Graphic novel into graphic movie
The plot summary (from Yahoo movies):
In an alternate 1985 America, costumed superheroes are part of the fabric of everyday society, and the "Doomsday Clock" - which charts the USA's tension with the Soviet Union - is permanently set at five minutes to midnight. When one of his former colleagues is murdered, the washed-up but no less determined masked vigilante Rorschach sets out to uncover a plot to kill and discredit all past and present superheroes. As he reconnects with his former crime-fighting legion - a ragtag group of retired superheroes, only one of whom has true powers - Rorschach glimpses a wide-ranging and disturbing conspiracy with links to their shared past and catastrophic consequences for the future.
The movie was very accurate to the graphic novel. Although there were a few storylines that were edited out, most of the important parts of the story are faithfully reproduced, right down to the dialogue. That which made Watchmen great, particularly the cynical Machiavellian themes and the jarringly realistic portrayal of humanity's fickle reaction to superheroes, is intact.
There were a few important changes, mainly regarding the ending. But I found that the movie's ending actually made the story simpler and more coherent so I have no problems with it.
The newsstand and the pirate comic storylines were edited out completely (and presumably will be included in a separate straight-to-home video release), which is okay because I found those scenes superfluous even in the graphic novel. However, the background story behind Adrian Veidt was sorely missing. He is supposedly human perfection both physically and intellectually, yet they showed nothing to ground these assumptions. But as a whole the movie was very loyal to the comic; as a fanboy, I can't expect much more fidelity.
The casting was virtually perfect, and each actor fit the persona of the comic characters quite well. I thought Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) was particularly cool, portraying the character's disconnected humanity perfectly. The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) was great too, a character with a larger-than-life personality that's a nice counterweight to Manhattan.
But the demented Rorschach (James Earle Haley) is the crowd-pleaser. In the comics Rorschach has rough speech bubbles, denoting a gravelly-sounding voice, and I was a bit nervous as to how his voice would be portrayed. I hoped beyond hope that he wouldn't sound like Christian Bale's horrible bat-voice. But Haley did a great job, with a demented-sounding voice that doesn't convey any of the annoyance of the cheesy bat-voice.
The special effects were pretty cool for the most part. They did a good job of showing some interesting effects (like Rorschach's changing mask and Dr. Manhattan's um... anatomy) without having the effects overwhelm the story. There were a couple of scenes in which Dr. Manhattan looked pretty fakey, like when he was dressing himself in the suit before the interview. But on the other hand, the really cool Manhattan scenes, particularly his origin, more than make up for that.
His elbow's not supposed to bend that way
The action was way more brutal than I was expecting. I'm not complaining, mind you, because I'm a huge fan of crazy violent movies. But the squeamish will probably want to divert their gazes in some scenes. And those wondering if Rorschach's story will be toned-down need not fear. None of the punches are pulled.
Who watches the Watchmen... for 3 hours?!
Well, I did, but many might not. I was entertained for the nearly 3 hour run time but I was following along with the graphic novel in my head. Those unfamiliar with the original comic might be bored in some of the slower scenes. I'm not a huge fan of the "epic 3-hour movie" trend that's so prevalent anyways, so I think it probably would have been a tighter, cleaner movie if they lopped off a half hour or so.
This was a great movie experience, but much of that experience might be clouded by my interest in the graphic novel. The movie might be a tough sell to those unfamiliar with the comic, since the first hour or so covers back story that might be boring to non-fans. But I hope that movie goers are patient; there's a lot here that is both truly great and ethically challenging. And I hope that the movie Watchmen revolutionizes superheroes in film just as much as the graphic novel did in comic books.