Back for the Attack
U2 and Quiet Company Return From Exile

This is the first of two columns this week. The other, which you can get to via the archive, is my long ramble about the Watchmen movie. To sum up: it could have been a lot better, but it could have been a hell of a lot worse. I’m a pretty happy geek right now.

This one, however, is about music. We’re mere weeks away from a flood of new tunes that won’t let up until summer’s over, at least – I’d have to write two columns every week to keep up with everything. (I won’t, of course, so I’m bound to miss some things.) Expect to see reviews of new records by the Decemberists, Ace Enders, Indigo Girls, Mastodon, The Wishing Tree, Prince, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Queensryche (how can I not review this craptasterpiece?), Ben Folds, Pet Shop Boys, Jars of Clay, Tinted Windows, Great Northern, Conor Oberst and Green Day. Anything else I get to is gravy.

Whew! Onward!

* * * * *

I’ve been living with the new U2 album, No Line on the Horizon, for a few weeks now, and I’ve come to the conclusion that my copy is defective.

I’d like to borrow David Fricke’s copy – his seems to be in perfect working order, judging by his five-star review in Rolling Stone. Mine, however, remains a confusing, difficult listen, no matter how many times I plow through it. I’ve been waiting for this album to click, to finally reveal itself to me, but after weeks of listening, first to a downloaded copy and then to the real thing, I’m afraid it just isn’t going to happen.

I’ve never had such a complex reaction to a U2 album before. Ordinarily, my first impression remains my enduring one – The Unforgettable Fire was a favorite early on, and has remained one, while Zooropa rubbed me wrong the first time, and never grew on me. The only exception has been Achtung Baby, which struck me as an odd, off-kilter little record my first time through, and soon blossomed, taking its place in the pantheon pretty quickly. I’m hoping the same will happen with No Line on the Horizon, though I doubt it.

The thing is, I’m an old-school U2 fan. Critics have turned on their last two albums, 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind and 2004’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, for being U2 by the numbers. I completely disagree. I think they signified a return of creative fire after a decade in the wilderness. I’m especially fond of Atomic Bomb because of its focus – it’s four guys in a room, playing their hearts out. The songs are loud and massive, and they have that reach-for-the-sky U2 flavor, but they’re much more down-to-earth and gritty than anything since the early days.

A band this restless isn’t going to stay in one comfortable place for very long, though. No Line on the Horizon is the inevitable transitional album, Bono and the lads indulging their experimental streak again. I’ve always admired U2’s willingness to follow those impulses, even if they lead straight off a cliff. But I’ve never particularly liked listening to the end products. Zooropa and Pop, perhaps the most experimental records they’ve made, occupy the bottom two slots in my U2 hierarchy.

So already I was bracing myself for No Line, an album crafted over several sessions, with numerous producers. In the end, they whittled down the dream team to alumni Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Steve Lillywhite, with a little help from Will-I-Am. But the finished album sounds like what it is – a confused hodgepodge of differing tones and intentions. It’s a baffling listen the first time through, and many of the head-scratching moments don’t coalesce on repeated listens.

Take “Magnificent,” a song I really wish I could like more than I do. U2 has built a career out of making the most of one riff, and they do it again here – “Magnificent” is constructed entirely on one pretty awesome guitar lick. But this song should be a joyous explosion, and it’s oddly muted. It’s produced within an inch of its life, with string sections and keyboards jockeying for room. Every time Larry Mullen goes into one of those endless snare drum fills, the song’s momentum stops dead. This will probably be great live, but it’s far too subdued here.

Speaking of momentum-killers, there’s “Moment of Surrender,” a seven-minute faux-gospel drone that drags the album down at track three. It’s not much of a song, but I expect the idea was to create cavernous space for Bono to fill. The Edge takes one of his few guitar breaks around the six-minute mark, but it’s so reserved it’s like it barely happens. The electronic drum beat never changes, the song never builds, it just goes on and on.

