Every genre of literature has an almost definitive book or series, against which all other members of that genre

are measured. Romance has Romeo and Juliet, fantasy has The Lord of the Rings; even erotic fiction has The Story of O. In the graphic novel category, Watchmen is the seminal work. Published at a time when graphic novels were little more than fifty-page comic books documenting a superhero s latest triumph, Alan Moore s Watchmen redefined the entire genre, proving in its 400 pages that the graphic novel could be just as mature as any traditional book. With its complex, interconnected plots and its multifaceted characters, a deeply engrossing world is created, one that has drawn in millions of readers. There is no doubt that Zack Snyder s Watchmen: The Motion Picture was an excellent film, but as in all cases of bookto-film adaptations, a question inevitably arises: was it as good as the book? As is most often my response(as well as the general consensus), the answer is no, it is not. The book does a far better job than the film of portraying the depth of the characters, expressing its themes, and using symbolism. While all of these were altered or neglected to some extent in the film, the most prominent differences come in addressing several of the main characters. First and foremost is Rorschach, the semi-protagonist of Watchmen. Snyder s adaptation of Rorschach portrays him as a violent, right-wing conspiracy theorist, who dons a mask to fight crime. This a far less controversial character than the one created by Moore. In the graphic novel, Rorschach is revealed to have massive psychological trauma, stemming from a childhood full of abuse and neglect by his mother (a prostitute) and her various clients . This has progressed to the point where he is no longer even able to speak in full sentences. He behaves erratically, and with excessive violence. He is classified as a sociopath, and his delusions are such that he cannot associate himself with his original identity, instead

considering Rorschach to be his real name and his mask to be his true face. While Moore explores Rorschach s backstory, from his childhood to the events that caused him to create his alter-ego, none of this is included in the film. This lack of information removes some of the depth from the character, alienating him from the viewer, where instead a reader of the novel might feel some connection. However, the film does preserve the darkness of Rorschach s view of the world. His disturbing perspective can be summed up in one of Rorschach s most memorable lines of the graphic novel: Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach. This city is afraid of me. I have seen its true face. The streets are extended gutters and the gutters are full of blood and when the drains finally scab over, all the vermin will drown. The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout "Save us!"... and I'll look down and whisper "No." (Moore 1) Snyder preserved this in its entirety. This is used very effectively, as it is Rorschach s first line in the film. It immediately demonstrates Rorschach s character to the audience.Finally, while in the book Rorschach is sometimes irrationally violent, in the film Rorschach s violent tendencies are overblown and unnecessarily graphic. A prime example of this is seen during a pivotal moment in Rorschach s life, the first time he takes a life. Moore s Rorschach offers a criminal a Hobson s choice, but a choice nonetheless: he sets a building on fire, handcuffs the man to a stove, and passes him a hacksaw; implying that if the man is to live, he will need to saw off his own hand. In the film Rorschach brutally kills and mutilates the man with a butcher s knife. The warped sense of justice that was an integral part of Rorschach is lacking in the film.

As much as Rorschach has been changed by Snyder, another major character has been also been altered: Ozymandias the antagonist of the story. In Moore s Watchmen, Ozymandias is a handsome, jovial and fatherly-looking figure. He is tall, muscular and dresses in vibrant purples and yellows. The overall impression he creates is non-threatening. In Snyder`s adaptation, however, Ozymandias is presented as a villainous character from the very beginning of the film. He dresses in much darker, subdued colours, is shorter than his literary counterpart, and looks thin and wiry, instead of broad and muscular. He speaks with a European accent, an accent which brings to mind the sophisticated psychopaths of some other major films (Hannibal Lecter immediately springs to mind). The changes made to his appearance and mannerisms cause the revelation that he is the true antagonist to be far less surprising than in the book. Far more distressing than the changes mad e to Ozymandias` appearance are the changes made to his personality. As with Rorschach, large portions of the character`s history are left unexplored and unexplained. In Moore`s Watchmen, Ozymandias delivers an impassioned monologue, which details his early life, and gives the reader a complete awareness of his goals and aspirations. None of this monologue is present in the film, rendering the character seemingly just another run-of-the-mill brilliant sociopath. This image is bolstered near the end of the film, when Ozymandias destroys New York (killing millions), seemingly without batting an eye. This is quite unlike his reaction in the book, where he seems troubled by the deaths he has caused, asking himself: I did the right thing, didn t I? (Moore12). His lack of remorse in the film makes him seem even more one-sided. Several other changes were made to characters throughout Snyder s adaptation. Firstly, a hero who (in the book) had become soft and impotent since retiring, is portrayed as a much

