Anytime a film version of a popular book diverges from its beloved source material, it's the alterations themselves that cause the most backlash. When Zack Snyder's Watchmen, an adaptation of Alan Moore's classic graphic novel, arrived in theaters to a reception that ranged from lukewarm to infuriated, one may have assumed that same conventional wisdom was the explanation. Instead, the opposite was true, more often than not.
Much of the fury graphic novel fans leveled at the movie version of Watchmen had to do with elements Snyder transposed directly from the panels to the screen. There are things that work in comic books, and there are things that work in movies, but not many that work in both. The director's overzealous loyalty to the source material was often the very problem.
Of course, there were plenty of instances in which the movie departed from the book (the absence of a giant squid, most notably), and those choices brought their own problems, sometimes drastically altering the story's message. Then again, a movie like Watchmen can be something of a Rorschach test in its own right, with reactions deviating one way or another based on familiarity with the original text, or lack thereof.
Nite Owl Is More Vulnerable In The Source Material
The film's Dan Dreiberg is virtually a different character than his comic book counterpart. In the source material, Dreiberg/Nite Owl II has a paunch, he lacks confidence, and he fears even his companions. He's a flawed character and one of Watchmen's most vulnerable. In the movie, he's just too heroic. He's a caricature of a superhero. He's basically Batman, and that's not who Nite Owl II really is. And Dreiberg sure as hell isn't Bruce Wayne. Dreiberg is kind of presented as the moral center in the film, but the comic book version of him would have collapsed under that amount of responsibility.
It Didn't Truly Capture The Graphic Novel's Bleak, Menacing TonePhoto: Warner Bros.
The movie failed to understand the gravitas of the geopolitical landscape that serves as the story's alternate-history backdrop. The depiction of Cold War paranoia was just off, or absent. It almost made the era glitzy. The movie still had its share of darkness, but it felt like a gritty affectation. Maybe Snyder was trying to avoid making something too similar to Sin City, but Watchmen would have been more at home as a film noir. A few scenes of excessive gore in slow motion (like the woman getting her fingers blown off) don't make a movie dark; what the movie lacked was an impending sense of doom created through the meticulous development of a world truly lost. A scene like Silk Spectre II and Nite Owl II fighting bad guys in an alley with everyone spewing one-liners at each other is Golden Age superhero material - the antithesis of Watchmen.
The Exclusion Of The 'Black Freighter' Story Removed A Poignant Metaphor
Tales of the Black Freighter is a comic book within the comic book of Watchmen, and for most of the graphic novel, it's difficult to understand its purpose. But in the final scene with Ozymandias, it bursts into relevance. In the book, Ozymandias speaks of a dream he had that parallels his story with that of the main character in Black Freighter. What it reveals about Ozymandias is everything. It's proof that he's haunted by his strike on humanity. It's proof that he's remorseful, not just a calculating monster - even if he believes he had to carry out the act despite the pain he would be forced to live with afterward. That complexity is stripped from the film, compounded by Matthew Goode's portrayal of the character as a run-of-the-mill villain.
The Squid Is Missing
The squid very well could have ripped viewers unfamiliar with the source material out of the experience. It may have seemed jarring and out of place, a complete subversion of everything before it. But that's exactly what it was in the comic book. What's most fascinating about the book's inclusion of a giant squid going after New York is just how comic book-y it is, because the rest of the story makes a concerted effort not to be. The superheroes are not actually superheroes. But when the book subverts all of that in the end, it serves as a clever reminder that what you're reading is indeed a comic book, yet is still as substantive as any work of literature. On top of that, the removal of the squid changes the ending of the story, effectively making Dr. Manhattan a pariah.