But I can see what they were going for, even if they fell short. With “Unknown Caller,” the six-minute meander that follows, I can’t even figure out what they wanted it to be. You get chiming guitars, you get keyboards, you get gang vocals urging you to “force quit and move to trash,” and the whole thing goes absolutely nowhere. Similarly, “Fez-Being Born” is like a dial tone. It drones on for five minutes without actually doing a damn thing.

It’s not all bad news. I can think of few things that scare me more than a U2 song with a title like “I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight,” but it’s actually not that bad. At least it has a good chorus, and holds together as a sweet little ditty. “Get On Your Boots” is a mess, but its follow-up, “Stand Up Comedy,” really works, even after a dozen listens. It’s no coincidence that it’s one of the few songs here that sounds like it was jammed out live, and it has Bono’s best line this time out: “Josephine, be careful of small men with big ideas.”

Speaking of Bono, I am convinced the rest of the band needs to corner him, rip his first draft lyrics out of his hands and throw them on the fire. Even though I’m not fond of the results, it’s clear the music on this album was labored over. The lyrics, on the other hand, sound like they were scrawled onto bar napkins ten minutes before Eno hit the record button. The record kicks off with its title track, a mid-tempo tunnel of sound – you won’t be able to tell what noises were made with guitars, basses and synths, but Mullen’s powerhouse drumming holds the whole thing together. But what does Bono sing on top of this? Here are the honest-to-God opening lyrics:

“I know a girl who’s like the sea, I watch her changing every day for me, oh yeah/One day she’s still, the next she swells, you can hear the universe in her sea shells…”

Seriously. You can hear the universe in her sea shells. It gets worse. “Moment of Surrender” is about having a religious epiphany while using the ATM (or “ATM machine,” as Bono redundantly puts it). The narrator of “Unknown Caller” wants you to “cease to speak, so that I may speak, shush now” and “restart and reboot yourself.” All of “Get On Your Boots” is embarrassing. He hits the mark a few times, particularly on the superior second half – “White as Snow,” despite borrowing its melody from “O Come, O Come Emanuel,” is a haunting tale of a wounded soldier in Afghanistan. But mainly, the lyric man blows it.

The best song on the album is buried at track 10. “Breathe” is reminiscent of “Trip Through Your Wires,” but rowdier and funnier: “Coming from a long line of traveling salesmen on my mother’s side, I wasn’t just going to buy anyone’s cockatoo,” Bono smirks at one point. But this song moves – it has a terrific melody, and carries it along for its full five minutes. Yeah, there’s an unnecessary string section, but this is the one song here that pulses with life. “Cedars of Lebanon” closes the proceedings on a hushed, almost sinister note, and I’ve grown to quite like this one, too. “Choose your enemies carefully ‘cause they will define you,” Bono sing-speaks, and as the music melts away, he closes with, “They’re gonna last with you longer than your friends.”

But despite brief flashes, No Line on the Horizon is less than the sum of its parts. About half of it still leaves me baffled, even after more than a dozen spins, and the other half doesn’t hold a candle to the best songs from the last two records. Worst of all, that creative fire so prevalent on those last two albums is in short supply on this one. This is a band in dire need of some scaling back. I would like to hear what they come up with given only three months, a live room and a bunch of microphones. No Line on the Horizon is overcooked, yet lukewarm, a confusing collection of sounds that never takes flight. Like its title, it makes less sense the more you consider it.

* * * * *

And now for something completely better.

Three years ago, Austin songwriter Taylor Muse appeared out of nowhere, releasing a hell of a debut album, Shine Honesty, under the name Quiet Company. I don’t regularly listen to a lot of the records I bought in 2006, but Shine Honesty still gets a lot of spins to this day. The reason is Muse’s songs – they are dynamic and bold and melodic, and they reveal more little pleasures each time you hear them. The album was like a sustained fanfare, announcing the arrival of a major talent.

