As with all adaptations of books its easy to get bogged down in details about whats been changed and which version is better etc. I've never been a fan of comparing books to their movie counterparts. The media are so different that its like comparing a washing machine with Albert Einstein! Nonetheless I do enjoy debating how books are transferred to the screen and working out why certain decisions are made in the creative process. Of course, if we have to do a direct comparison then in 99% of cases the book version is always "better", purely because so much more can be done in a book that can be achieved in a limited timeframe on the screen.
Watchmen is one of my favourite books of all time. The story is so layered and complex that when the announcement was made that a movie was coming I initially dismissed it. I didn't believe the story could be done justice on the screen. There are just some books that don't work well on film. I was precious about "them changing the story" despite my views in the previous paragraph.
Nonetheless I managed to look forward to the film knowing full well that the entire story could never be filmed in all its glory and that cutting a lot of the backstory would have to be necessary, but if done right it didn't mean the film could work as a movie in its own right.
My two initial reactions on walking out of the cinema somewhat bleary-eyed were "WOW!" and "Errrrr... what?!". Watchmen really is a movie of contradictions. There are times, particularly in the first half, when the scenes feel like they have been ripped directly from the book. It's almost like staring at one of those storyboards and suddenly being transported into the real thing. The look and feel is perfect and the crew should be commended on this. The story flowed beautifully and again didn't feel vastly different from the book. Rather it was missing many elements that clearly wouldn't fit in a 2 and a half hour film.
The final hour did seem somewhat convoluted and, while I'm sure the final 20 minutes will divide fans of the book in a huge way, this is not my main concern. The issue I and one of my friends had was that we just aren't sure if people who haven't read the book will get it. Rather than a complete adaptation, there are times when it feels more like a companion piece; something for the fans to watch alongside reading the book.
I may be wrong about this, and I look forward to getting the opinions of the people who have never read the book. It is possible that I am only seeing it as confusing because I know the source story so well and that some of the missing pieces of backstory seem to be too important to be left out. But I look forward to getting opinions on this.
In terms of enjoyment I really did love seeing this film. My fears were unjust and while I may have gripes about parts of the story I would have liked to have seen on the screen, I accept that it would be impossible to fit it all in. I don't need to state which "version" I prefer, as that should be obvious, but I do feel the movie stands on its own merit and deserves respect for what it achieves. This is what all movie adaptations should strive for. It's not about "bettering" the novel, but about providing a separate interpretation of a story in a different format.
For me the most important elements are there, particularly in terms of the characters. Again, while I have some gripes about Ozymandias, the key thing is that Rorschach is as he should be. His narration and posture (while masked and unmasked) are incredible and the actor deserves considerable praise for pulling this off. Similarly, there is no compromise in terms of toning down the content for the big screen. It is dark, gritty, harsh and uncompromising from start to finish. And the soundtrack is phenomenal.
In summary, see this film, whether you've read the book or not. I do feel something is lost by not reading the book, but I'll be interested to hear the thoughts of the uninitiated.