This is a very difficult question to answer. On a technical level, I do believe that the movie is sufficient for understanding the story (so long as someone clues the person into the changed ending.)
However, I feel that the comic does a far superior job at presenting the story.
This is going to sound horrible, but thefoolkieran.19908 actually was the person who pushed me to finally read Watchmen because of a comment he made that addressed the core of my issue that I wasn’t sure was polite to ask out loud.
I actually found long swaths of the film to be rather boring. And, for that matter, he’s right; the comic is never boring.
I guess sometimes I should be more honest and forthright with my questions. But, I also try to reign myself in because sometimes I can be very opinionated and outspoken to my own detriment. I’ve actually been banned from a lot of fan forums in the past for being too blunt with people. (Hence, one of the reasons why I named myself Insufferable Damian. Because I have his effect on people sometimes.)
In asking, ‘Is Watchmen really worth buying to read it if I already saw the movie?’ I was essentially trying to figure out, ‘Is the comic worth the money? Because I found the movie to be mostly boring. Does the comic do a better job at telling the story in a way that I will actually care?’ The movie touched on some interesting ideas. I enjoyed the visuals. But, overall, I was mostly checking the time to see how much longer I had for it to be done.
I watched the movie around a year ago and don’t remember a lot of it specifically. I plan to watch it again soon and form a more complete opinion on it. So, this is kind of an unfair comparison. But, here are my views from what I remember of it.
The movie did a horrible job at making me care about its characters. I think the movie was made with the idea that people already read the comic and knew and cared about these characters.
For instance, the opening montage was very confusing. It referenced a bunch of ‘old time’ things in rapid succession. I presumed these were older Watchmen characters correctly from what I did read about the story. But, did not really understand until watching this montage part again recently for reference that this was a lot of quick nods to story elements that the movie didn’t have the time to cover properly.
The entire movie felt like that, really. Trying to do its best to quickly cover a bunch of story content that it didn’t really have the time to cover properly.
I think the movie suffers from this because, not having had the background of having read the the comic first, the characters came off to me as generic ‘off-brand’ Superhero cliches rather than as actual characters. Because of this, I did not emotionally connect with any of them and did not really care what happened with any of them. I think that’s why I was so bored with them. It’s difficult to emotionally invest in characters that haven’t been ‘sold’ to me or ‘earned.’
I found Laurie to be mopey, Dan was boring and tragic, the Comedian was an ass, Manhattan was emotionally detached and empty, and Rorschach was just plain psychotic. So, I wasn’t entirely sure who I was supposed to care about. But I didn’t care about any of them.
The only character I liked in the film was Ozymandias. But, he didn’t have nearly enough screen time. And, like the others, he was woefully underdeveloped. Even still, he came off as (let me think of a nice word to use here) full of himself. But, at least he was doing something to help. Even though I get the feeling that I’m supposed to feel that what he did was ‘wrong’ or ‘morally ambiguous.’ The film seems to be telling me that’s what I’m supposed to feel with film grammar.
I also absolutely hated how Laurie’s Mom was portrayed in the movie. She came off as a reclusive Hollywood type trying desperately to recapture her youth whilst being overbearing on her daughter. She had no redeeming qualities. I guess I was supposed to feel sorry for what happened to her. The film seemed to be telling me to be, again, film grammar. But, she was so horribly unlikable as a whole that I just couldn’t stand the scenes she was in. I got (and I know this isn’t exactly the correct term to use here in this situation) ‘gold digger’ vibes from the character. She just came off as full of herself, repugnant, and I just felt that the character had no redeeming qualities at all and did not know why the film kept acting like I was supposed to care about her. I could see why Laurie hated her and the character was largely estranged. I wouldn’t want to spend any time with this character either.