I wanted more right away, but it took three years for Muse and his collaborators to put together Quiet Company’s second album, graced with the glorious title Everyone You Love Will Be Happy Soon. In those three years, Muse has left Northern Records and struck out on his own – the new QuietCo album is a self-released affair. Which means it will probably reach fewer people than even the debut album did, unless word gets around. Well, I’m about to do my part, because this album is excellent – it’s not as immediate as Shine Honesty, but with repeated listens, it reveals itself as a gem, better in many respects than the band’s terrific first effort. Put simply, you should buy this, and you should buy it now.

On Shine Honesty, Muse overdubbed himself again and again, achieving these dramatic epics that belied his budget. On Everyone You Love, he’s gone even bigger. The sound is somehow more homespun and ragged, but the songs are more confident, more layered. It’s a more complete album, a fuller experience. New band member Thomas Blank, who plays guitars, pianos, organs and other things, helps flesh these tunes out, and there are a host of guests this time. It sounds more like a band effort than the one-man show Muse gave us last time.

What hasn’t changed, however, is the songwriting. Taylor Muse remains a singular talent – there are 15 songs on this thing, and every single one packs a melodic punch. Even the most typical of these tunes, the Wilco-esque “Golden (Like the State),” goes places you won’t expect, and when Muse really builds up a head of steam, his songs unfold and flower and evolve, rarely ending up where they began. “Seal My Fate” begins with four chords on a loping acoustic guitar, but check out where it goes – the delightful sunshine pop chorus is fantastic.

Highlights? Okay. The deliriously-titled “It’s Better to Spend Money Like There’s No Tomorrow Than Spend Tonight Like There’s No Money” gallops to life with an electric piano figure and a quick-quick drumbeat, and its energy never flags: “You better stop and smell the roses, you better love the life you live,” Muse sings, and the joyous music backs him up perfectly. “Our Sun is Always Rising” is one of my favorites. It begins with a simple piano sketch, guitars and drums crashing in out of nowhere and disappearing just as quickly. But it evolves into an epic pop wonderland worthy of the Polyphonic Spree.

“Red and Gold” is the album’s most beautiful moment, Muse stepping into Fleet Foxes territory for a few minutes. A fragile acoustic guitar, some sweet harmonies, and a great little melody – what else do you need? Oh, right, thoughtful lyrics, which Muse also provides in spades: “Take your time discussing all your needs, because every road will end up at the sea,” he sings.

Some of these songs are straight diary entry, some (like the sweet “Congratulations Seth and Kara”) are letters to specific people. But every one of these lyrics is considered and well-written – Bono should take notes. Muse wrestles with God, just like Bono does, but Muse’s struggles somehow seem more real, less concerned with an audience. He argues scriptures with his brother in “Seth and Kara,” and in “The Beginning of Everything at the End of the World,” he declares that modern religion “leaves me feeling cold, leaves me feeling faithless, because our scars both old and new, they never seem to shame us.”

And just like last time, Muse really pulls out the stops at record’s end. He’s already asked you to listen to 45 minutes of relatively complex pop by the time you get to “How to Fake Like You are Nice and Caring,” a seven-minute excursion into awesome, but you won’t mind. The title is a reference to Magnolia, and the song is a doubt-filled excoriation of this greedy world. Once it gets going, it’s like a roller coaster, zipping through different movements and melodies with graceful ease.

He gets no less epic with “On Modern Men,” another one that starts slow and builds relentlessly, Sufjan Stevens style, into a wall of sound. “They want you to take a bow, everybody here’s allowed one, so make it good, son,” Muse sings, effectively bringing the album to a close. Sweet coda “Congratulations April and Lucas” is like a parting gift: “I’m gonna count my blessings, I’m gonna count my sacred things…” Despite the noisy denouement, it’s a low-key, optimistic finish to an album that has laid bare its author’s soul, and by the end, you feel Muse has earned his rest.

I didn’t know what to expect from a second Quiet Company album, and in some ways, I feared the first one may have been a fluke. In retrospect, though, I’m not surprised that Everyone You Love Will Be Happy Soon is this good. This is the sound of Taylor Muse coming into his own, and what a sound that is. I only wish more people would get to hear it.

