By request, this is my completely redundant and superfluous, though spoiler free Watchmen Review. Included are some free-floating thoughts on media.
I believe part of the depth of Watchmen fandom comes from the fact that it was only a 12 issue series. There was no second series of comics, no action figures, no Saturday morning cartoon, no time crisis, no re-boot. It could retain a purity that few superhero stories could claim.
The Watchmen "graphic novel" is one of a handful of works that deserves that somewhat pretentious term. To me the term "graphic novel" is to "comic book" as "working girl" is to "hooker". It is a gussied up term to be used in polite conversation to hide what you are really talking about to make it sound more respectable. But there is nothing shameful about comic books, so the term is unnecessary. However the depth and layered structure of Watchmen really sets this work apart and the bar high for works that followed. There are layers of the story found only with symbols, with background text, with appendix material. A book-within-a-book is interwoven between the panels providing counterpoint to the main story. This is not simply "sequential art" this book is something more. Those who have read it should not question why it has made Time magazine's list of the top 100 modern novels.
Film rights were sold in 1986 and a merry-go-round of scripts, studios and directors followed. Early limitations on special effects made many story elements difficult hurdles. The understandable desire of directors and developers to make there own mark on a film led to some interesting scripts, but nothing that pleased the fans that read them, or the studios that backed them. In the end director Zack Snider and screenwriter Alex Tse restored the look and content of the film to something that was as close to the source material as one could expect from the format.
Changing the medium of a story can be difficult, and one of the most problematic is adapting a beloved book into film. These are very different media, each with their own rules, strengths and limitations. There is a tension in the mind of the fan who's beloved book is being adapted into a film. There is a desire of seeing your imagination made real, while a dark shadow is cast by the knowledge that characters and dialogue will be cut, subtleties glossed over, and (perhaps worst of all) the point of it all will be missed. This tension was released last week and fans and neophytes alike got to see what all the hype was about.
The Watchmen film is a fantastic looking adaptation. The colour palette, cinematography and editing are all spot on. It may be cliche, but the pages really do come to life. Spanning 40 years of costumed adventurism, the opening credits are a fantastic montage which sets up the alternate 80's and are worth the price of admission. However the the musical choices throughout the film are heavy handed and, in IMAX, extremely loud. We don't need to hear "99 luftballon" to understand that we are in the 80's and cold war fears are running high.
The casting was well done; all the actors fell into their roles and filled out their latex well. All of the changes from the source material were fair, in my opinion. Smoking was a common feature in the book, and aside from the character cigar chomp of the Comedian, this has been cut to meet our modern sensibilities. The electric car had come to the world of the Watchmen, thanks to the alchemy of Dr. Manhattan, but this too was cut to make a point about 2009 energy consumption.
The story in both the book and film jump around in time, place and perspective. This is part of what made the comic so rich, but I don't know how well that plays on film. It was a pleasure to watch a story I was familiar with on screen, but in the end I don't know how good a film it was. Does it stand on it's own merits? After only one viewing, I can't say.
However it has been said that there will be additional material available in the subsequent DVD sets. Like the Lord of the Rings extended editions have shown, the theatrical Watchmen release may just be an extended trailer for the ultimate fan editions that will follow.