This is tragic, because I got an entirely different impression from the character in the comic. In the comic, she comes off as a kindly elderly woman who is reminiscing about her past. Sure, she’s a bit overbearing; but many Mothers are. In fact, I actually felt sorry for her throughout the entire comic and felt that Laurie was being mean to her. Her relationship with the Comedian came off as more honest and subtle; multi-layered. By the end, I saw their story as a tragedy. Because she clearly did still love him. If he hadn’t assaulted her, they could have been a great couple together and lived a happy life. Yet, she was the one tragically left with the shame and the guilt. I felt she hated him for the assault, but still had feelings for him anyway; and thus internalized this in blaming herself partially as well as blaming him. Yet, she was still protective of her daughter to spite her continued feelings for him. Laurie didn’t know the full truth, which her Mom hid from her out of I feel shame herself and for protecting Laurie.
Watchmen, the comic, has a through story that is complimented with intertwining stories that all together make the full story.
Watchmen, the movie, almost exclusively fallows the through story with as many nods as can be quickly squeezed in to the intertwining stories.
Because of this, Watchmen, the comic, is a fully fleshed out, multi-layered, full body, storytelling experience.
By contrast, Watchmen, the movie, is ‘Watchmen Lite.’ It gets the job done. It’s beautifully filmed. But, it’s certainly the watered down version of the two.
The intertwining stories paint the characters as real people with hobbies, interests, histories, and motivations. It doesn’t leave them, as the film does, as empty, off-brand, Superhero cliches. I think this is a huge reason why I cared about them in the comic. As well as the comic just taking more time to build the characters in general. Also, the intertwining stories do a lot with world building and really showing how the events effect different people at different stations in society. As apposed to so closely fallowing the main characters almost entirely exclusively.
Again, I think a lot of the movie’s difficulties were around the pacing and time constraints of its medium. So many story points were better developed in the comic and came off as cliché to me in the film. Like, in the comic, they build the relationships between Manhattan and Laurie and Laurie and Dan in a way that I cared. Whereas in the movie the love triangle came off as cliche and boring to me. I guess the key word here would be underdeveloped; due to time constraints and pacing. In the movie, it’s like, ‘They’re in a love triangle. Care about it.’ And I’m like, ‘Nah, I just kind of don’t.’ It didn’t feel earned to me in the film. It’s like the story was just thrust on me and I was expected to just care on the face of it.
So, in the comic, Manhattan was a complex character going through the transition of realizing what his powers meant to people who cared about him and he cared about; as well as how his mere presence effected the entire world. Dan and Laurie had a sweet romance that about both of them finding themselves and each other; especially Laurie. It was quite a journey of her finding herself. Even Rorschach felt more human to me.
I remember a scene where he was telling off the Land Lady for the lies she told to the paper about him and saw her son staring back up at him and he backed off because it mirrored his childhood and I felt like I understood a human side to his character in that moment.
This is indicative to the comic experience as a whole. Each character has these fleshed out moments that, in the comic, feel earned and paint the characters as full people. They felt like humans instead of cliches.
I even felt sorry for the Comedian in the flashback because he realized the price he paid for what he had done. That he can’t ever talk with his own daughter, because of what he did to her Mother. I remember looking at the pictures in that scene and he looked sad; remorseful. Like it finally fell upon him a real consequence for his action. The realization of the family he could have had, but now never can. Maybe I’m giving the Comedian too much credit. But, in my view, he looked sad there.
The comic also presents Ozymandias as a well rounded character. His personality is fleshed out and he is concerned about whether or not he did do the right thing. He is still my favorite character. I still think, given his situation, that he made the right choice. But, it’s clear that this weighs on him more in the comic.
So, in summation, I feel that someone could technically get by with just the watching the movie. But, then the person would be cheating himself or herself out a much better experience. The movie is decent. It has great moments. But, it works much betters as a compliment to the comic after having already read the comic. Looking back, I would have rather read the comic first myself.
That said, that is why I voted “yes” to the comic being required in my own poll. Because, even though you could skate by with just the movie, it’s certainly not the experience that I would recommend.
So, ‘No, you don’t have to read it, strictly speaking; if you’ve already seen the movie. But, yes, you certainly should.’ If I had phrased my original question to ‘should you’ instead of ‘is it required’ then my “yes” to my own poll would make more technical sense.
Reading the comic is required if you want to actually care about the characters and experience the story from the beginning to the end without ever becoming bored. At least, that was my experience with it.