So here’s the deal. You can hear a bunch of songs from the new record here. If you like it, you can buy it here. Last time, I favorably compared Taylor Muse to Paul Simon, and this time, I’ve given his record a better review than U2’s. That should tell you something. Click over and check it out. You won’t regret it.

Next week, well, I’m spoiled for choice. Neko Case? Soundtrack of Our Lives? Chris Cornell? Cursive? Buddy and Julie Miller? Could be any of them. Join me in seven days to find out.

See you in line Tuesday morning.

Watching Watchmen
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Zack Snyder's Film

So they finally made a Watchmen movie. I’ve seen it twice. Let me tell you about it. I will try to do it without spoilers, but I can’t promise anything, so be warned.

* * * * *

Watchmen is not about superheroes.

This is the first thing you need to know if you plan on seeing the movie. If you go in expecting good guys and bad guys, Batmen and Jokers, you’re going to be baffled. The book sent a seismic shock through the comics industry when in came out in 1986, and 23 years later, its pitch-dark vision hasn’t lost any of its punch. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons essentially took Stan Lee’s approach to its logical, nihilistic extreme – Lee gave his superheroes real-world problems, then laid them over fantastical backdrops, but Moore and Gibbons went all the way.

The question Watchmen posits is this: what would costumed heroes really be like? What kind of people would actually dress up as bats or owls and prowl the night, looking for rights to wrong? Well, they’d be disturbed personalities who get off on the rush of violence. They’d be attention-seekers looking for the spotlight. Or they’d be psychopaths with an insanely heightened sense of justice. These are the characters of Watchmen. People crazy enough to think they can turn the tide of human nature. And one of them is crazy enough to think he can save the world.

I bring this up because many reviewers are missing this fundamental point. Some have complained that they don’t know who to root for. Some have supposed that Rorschach, the obviously mentally damaged and hyper-violent vigilante that sets the movie’s plot in motion, is in fact the hero. He’s not. There aren’t any heroes. You’re not supposed to root for any of these people, and if the ending leaves you wondering about the moral compasses of everyone, including your own, then it’s done its job. Watchmen is not about superheroes. It’s about people.

What would costumed heroes be like? Imagine the worst people you know. Now give them anonymity and autonomy – free rein to do whatever they want with no consequences. That’s what they’d really be like.

* * * * *

So I’ve been dreading a Watchmen movie for about 15 years now.

Part of the reason for this is that Watchmen is defiantly a comic book. It’s not a storyboard, it does not have aspirations towards any other storytelling method. It does not propose ideas beyond its medium, it explores its medium to the fullest with its ideas. The book is partially a commentary on comics from the 1930s to the 1980s, and no matter what, there’s just no way a screen adaptation could (or would) capture that.

The context is just one of those things I had to let go, and I’d been preparing for that for years. But as I heard about the on-and-off plans for this movie over the last decade and a half, I realized there were some things I just couldn’t let go. I really boiled it down to a couple. I mentioned the biggest one above – any attempt to turn these people into heroes would have turned my stomach.

Also, the alternate 1980s setting was sacrosanct, as far as I was concerned. The book pivots on the escalating arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the threat of nuclear war always in the background. Only one period in our history gives you that perfect sense of all-consuming dread that Watchmen needs. Pushing it forward in time, making it contemporary, swapping in George W. Bush and the Iraq war – these were all ideas honestly mooted during Watchmen’s long journey to the screen, and I think I pulled a decent percentage of my hair out just reading about them.

Finally, there’s the ending. I’ve said before, I don’t care about the mechanics of it. The morality of it, the theme, is what’s important. The ending of Watchmen is about what it really takes to save the world, and it’s not the superheroic throwdown that the studios were likely expecting. I worried that the ending would be changed, that the deliberately comic-booky tone of the penultimate chapters would be carried through. They’re a feint, you see. A trick, a joke. The messy, complex world of Watchmen cannot have a simplistic ending wrapped in a bow. It just can’t.