stronger, energetic and fitter man in the film. Secondly, the life of the Comedian is not explored as fully as in the book. Without a basis for his sarcasm and nihilistic view of the world, he is a much less identifiable character, and he does not contribute as much to the themes of Watchmen. Thirdly, through a series of flashbacks and quotes in the book, one can see the development of Dr. Manhattan s detachment from humanity over time, the friendships and relationships that wither and die of neglect as Manhattan drifts beyond what he had once been. While some of these flashbacks remain in Snyder s version, they are few and far between. For example, Manhattan says: I am tired of Earth. These people. I'm tired of being caught in the tangle of their lives (Moore 127). No lines like this are included in Snyder s adaptation. This makes Manhattan s detachment and disinterest seem almost patronizing instead of objective. Finally, a psychiatrist who studies Rorschach in prison makes only a brief appearance in the film, while in the book his prolonged contact with Rorschach begins to affect him psychologically. His marriage deteriorates; he begins keeping a journal like Rorschach, and even adopts the same habit of dropping extraneous words in sentences. While not particularly important, this character does supporta predominant theme and his absence removes some of the tension from the portions of the story that deal with Rorschach s time in prison. Several themes are present in Watchmen, one of which is alluded to in the title: Who watches the Watchmen? This is a translation of Quiscustodietipsoscustodies? a Latin phrase attributed to Juvenal. Essentially, this asks that if there is a group of people watching over and protecting us, who will watch over and protect them? This refers to the main characters of Watchmen, who try to protect society, and have no one to guard or watch over them. The heroes of Watchmen are unlike other modern superheroes. They have their own problems and

issues to deal with, ranging from Rorschach s mental illness to Nite Owl s sexual inadequacy. They also do not always act in the best interest of the people they are supposed to be protecting. Batman has never set fire to a poor Vietnamese man, nor has Superman been revealed to have been having an abusive homosexual relationship with Spiderman. These are issues that are faced by the costumed vigilantes of Moore s Watchmen, and are very effective in demonstrating that these men and women are only human. Snyder s Watchmen is also portrays this theme very well, even if it does gloss over some of the more controversial issues, such as the Nazi ideals of one of the minor characters or the homosexuality of three other minor characters. Even without these, the film presents most of the problems that the main characters of the book were faced with, and so the masked men and women that would ordinarily be infallible in a typical Hollywood blockbuster are deconstructed and de-venerated very effectively by Snyder. Another theme of the novel is the relativity of human morality. Each character personifies one philosophy or form of moral extremism. Rorschach is a prime example of absolutism, believing that an act is either absolutely right or absolutely wrong. Even his mask is only ever black and white; there are never shades of grey. Rorschach frequently vocalizes his feelings, repeatedly stating: Never compromise. Even in the face of Armageddon (386). At the other end of the spectrum is the nihilistic Comedian. He doesn t even seem to have a moral code, and while he may consider the consequences of his actions, he doesn t consider the most heinous of acts to be either right or wrong. For instance, after killing a pregnant woman, all he has to say is: Yeah. Yeah, that's right. Pregnant woman.Gunned her down. Bang (38). Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum lies Ozymandias. Unlike the Comedian, he has

