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Well, in my opinion, the old cliché holds true: the book was better than the movie. But that's not to say the movie wasn't awesome. I loved it, but at the same time, I think my appreciation of it was both enhanced and hindered by the fact that I already knew the story. I loved all the similarities to the source material, and I found it helpful knowing what was going on. I suspect if I hadn't read the graphic novel beforehand, I would've had a lot more trouble following the movie. Of course, even at nearly 3 hours, it was still necessary to leave out a great deal that was in the comic (some of which were released on a separate DVD, Tales of the Black Freighter, which also includes a documentary based on "Under the Hood," the autobiography of Hollis Mason, aka the first Nite Owl). While I think the stuff that was left out of the movie is part of what makes the graphic novel better, I also didn't miss its presence in the movie. I don't think it would've worked as well in this format. Nor did I take much issue with any of the minor plot changes; the essence of the story remains the same. The one thing that bugged me, and it's a very minor thing, not a fault of the movie by any means, is that I didn't have a chance to view the movie with fresh eyes. I mean, I just didn't get to see if I could follow the story and get to know the characters just from the movie. Because I already knew them. So I kind of envy those who watched the movie without having read the graphic novel first, but just as I found both advantages and disadvantages to knowing the story, I'm sure there will be those moviegoers who are better off seeing the movie first, and those who are better off reading the comic first. And there will be those who hate the changes and omissions, as well as those who either don't care or prefer the movie this way. (For a review by a friend of mine who saw the movie before reading the comic, check out the Templeton Gate link above.)
Oh, and I suppose I should mention that the comic has long been called "unfilmable," particularly by its writer, the legendary Alan Moore, who wants nothing to do with the film adaptation of his comic. I can certainly understand his feelings on the subject, though I'd be interested to hear his thoughts if he ever actually watched the movie. Which he shan't. Ah well.
I do go on, don't I? I fear I'm not being very clear. Um... I should also mention that the movie is rated "R" for incredibly graphic violence, sexuality, nudity, and language. The graphic novel helped redefine how people view the comics medium, when it came out in the mid-1980s, and it's very serious, adult, complex, thought-provoking, brilliant. It is famously one of TIME's 100 best English-language novels (not graphic novels, mind you) from 1923 to the present (the list came out in 2005). Most die-hard fans of the medium would probably call this the greatest graphic novel ever. In spite of all this acclaim, I suppose it's not that well-known by those in the mainstream, outside of comic fandom. So... if they don't know the book, it can't have changed their opinion of the medium. So I fear that many people who love modern live-action adaptations of comic books, and understand that such movies can be serious, can be enjoyed by adults as well as kids, and in some cases shouldn't be seen by kids... will still feel such movies must be better than the comics on which they're based. Will still have the same old opinions about comic books in general, assume they're basically kid stuff. You'll recall I started this review by saying "the book is better," and I think that's usually true of modern comic book movies- the source material is better. Even if most moviegoers won't believe that. And if they go in with that attitude toward this movie... well, I just hope the ticket-takers point out to anyone trying to bring kids along, that the movie is rated R. But hell, I think alot of comic book movies, like The Dark Knight, are clearly not for kids, but are still marketed to them. And this... is 100 times more not for kids than are movies like that. There are surely alot of adults for whom it is too intense, as well.
All this talk, and I still haven't said anything about the plot. Hurm. Well, I'm sure I'll want to do a more detailed review after I get the DVD, so I can refresh my terribly fallible memory. One thing I need to say that did seem strange to me was that Rorschach's inkblot mask... the blots were constantly shifting around. There is no explanation for this, and it makes no sense. I'm pretty sure this didn't happen in the comic, though of course it'd be harder to tell, since the pictures there didn't move at all. But one of the things for which the comic is most famous is being grounded in reality. None of the costumed adventurers (or "masks") had super powers... except for Dr. Manhattan, whose powers were virtually godlike. Aside from Rorschach's inkblots moving, I also thought characters sometimes moved a bit too much in an almost wuxia-like fashion, like in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, you know, a little too quickly, lightly, quietly. Other times, in fights, everyone seemed too strong to be believable. But again, a minor quibble. It was still fun to watch, and what's important isn't the fights, anyway. What's important is the realism of the characters, as people. Ordinary people with ordinary thoughts and feelings, ordinary concerns... but taking part in epic events.
It's also important to note that the story flashes around in time, somewhat. While it's set chiefly in 1985 (an alternate history 1985, one which is a fully realized concept of what the world would be like if the kind of costumed heroes who existed in comic books actually existed in real life), the past has had a profound impact on the present, in any number of ways. A group of heroes called the Minutemen got together around 1940. Among them were Silk Spectre, the Comedian, Nite Owl, and a few others. Another group got together in the 60s... sort of. Or at least, a group was attempted to be assembled by a costumed adventurer called Ozymandias (Adrian Veidt, the world's smartest man). (At least I think it was him in the film; in the comic, it was Captain Metropolis, one of the original Minutemen. Could've been him here too, I'll need to check the DVD. But I'm pretty sure it was Ozy.) However, the Comedian was against it, thinking the world's problems were too big for any of them to handle, even as a group. But there were a few new heroes present, including Silk Spectre II (Laurie Jupiter, the daughter of the first Silk Spectre), Nite Owl II (Dan Dreiberg, who in 1985 is a friend of the original Nite Owl, Hollis Mason), and Rorschach (who would partner with Dreiberg in fighting crime). There was also Dr. Manhattan (Jon Osterman, a scientist who had experienced a lab accident that seemed to kill him, but ended up giving him the godlike powers I mentioned earlier). Throughout the film, we get to see flashes to various points in the history of this new generation of heroes, and there's too much to go into here. It's best to just watch the movie and try to follow it all as you see it unfold, in nonlinear fashion. But I do need to mention that in 1977, the Keene Act was passed, outlawing costumed adventuring. Adrian Veidt is now the richest man in the world, and the only one who revealed his identity to the world. Dan and Laurie are both retired from adventuring, but Rorschach (who eventually became rather psychotic, showing absolutely no mercy to criminals) never gave up the fight, and is now a wanted man. But the Comedian and Dr. Manhattan continue to work for the government.
The movie begins with the Comedian being killed, and Rorschach soon develops a theory that someone is targeting masks. As he continues to investigate this theory, the world is preoccupied with concerns that the U.S. and the Soviet Union are moving close to nuclear war. Dr. Manhattan and Adrian Veidt are working on a project to provide unlimited, free energy to the world, thus eliminating the need for war. Meanwhile, we get to know, by turns, each of the major characters, their backstories, their relationships with one another, everything that's led them to where they are now. The dual plot points of the Comedian's murder and impending nuclear war intertwine with each other and with the stories of all these people, on both a large, historic scale, as well as on a very personal scale. It all leads to the discovery of a plot of monumental, earth-shattering proportions....
And I think to say any more would be to spoil too much. So I'll simply reiterate that it's a very complex story with complicated characters and a resolution that is morally grey, and hard to live with. Also the film uses music in a very effective way. And most of the characters were pretty well cast. And... I'm probably forgetting stuff.