Adding to my sense of dread was the seemingly endless succession of terrible Alan Moore screen adaptations. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. From Hell. Constantine. V for Vendetta. Endings changed, characters eviscerated, and in some cases, entire foundational concepts burned at the stake. Alan Moore may be the most thoughtful writer the medium of comics has ever produced, but his on-screen legacy is littered with brain-dead wrecks. (Keanu Reeves as John Constantine? In Los Angeles? Really??)

Moore himself gave up on Hollywood a long time ago. He has asked that his name be removed from adaptations of his works – he can’t stop them, because much of Moore’s output has been for the major companies, who end up owning his books, and can sell the rights to production companies without his consent. He even gives his portion of the movie money to his original collaborators – Eddie Campbell on From Hell, for example, or David Lloyd on V for Vendetta. Moore has no hope that any adaptation will do his work justice, and maybe he’s right to think this way. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be Alan Moore, watching the League movie. I shudder just thinking about it.

But I’m not Moore, and I tried to remain hopeful. The movie passed through hands both talented and not so talented before landing with Zack Snyder, the man who adapted Frank Miller’s 300 a few years ago. This is only Snyder’s third film, but he’s shown a genuine love for the comics medium, and a penchant for remaining faithful to an author’s vision. I had hope.

The cast was announced. Almost entirely unknowns. Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach. Billy Crudup (the movie’s biggest name) as Dr. Manhattan. Patrick Wilson (who?) as Nite Owl. I started getting excited – Snyder seemed to know that big-name actors would only be distracting for characters this indelible. The trailers began appearing. Dr. Manhattan looked amazing. His clockwork palace on Mars looked exactly right. The Owlship. Rorschach’s shifting mask. Everything was right. I started getting very excited.

I ended up taking four hours off in the middle of the day last Friday to see the movie. As the lights dimmed and the screen turned yellow for the opening credits, I could barely breathe. I was watching Watchmen, and I wasn’t scared. I was thrilled.

* * * * *

Realistically speaking, I could not have asked for a better Watchmen movie.

That sounds like faint praise, and I don’t mean it as such. This movie is a miracle. Had it been 60 percent faithful to Moore and Gibbons, it would have been impressive. But 99.9 percent faithful is just… amazing. I know Alan Moore will never see this, but he could not have found someone more respectful of his work and his intentions than Zack Snyder. Even in places where the story has been altered, the intent has remained true. Snyder’s not just a fan, he’s practically an acolyte, and I love him for it.

The movie opens with the murder of the Comedian, also known as Edward Blake. It’s a nasty, violent scene, and it sets the tone well. Then we’re off into the most amazing credits sequence I’ve seen in ages – a parade of images that give you the back story of Watchmen brilliantly, set to Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changing.” There’s a ton of exposition covered in artful silence here, and a number of very important character clues sprinkled throughout. I would have paid full price just to see this sequence again.

And then, Snyder adapts the first six chapters of the book, almost verbatim. It was incredible to watch. Even the tricky fourth chapter, giving Dr. Manhattan’s back story as he reminisces on Mars, is as exact as it could be. I’m sure dozens of screenwriters struggled with this sequence, trying to make its shifting times and settings more accessible for a moviegoing audience. David Hayter and Alex Tse just wrote Moore’s words down, and Snyder essentially shot the comic, nearly panel for panel. And it works brilliantly.

Above all in this first half, Snyder and his screenwriters kept the most important thing front and center – these are not heroes. Rorschach seems like the central character at first, but his intense origin story (truncated a little here) puts him at the fringes, just as he should be. Jon Osterman (Dr. Manhattan) is distant, shallow, and self-obsessed, qualities you wouldn’t expect from a big blue god. (Or maybe you would, which is the point.) Dan Dreiberg (Nite Owl) is flabby and retreating, a middle-aged failure. Laurie Juspeczyk (Silk Spectre) is an emotional mess, living in the shadow of her mother and tired of a life as Jon’s lover.

