told him we should wait a bit later considering the crowds at the cinemas...

    As for war movies, I haven't seen any from your list except Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down and Star Wars. I think I'll have to look out for the rest in the near future, hehe.

  3. Wow! That is a nice list of war movies! I totally did not go there with Star Wars, but you're right. I, too, have watched so many movies about war (especially WWII) that I was afraid I wouldn't get the kids to school!

  4. Nice review. The graphic novel and movie are already on my lists, but your review has inspired me to get to them sooner rather than later. And as for war movies, I don't know that I'd say it's my favorite, but I thought Full Metal Jacket was very good.

  5. I liked the Watchmen, but I haven't read the graphic novel, so I have nothing to compare it to.

    As for war movies,tops on the list is Schindler's list, the Boy in the striped Pajamas, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Star Wars.

    We just started watching Band of Brothers, which I got my hubby for Christmas, this weekend.

  6. I didn't read the graphic novel before I saw the movie like I wanted to but I did like the movie even if I thought it was a bit melancholy. I don't believe I have a favorite war movie really. I like The Last Samurai and I LOVE how raw the war scenes are in Gone with the Wind but I don't watch very many others.

  7. REALLY NICE REVIEW! Especially your acknowledgment about the value of a piece of work giving you something to talk and think about days later. That's one of the biggest points of Watchmen - it's not the most positive you'll ever read (especially on first sitting), but come back to it and you'll find more and more each time, new things popping up every time.

    And you have a great list of "war" film ups there - having caught to opening of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN this weekend I completely agree! Being more of an older film buff I'll throw a couple old gems on the table:

    CASABLANCA (1942)
    PATHS OF GLORY (1957)

    Awesome blog, by the way!

  8. Glad to see someone else gets as carried away by the War genre as we do! One that I forgot to list that I love is The Killing Fields. Great list - thanks for playing along. Oh - and love the Star Wars appearance :0)

  9. I think I'm going to read Watchmen soon, but I may skip the movie. I've heard pretty mixed reviews.

    I'm not much for war movies, in general, much to my husband's disappointment.

  10. One of these days I have to watch Band of Brothers. My brother loves it.

  11. Enjoyed your thoughts on Watchmen (the graphic novel and the movie) although I'm not sure how Rorschach qualifies as a parody (I assume he'd have been handled similarly if Moore had been using the character The Question as he originally proposed; plus there were very few, if any, heroes like Rorschach around at that time to parody).

    Personally, I thought it was a really faithful adaptation (albeit with some necessary shortcuts which I thought lessened the impact of some scenes from the graphic novel, but it's been two decades since I read it so I could just be misrembering things). The problem was that it was so faithful that it seemed kind of redundant if you'd read the original (though I loved the opening titles with its historial montage).

    Great list of war movies. Glad somebody included Star Wars (I was sorely tempted to do so too).

  12. Can you believe I've never seen Schindler's List!

  13. I truly enjoyed viewing 'Watchmen,' although I will have to state that I think there was a bit *too* much unnecessary violence and sex. However, I understand and accept the general moral lesson the movie and the comic book are trying to convey, and I agree with it.

    I love your blog as well; very insightful!

  14. Great review. I got frustrated halfway through and started skipping the pirate story, although it made me smile to see the paper seller and the reader in the film. I was look warm about the book first time, although I will read it again and give it more time. I loved loved loved the film.

  15. You and I have much the same tastes in war movies!

  16. Super interesting review. There has been much talk in Danish papers about this movie (and the comic? it has been made from. I knew nothing about this before all this hoopla about the film ;-) Thanks for a very good and through review.

  17. My dad was a military man, so I'm familiar with the sounds of war coming from the TV. My favorite (right now) is probably Saving Private Ryan. Band of Brothers is on my Netflix queue. My dad loved the series and I have yet to watch it. I've been making my way through various books on WW2. Finished Flyboys and have Flags of our Fathers on the stack to read. I too am my father's daughter :o)

  18. Wow. What an awesome review! I am now completely, undeniably hooked on the idea of picking up this book! Probably would have gotten around to it eventually anyway, but now there is no doubt whatsoever!

    I love your list of war movies, too! So cool to see you include Band of of my favorites. Two more I really love are Gettysburg and Andersonville.

  19. Great review of the movie, Wendy! Please send my love to Anya and your two other furkids. She must be quite a big girl now. :)

    I'm not a big fan of war movies, but you've listed some great and familiar ones. I like Star Wars though! :D

  20. I love Band of Brothers. I could watch the entire miniseries once a year! The bonus features are wonderful, too, especially the behind the scenes video by Ron Livingston (Capt. Lewis Nixon). Superb program!

