In discussing the Watchmen movie, I feel that I should first describe my own personal situation with Watchmen, as I’ve seen how a person’s level of exposure to the original comic can really color the way a person sees the movie. I read the comic once a year or two ago, and enjoyed it, but never really re-read it or looked at it again between then and the time I saw the Watchmen movie. So I am familiar with the story, and the characters, and I know how it all goes down, but particulars and small details and possibly even visual cues are things I don’t remember particularly well.
The strongest impressions I had of Watchmen were its pacing and its visual style. For the pacing, I noticed somewhere in the middle of watching that it did not feel like it had a typical three-act movie structure. Does this mean the movie had poor pacing, if it didn’t follow what movies are “supposed to do?” I’m not sure myself, but what it boils down to is that this is definitely the result of converting a comic book directly into a movie, instead of just converting the general theme as they did with Iron Man for example.
As for the visual style, 300 already established Zack Snyder as having a keen sense of action and the glorification of violence, though it’s debatable whether or not it was appropriate for Watchmen. Many I think wanted Watchmen to stick close to the visual style of the comic, which is this sort of ugly and dirty look where characters are all pathetic in their own way, but I don’t know how well the audience would have reacted to such. We’ve seen how viewers and critics react negatively to the very blatant anime-esque feel of Speed Racer, often seemingly not even noticing it was supposed to be like pages from a manga but with real people and bright colors. I personally think the violence was just a tad overdone, but the striking and brutal nature of the fights while perhaps overly stylish I think were good for establishing how the characters were, even if it was different from the comic.
I enjoyed Watchmen, though even now I can’t get a firm grasp on my feelings on it. It was at the very least not boring, and half the actors were fantastic, especially Billy Crudup with his serene Doctor Manhattan voice, Patrick Wilson playing up the middle-aged and insecure Nite Owl, and Jackie Earle Haley as Rorshach who captured the character to a tee. No money was wasted in seeing this movie.
Ultimately, what I feel people’s views, including my own, boil down to in regards to the Watchmen is how do you adapt a work like Watchmen? It does not have an extensive history like Spider-Man or Batman from which you could cherry pick while keeping a basic sense of what makes them effective stories. Watchmen is just one book, and its strength lies in how every part comes together from the writing to the art to the characters and their motivations to the little bits here and there and everywhere. Something has to be lost in the transition to the big screen, and there will be endless debates as to whether the choices were right, especially as people themselves prioritize different parts of the comic. And then you have those who didn’t read the comic at all, and then the debates as to whether that makes for a “better” viewing experience or not, to not be chained by the original.
Adaptations are a funny thing going from any medium to the other, and it can be difficult to tell what is a “smart” change that will help unfamiliar people get into a story, or what will be a “stupid” change that is robbing the work of its core and dumbing it down. I’m sure the people working on Dragonball Evolution didn’t go in intentionally sabotaging it. They probably thought that the parts of the manga and anime they changed were changed for the better. Who wants to see a weak girl who can’t fight in Bulma? Give her guns! Who wants an ugly old man playing Shang Tsung the Turtle Hermit? No appeal!
The funny thing about the Watchmen movie is that you have people now complaining that a superhero movie stuck too close to the original source. Years ago, people would have dreamed of being able to have a misgiving like that. The fact that we now have a Hollywood that can produce honestly decent superhero movies on a somewhat regular basis is testament to true change.