I could go on, but you get the point. Snyder got everything right. And even though he veers off the track somewhat in the second half, it’s never to the movie’s detriment – he adds only a couple of scenes invented from whole cloth, and does his best to deliver a faithful treatment of even Moore’s less considered moments. It’s a dense book, which makes for a complicated movie, but by the end, you really feel the conflicts of these characters. It’s superbly done.

* * * * *

The cast is variable, unfortunately. At the top of the heap is Jackie Earle Haley, who simply is Rorschach. I have been terrified of just how Rorschach would come across on screen for years. Would he be cheesy? Would they turn him into a hero? But Haley is amazing. With the constantly-morphing mask on, he has only his voice, but he nails Rorschach’s dispassionate growl. With his mask off, he is simply incredible – he has the character’s detached stare down perfectly. His scenes with the prison psychologist are a highlight, and I was pleased to see that Hayter and Tse rescued Rorschach’s best line – in the book, it’s an offhand recollection written down in the psychologist’s journal, but in the movie, he says it, and delivers it perfectly.

(You will know the line when you hear it. I don’t want to give it away here. Suffice it to say, it caps off the prison cafeteria scene, and it brought gasps and cheers both times I saw the film.)

Billy Crudup is excellent as well. I’d always imagined Dr. Manhattan with a booming, omnipotent voice, but his thin tones work even better – they are bored and disengaged, which Osterman often is, a side effect of omniscience. The special effects team did wonders with this big blue monstrosity, and the best part is, you can still see Crudup at the character’s center. Also excellent was Patrick Wilson, as the schlubby Dreiberg, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, as the psychotic Comedian.

But there are two characters I probably would have re-cast. The flaws are not fatal, but they are significant. First is Malin Akerman as Laurie Juspeczyk. To start, she’s just too young to play this part. Her character talks about things she did 15 years ago, and I found myself thinking, “What, when you were eight?” But more than that, Laurie is the emotional center of the movie – so much of this orbits around her feelings, her pain. And I didn’t quite feel that from Akerman. Her big scene on Mars in chapter nine comes off a bit flat, and I didn’t quite buy her love story with Dan, a big part of the second hour.

And then there is Matthew Goode, as Adrian Veidt, a.k.a. Ozymandias. In many ways, Veidt is Watchmen’s most complex character, and Goode’s performance is frustratingly one-note. What I wanted, and didn’t get, was the weight of responsibility Veidt feels. We don’t get any of his sadness, just his confidence. Also, Veidt’s last panel in the book is his one moment of terrified doubt, and I wish we could have seen that in the movie. Goode is also too young to play Ozymandias, and what should be world-weary determinism comes off as brash arrogance. Of all of them, I wish this performance had been different.

Snyder didn’t help matters by faithfully copying one of the missteps of the book – we don’t get to know Adrian very well. He’s sidelined for much of the story, until he steps center-stage. I would have liked an origin story, some sense of why he does what he does. In the book, it’s told in little moments, and in a text piece at the end of chapter 11. The movie keeps the moments, but Goode’s performance doesn’t let us in. Reading the book, we know that Veidt watching the map burn at the first and only meeting of the Crimebusters was a major moment, one that led to his later actions. That’s in the movie, but we don’t really feel the weight of it on Adrian, and I wish we did.

* * * * *

Do I have problems with the movie? Oh, yeah. As wonderful as it is, there are still some things I’d have done differently, and I expect every fan has his/her own list. Some of mine:

The violence has been ramped up for the film. The book was more suggestive about it, but the movie is very in-your-face, particularly when Dan and Laurie are attacked in an alley. I understand the points Snyder is making, but I fear this scene undermines the characters a bit.

Dr. Manhattan’s big blue penis is on display quite frequently. I get the symbolism, and didn’t really care that much, but I worry that it will be a distraction for moviegoers not as invested in the story as I am.

Speaking of phallic symbols, the other one – President Nixon’s protruding proboscis – is a little too, pardon the expression, on the nose.

The music choices were okay, but pedestrian. Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” in particular invites laughs over Dan and Laurie’s sex scene, although those laughs will come anyway once the flamethrower is triggered. (Trust me, it’s funny.) Here’s one they did right, though – see if you can spot Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” played under a key scene.