  21. I want to see The Watchmen. You did a great job on the review!

  22. What would have been great is if your kitty looked at you and said something back!

    Thanks for the great review!

  23. Couldn't agree more! Watchmen the movie certainly wasn't the graphic novel, but enjoyable and eyeopening nonetheless. Great review!

    One of my favourite war films is the series, Band of Brothers (also really enjoyed the book), but I also love The Thin Red Line, for its beauty, horror and amazing soundtrack.

  24. I have the Watchmen on hold from my library but have yet to read it. My boys are going to watch the movie without me.

    My favorite war film would have to be Band of Brothers...that was riveting!! Loved it!

  25. That's so cool that you guys were still discussing the movie days after you watched it. I love it when books & movies give me lots to think about and discuss. I do want to read the graphic novel and I definitely want to see the movie on the big screen!

  26. I haven't seen the movie, and have just read the first few pages of the novel. It's interesting what you say about the ending; my daughter just finished it and she did not like the ending but like you, also said it couldn't have ended any other way. As soon as I get the chance I'm going to pick it up again.

  27. Wow! Great review! Now I would surely like to see this film.

    BTW< Band of Brothers was also a great film! Do come by my meme list some time.

  28. My nephew went to see The Watchmen and he liked it, but told me that he didn't think I would, so I think I'll skip it. I'm glad you liked it, though.

  29. The fact that Rorschach saw the world in terms of black and white was the reason why he was my least favourite character. He actually scared me sometimes. Yet I can also see how his life story makes him sympathetic. I'm with you on Nite Owl - definitely my favourite :)

    It sounds like I really shouldn't miss the movie! All the reviews I've seen so far were favourable. I'm glad you enjoyed both, Wendy!

  30. How wonderful that the book and movie gave you and your husband so much to talk about. My husband didn't really care for the movie. I did more than he did, but I hated the violence--too much for me!

    You've written a fantastic review and you're right that this would make a great book club selection--there is just so much! Telling Anya "That was horrible" is just the type of thing I would tell my cat as well. Ok--enough rambling from Trish. Again, great review.

  31. I love your review of Watchmen. I am halfway through reading it. I love it also, although I keep having to take a break because it is so relentlessly dark and disturbing - and good! I'll see the movie after. I totally agree that this is a classic, and deconstructs the superhero genre, and the artwork is fabulous. I'm just sorry it's taken me so long to read it!

    As for war movies, I have watched my fair share - I'm a pacifist, yet I understand the need to fight (sometimes), and that sometimes the darkness won't let go for peace to exist. so I watch to learn, and also to admire the courgage, and sacrifice of those gone before. I'm glad you put Glory at the top of your list, because it's one of my favourite movies, and I cried and cried in the theatre when I first saw it.
    I've seen Dirty Dozen (my first one ever, and I still enjoy it!), Schindler's List (awesome), Empire of the Sun (still gives me nightmares), Apocalypse Now, Platoon (another that had me crying openly at the end. That ending!), and of course, Star Wars. My son thinks Band of Brothers is superb, and Saving Private Ryan, neither of which I've managed to see yet. You did forget Braveheart, which while not entirely accurate, certainly could be in this category, I think.

    Really good post!

  32. Laza - Thank you. I hadn't really noticed the choppiness of the violence. I'll have to look for it if I rewatch the movie.

    Melody - Thanks! I look forward to hearing what you think of the movie when you see it, Melody. I really think this is one that won't appeal to just everyone.

    Sandy - I couldn't help adding Star Wars to the list. :-) I really like that movie. I could have gone on forever listing movies!

    Charley - Thank you. I look forward to reading your thoughts on the graphic novel and movie when you do get to them. Full Metal Jacket is one of my father's favorites, and I like it as well. :-)

    Serena - Schindler's List is such an awesome movie. I can't watch that one over and over again like some of the others, but it still is up there on my favorites list. I haven't yet seen The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, but I do want to. I hope you enjoy Band of Brothers. I want to watch it again. There are so many characters to follow!

    Jen - The book is the same way--it's definitely dark. I think I've seen The Last Samuri, but I'm afraid I don't remember much about it. I wasn't too keen on Gone With the Wind myself, but I know it's quite a few people's favorite.

    Chris Voss - Thank you! Watchmen wasn't at all what I was expecting and it was in so many ways much better. I like books that keep me talking for days and this is definitely one that was able to do that for me. Heck, I'm still talking about it.

    I had forgotten about Casablanca. I really like that movie. I haven't seen the others you mention but will definitely check them out. Thank you for the recommendations!

    The Bumbles - Ha ha! It's easy to get carried away with a topic like that. :-) I don't think I've seen Killing Fields. I'll have to add that to my must see list.