opinions on what is right or wrong, but unlike Rorschach, he believes that the ends justify the means. This is shown through his plan to bring about world peace by killing millions. In Snyder s portrayal of each of these characters keep some of their ideals, but not enough to clearly express the theme: Rorschach is shown to have the sense of moral absolutism that was present in Moore s character, but he does not always obey his own convictions. The Comedian seems more anarchistic than nihilistic, and Ozymandias does not speak of his grand plans and his motives to the extent that he does in the book. It would be difficult for someone who has watched only the film to determine the character s comparative ideologies. Finally, a third theme exists within Watchmen that I believe can be summarized in a single quote by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, in Beyond Good and Evil: Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you (Nietzsche 64). Basically, what this means is that when battling an evil, there is a risk of becoming that same evil, and that if you seek to understand or study something dark, the understanding of it may corrupt you. In fact, this quote appears at the end of a chapter of the book where the theme is most prevalent. In Moore s Watchmen this theme is present during the psychiatrist s interviews with Rorschach. Over the course of his time with Rorschach, the doctor slowly begins to see things from Rorschach s point of view. For example, an inkblot that he once saw as a tree eventually seemed to be something completely different: I looked at the Rorschach blot. I tried to pretend it looked like a spreading tree, shadows pooled beneath it, but it didn t. It looked more like a dead cat I once found, the fat, glistening grubs writhing blindly, squirming over each other, frantically tunnelling away from the light. But even that is avoiding the real horror. The horror is this: In the end, it

is simply a picture of empty meaningless blackness. We are alone. There is nothing else (Moore 231). Eventually the once jolly family man loses touch with his wife, and becomes supremely pessimistic. He becomes isolated and eventually even begins speaking as Rorschach does. This theme is not present at all in Snyder s adaptation. The psychiatrist is present only for a few moments, and no details of his life before or after his encounters with Rorschach are included. Symbolism abounds in Moore s Watchmen, but there are three symbols which are most relevant to the plot, and which appear frequently. These symbols are distinct objects, yet are all very closely related. The first of these symbols is the clock. Clocks play an important role in the book, both as plot devices and as symbols. In the novel, there is a doomsday clock which measures the imminence of global catastrophic destruction. In the first chapter of the book, the clock is set at twelve minutes to midnight, and in each subsequent chapter, the clock moves one minute forward. In Snyder s Watchmen the symbolism is not present, because the doomsday clock is mentioned briefly at the beginning of the film, and never brought up again. The second symbol is the blood-spattered smiley face badge. The badge was worn by the Comedian throughout his life, and is splattered with blood or other liquids during the critical moments of his life: during his attempted rape of a colleague as a teenager, when he kills a woman he had impregnated, when he meets his daughter and finally, just before he is killed. In each of these instances, the stain on the badge parallels the hand of the doomsday clock, moving closer and closer to midnight. Snyder includes the badge in the film on several occasions, but its appearances are not as significant as in the book. The badge only seems to be

present because it represents Watchmen to fans of the book, and not to make any sort of point or reference. The final symbol(s) in Moore s original Watchmen is almost any circular object. In the background of any important scene, there is often something circular that has a streak of something else across it, which parallels the state of the aforementioned doomsday clock at that point of the book. These objects are also present when any character is discussing the Comedian. These objects can be almost anything, from a shadow over an electrical socket, to smoke in front of a yellow circular door. Once again, none of these were present in Snyder s adaptation of Watchmen. In fairness, the symbols may not have been noticed by many in a fastpaced film, but the inclusion of even a few of them would have been more effective as symbols than none at all. Zack Snyder s film version of Watchmen simply does not equate to Alan Moore s graphic novel Watchmen in terms of literary value. Based on characterization, rendering of themes, and effective use of symbolism, the novel is superior in all respects. While the film may interest fans of superhero films or fans of the original Watchmen, it is not enough to truly captivate audiences as its source material has. While Snyder s movie may be mentioned in passing for the next few years, Moore s mastery of the graphic novel will continue to be lauded as a great work of fiction for years to come, and to enthral others as it has me.

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