A version of this post has already appeared on this site and Graphic Policy in the past
This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: The Zack Snyder directed Watchmen movie.
With the upcoming crossover taking place in issues of Batman and The Flash, coupled with the news that there would be an R-Rated animated version of the comic coming soon, I thought it was an ideal time to turn back and have another look at Zack Snyder’s adaptation. I’ll try and keep this as spoiler free as possible for those who haven’t read the comics or seen the movie – but honestly if you haven’t read the comic at this point, then why the hell not?
When talking about the movie, there are three different versions of the same flick that I’ll be referring too: the Theatrical Cut which was 162 minutes in length, the Directors Cut coming in at 186 minutes, and the Ultimate Cut which clocks in at 215 minutes. The Theatrical Cut is the version that everybody saw first in the cinema, and for a great may people it is the only version they have seen. It has been a long time since I watched that version, but I can recall when watching it that it was a good movie, but it wasn’t as great as it could be. Watchmen‘s director, Zack Snyder, had a very tough task ahead of him when he was charged with bringing Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s miniseries to the silver screen. Watchmen has been hailed by many people as one of the greatest graphic novels of all time; it’s a story that is near and dear to the hearts many a comic fan. Adapting the full story, and doing it well enough to meet the expectation of thousands of comic fans whilst at the same time appealing to those non-comic fans who had never read Watchmen, would have been nigh on impossible; even the Ultimate Cut is still missing at least two entire plot lines from the original comics, and that comes in at three and a half hours.
Although what was released to theaters was still a very good movie; the casting choices were fantastic (Jackie Earle Haley’s Rorschach was more than I could have ever hoped for), and the choices that were made when writing the script kept the movie as faithful to the source material as possible. Indeed, many scenes in the movie reflect certain panels almost exactly. The change to the ending I understand; to have the original ending included, without adding perhaps an extra thirty minutes of screen time to build the subplot that would be needed to have the ending from the comics make sense, would have taken away from the story as a whole. The movie’s ending worked very well for what it was, and while ultimately the same result was achieved, it was done so in a more believable method for cinema audiences. It wasn’t the same as the comics, no, but the movies are a different medium than the comics and face more constraints in terms of run time and budget. The version released to theaters was version of the movie that the studio, producers and directors felt was best suited to a theatrical release.
But when Watchmen was initially released, it wasn’t complete. It was a good movie, and the story told was coherent enough (especially for those of us who were familiar with the comics), but it did feel like something was missing.
That something missing largely disappeared wen the Directors Cut was released; the additional forty plus minutes of footage that really added to the film, and thanks to the extra run time it told a story that echoed the source material more than the Theatrical Cut did. Glimpses of one of the missing subplots were shown, and the movie felt much more complete; but when the Ultimate Cut was released which included the previously separately released animated Tales Of The Black Freighter woven into the extended Directors Cut, well then the movie took shape. The Ultimate Cut is still flawed, but it’s as great an adaptation as we can ever expect.
Unfortunately, however, the Ultimate Cut hasn’t been seen by as many people as the Theatrical Cut, which is a shame because the Ultimate Cut is as faithful a movie adaptation as we’ll ever see, and stands head and shoulder above the Theatrical Cut in terms of quality. Watchmen was a movie that had huge expectations heaped upon it, and when it appeared theatrically it never quite lived up to those expectations, the Ultimate Cut comes very, very close; although the Ultimate Cut is an outstanding movie, it has done little to elevate Watchmen‘s stature in terms of being talked about as a great movie; making this a surprisingly underrated gem.