Who Watches the Watchmen Part III

Continued from yesterday’s post, including the spoiler alert. The spoilers are getting more major here, as I will be discussing the end of the film.

The emotional climax of the movie, THE WATCHMEN, takes place on Mars. Laurie discovers who her daddy is, and breaks down into tears.

This prompts the closed-to-humanity Dr. Manhattan to realize that he is vested after all, that he does care.

Big moment.

Okay, show of hands: how many of you found yourselves holding back tears at that point? What, no one?

Okay, let me ask this: how many of you thought before this moment in the film that Laurie even cared about her dad? Ah, same hands.

The biggest glitch with this film, the thing that makes it an okay film while keeping it from being a DARK KNIGHT, is this:

The filmmakers failed to make us connect emotionally to the characters or story.

The problem (in my opinion, as if this whole blog were anything but merely my opinion) isn’t in lack of character depth or complexity; and it isn’t in performance.

Sure, part of it is in Snyder’s wrongly-hyped action against his glossed-over character.

And part of it is in condensing the whole thing down to a single serving. (This should have been an HBO mini-series, twelve episodes long.)

But the big problem is in structure.

Three mistakes are made by Snyder and company dealing with structure, and those errors undercut the heart of the film.

(Hey, I’m going deep into spoiler territory here, so read on at your own risk.)

PAYOFFS WITHOUT SETUPS (Janet – the filmmakers should read your blog!)

Laurie being case-in-point. In order to feel the importance of the revelation that Blake is her father, we must know emotionally what her relationship to him is.

We know it intellectually – Blake is a major [insert foul word here], so we can assume that she wouldn’t want him as a daddy.

But to be grounded, we need a scene, a set-up. We need to see (preferably in the first act) Laurie and Blake together AFTER Laurie finds out what he did to her mom. If we know what their relationship was, then we would know the cost of the revelation.

Another example: I am a New Yorker. The city is destroyed in Watchmen. It didn’t bother me. Why?

Because I wasn’t set up to care. Only one person that I even met (the psychiatrist) died, and I didn’t know him well enough to be vested.

The book took a lot of time building relationships with tertiary characters in NYC, so when the newsstand owner and the kid that never pays for comic books hug right before the big bang – I’m actually getting emotional just thinking about it now.

[Side thought: How do you do that in a movie with so much else going on? Make it Hollis. Give him two more scenes with Dan throughout, and show the boom from his point of view. Just a suggestion – one of a hundred ways to make this work.]


The film is faithful to the book.

The book is twelve stories, with twelve separate sets of balances, unbalances, quests, crisis and new balances.

The film is one story, with a balance, unbalance, quest, unbalance, balance, balance, unbalance, quest, crisis, quest, unbalance, unbalance, balance, quest, crisis, unbalance….

The film doesn’t move to a satisfying finish because it keeps stopping momentum to go back and re-give different act one beats far into act two and even act three.


The strength of lit: words which build details to create ideas.

The strength of film: images which build action to create story.

Moore/Gibbons were all about detail, creating a novel masterpiece of ideas.

Snyder didn’t have time to dwell on details, nor should he.

Yet he didn’t change the structure of his story to play to his media’s strength.

I’ve mentioned the emotional climax of the film; let’s talk about the action (or plot) climax as one example of this problem.

The final showdown is against Ozmandias in his frozen lair – Nite Owl and Rorschach racing to prevent the end of the world as we know it.

Oh, I should mention that this takes place (as Ozzy so smugly points out) AFTER the end of the world as we know it.

The physical climax is a pointless exercise, as all the physical world answers are in – the villain has already won.

The climax doesn’t work for this kind of film – it deflates, rather than inflates the impact of the action.

This ending does work for a literature piece, where the ideas are still fighting against one another through to the real climax – Dr. Manhattan versus Rorschach in the frigid void that can not sustain life.

But, alas, film is not literature.

And rather than making a great film, what got made was a visual aid for a book already written in visuals.

Just my thoughts,


PS I was discussing with a friend whether we would have noticed these flaws in the script stage; his thought was that a multitude of such errors would have been covered by the hand of a director whose heart was on the characters, rather than just the action. I agree.


7 responses to “Who Watches the Watchmen Part III”

  1. David Goulet says :

    Nicely summarized, Sean. This film tried so hard to remember WHAT it was about, it forgot WHO it was about.Another example, when Laurie’s Mom confesses she can’t hate Blake because, in the end, he gave her such a wonderful daughter. What a mind blowing line — or should have been. But as you pointed out there was zero set-up for this moment. It comes along as an undeserved feel good tag.What we really need to see now in this genre is a stripped down mature superhero tale. A little less Wow! and a lot more Whoa.Dark Knight was close, but I feel the real masterpiece is still out there waiting to be made.C’mon, you work at Warner, convince them to give some of us Act One fanboys a shot at it. We’d knock their socks off.Excelsior!

  2. Gaffney says :

    I’ll work on that…but do you really want to quote the guy from brand echs when pushing to take on a DC property? Seriously, stan. I mean, “man.”

  3. Anonymous says :

    Good point.Make that:Up, up and away!

  4. David Goulet says :

    Oops that was me of course.

  5. Omar Poppenlander says :

    Sean,I saw the film over the weekend with Brian Poel and I agree with the bulk of your analysis. Thanks for writing this up.One thing I have a hard time with however is your assertion that The Dark Knight got the “heart” thing right. I did not care about the characters in TDK any more than I cared about the characters in Watchmen. In fact, I may have cared about them less. I know you love TDK, so maybe you can explain to me what I am missing?!?

  6. Gaffney says :

    Omar,Nope, can’t be explained — either you felt it or you didn’t. For me, in TDK, when Rachel dies, I not only intellectually believed that her death could shatter the two men that loved her, I also felt it. In W I only intellectually understood the cost of all of the world’s major cities being destroyed; never felt it.

  7. David Goulet says :

    Omar,Just so you know you’re not the only cold fish, I also did not connect well with Dark Knight. At least with the main leads. I did connect with the supporting characters of Alfred, Com. Gordon, etc. And the people on the ferries.That being said, Dark Knight was a solid story and got its theme across much more successfully than Watchmen. DK raised the bar on comic book film adaptations. I was hoping Watchmen might raise it further, but it didn’t even come close to DK’s mark.

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