Carla Gugino’s makeup, as the aging Sally Jupiter, is not very convincing.

The second hour seems to lose its way, as the sense of impending dread fades into the background. In the book, it’s kept front and center with other characters, small parts that didn’t make it into the movie. I like what’s there, and it makes sense to focus on our main characters, but I don’t feel the same sense of movement I do in the book.

The context and subtext is largely missing, which I expected. You wouldn’t really get the idea, watching this movie, why the book made it onto Time Magazine’s list of 100 greatest novels. It doesn’t feel as important without the subtext scattered throughout. And no movie could replicate this book’s impact on comics as a medium and on pop culture, which informs every re-read. Not Snyder’s fault at all, but still.

I can think of more, but I’ll stop there. As you can tell, these are all minor quibbles, not devastating flaws. For every missed step, Snyder took ten that are sure and steady. All in all, I am happy.

* * * * *

Of course, I have to talk about the ending.

I will try to do so without giving it away, which will be a challenge. For much of its running time, Watchmen seems to be headed for a heroes-and-villains denouement, a Dark Knight-style rumble. The subversion of that expectation is one of Alan Moore’s finest moments, and I have read with dismay as many critics have dismissed the ending as anti-climactic. That, of course, is the entire point – the unexpected events, and the characters’ reactions to them, are the book. And, blessedly, they are the movie too.

Yes, the ending is different. You may have seen the phrase “giant squid” in some reviews, and I can tell you that no such squid appears in the film. What does appear, astonishingly, is something better, something more elegant, that allows Snyder to retain every emotional moment of Moore’s finale. The mechanics are different, but the beats, the themes, the philosophical questions – they are all the same. Snyder and his screenwriters even kept Veidt’s best line, in many ways my favorite in the entire book.

I’ve been thinking long and hard about this, and I believe it’s true – the new ending is better. It doesn’t pack the same punch as the original, partly because the book’s momentum is lost somewhat in the film’s second hour. But when it happens, it still comes as a fantastic surprise. And every moment after that is perfect. Haley in particular knocks his final scenes out of the park. In the final analysis, how the ending happens doesn’t matter, just that it does. And here, it dovetails with the rest of the plot much more thoroughly.

The first time I saw Watchmen, I was watching with a critical eye, looking for deviations from the book. The ending was a white-knuckle journey for me – I could just see the cop-out coming, the studio-mandated sugar being coated on. And as it unfolded, I slowly relaxed – it wasn’t until an hour or so later that it struck me just how well Snyder had pulled this off. The second time, I sat back and enjoyed it, and I have to tell you, it quite simply works.

It really works.

* * * * *

Watchmen the film will never be Watchmen the book.

For all the effort Snyder put in capturing moments large and small, the essence of Watchmen can’t be translated to the screen. The story has survived intact, and amazingly, the emotions and themes have as well. But the experience of reading the book is its own thing, one I highly recommend.

Will people who haven’t read the book respond well to the movie? I don’t know. It’s a dense film, and it doesn’t work overtime to make non-believers care. I tried to imagine what I would think had I never encountered these characters or their world before, and I couldn’t do it. But as someone who has read the book, over and over again, I’m deliriously happy with Snyder’s adaptation. Could it have been better? Of course. But it could have been so much worse, too.

After 15 years of worrying about this, I can finally exhale. The Watchmen movie is here, and it’s better than I ever hoped it would be. I expected I would see this once, out of obligation. Now I am making plans to see it a third and fourth time, out of unbridled joy and admiration. Go ahead and watch this Watchmen – while it isn’t the book, much of what I love is here. Thank you, Zack Snyder, for taking such care with this book. It’s just a story about people in costumes, but it’s pretty important to me, and I appreciate it.

Oh, and David Hayter? All is forgiven.

* * * * *

As a side note, this is why I run my own website. I can’t imagine any publication paying me (or even allowing me) to write more than 3,000 words on the Watchmen movie. Thanks for making it this far. I’m done now.

See you in line Tuesday morning.