    Carol - I look forward to reading what you think of Watchmen when you do read it.

    Kristy - Oh you must give it a try! Band of Brothers was very well done.

  33. Eerie Tapestry - Thank you! And thank you for stopping in. I saw Rorschach as the typical superhero type in terms of seeing everything in black and white or good versus evil as often superheroes were and sometimes still are frequently portrayed--hence why I see him as a parody. That's just my take on it though.

    Zack Snyder did a great job of staying faithful to the novel. I was actually glad to have just read the graphic novel right before seeing the movie. I think it increased my enjoyment of the film and cleared up some areas I hadn't been clear on before.

    Melissa - It is an amazing film, but very difficult to watch in parts. I have a friend who refuses to watch it because she knows it will upset her too much.

    Lindsey - I have a confession to make. I had to use the restroom during the film and chose the big sex scene as the opportunity to do so. My husband said it was a little longer than it probably had to be.

    Hagelrat - Thanks. I admit to thinking of skipping it at times, but I am glad I stuck with it. I liked seeing the paper seller and reader in the film too. :-) I am glad you enjoyed the movie! It will be fun to see it on DVD with all the extras added in.

    Cathy - And we all know you have great taste! :-)

    Louise - Thank you. Being married to a man who has been reading graphic novels nearly all his life, it was impossible not to know about Watchmen long before it was made into a movie. :-)

    Terri - Saving Private Ryan is such a great movie. So moving. I am sure you will enjoy Band of Brothers if you liked Saving Private Ryan.

    Debi - Thanks! I hope you will give Watchmen a try. It's worth taking the time to read. I am trying to remember if I've seen Gettysburg. I think I have. I haven't seen Andersonville yet though.

    Alice - Thank you! I will pass along your love to the animals. They send their love to you as well. :-) Anya is actually lying across my arms and chest at the moment. She's making typing very difficult. LOL

    Les - Oh yes! The bonus features were definitely worth watching too.

  34. Yvonne - Thank you. I hope you get the chance to see it!

    Sheri - Ha ha! She sometimes does talk back to me, but not this time. :-)

    Mariel - I haven't read the book that Band of Brothers was based on, but I certainly want to. I had forgotten about The Thin Red Line. That is another good one.

    Staci - Band of Brothers was very good. I need to re-watch it sometime soon. What did your boys think of Watchmen?

    Iliana - I really like books and movies that get me thinking and talking. I hope you get a chance to read the novel and see the movie soon.

    Myckyee - I look forward to reading what you think of it, Myckyee.

    Daisy - Thank you! I hope you enjoy the film when you see it.

    Kathy - I don't think the movie is for everyone, and your nephew probably knows you best.

    Nymeth - At least we always knew where he stood. :-) If you do get a chance to see the movie, I hope you'll let me know what you thought of it.

    Trish - Thank you! My animals are great for bouncing my thoughts off of. :-) You aren't the only one who has commented on the violence. I guess I've seen too many other movies with more violence to make this one seem over the top in that area--although there are some graphics I would rather not see again.

    You can come here and ramble all you want, Trish. You're always welcome here. :-)

    Susan - Thanks! I understand what you mean. It is heavy reading and it took me awhile to get through as well. It is worth it though, isn't it?

    I do know what you mean about war movies. I do think we can learn something from them. It is the human interest stories that speak to me the loudest. Braveheart definitely does count. That's a good one too.

    I hope your back is feeling better soon, Susan!

  35. Great review, Wendy! I've never really been into the whole superhero thing but there's been so much talk about Watchmen lately because of the film, and I'm intrigued. I think I may have to give it a try someday.

    As for WWII films, I love a few of those too. I still haven't seen Letters from Iwo Jima or Flags of Our Fathers. I got the DVDs recently though so hopefully we'll watch them sometime soon.

  36. Nat - This is definitely a different type of superhero comic book. I do recommend you give it a try, even if only a small sampling.

    Do tell me what you think of Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima. I actually liked the second title there more than the first, but both were really good films, I thought.

  37. That's a great list of war movies. I grew up watching them, too, and I actually saw Saving Private Ryan in the theater with my father and we both cried.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  38. Anna - Saving Private Ryan was a great movie--powerful and moving.

  39. Ah, I see I left a comment when you first posted this review, but here I am again. I so enjoyed reading your thoughts a second time around, now that I, too, have read Watchmen. I liked what you had to say about Rorschach. I sympathized with him, too, and I wasn't sure why. I'm still not sure. I have to think about it some more. And, since you say the movie helped clear up some of your questions about the novel, I'll definitely try to watch it sooner rather than later.

  40. Charley - I'd be really curious to hear what you think after you've seen the movie. I think it really did add to my appreciation of the graphic novel.


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