"It is not herasy. And I will NOT RECANT."
I'll be brief here, and spell it out in easily understood language.
GO SEE THIS FILM.
Jesus Christ,</i> hollywood! You've been turning out pablum crap for thirty years and you were capable of this?
What happened? Y'all finally get tired of jerking off?
Yes, it's changed.
1) The story is moderately compressed. Events get tied tighter together, conversations are distilled a little. But they did such a goddamn good job, that you don't notice. In some places, they actually made it better. Rorschach best line is better placed in the movie than in the book. "I'm not trapped in here with you...YOU'RE TRAPPED IN HERE WITH ME! Unfortunately, we did loose my favorite line from the book. "Did the costumes make it good?" But I'll let it go.
2) The ending. That's a big change. To be honest, I'm gonna have to think long and hard about that alteration. The essence of the ending hasn't been changed in the least... but the direction of that particular shaped charge is strongly altered, and I haven't processed yet how it extrapolates throughout the rest of the story. For those who don't know, Ozymandias a) hit nine or ten world cities and b) specifically mocked it up to blame Dr. Manhattan rather than some unknown dimensional invaders. For the former, see change 3. It's the implications of the latter I haven't processed yet. The film goes to enormous lengths to specifically retain the philosophical meaning and emotional impact of the source. So why the change? To be honest, the original ending always kinda came outta nowhere. Linking it directly to Dr. Manhattan grants the plot enormous credence and ties everything together so damn well, I end up wondering why Moore didn't think of it the first time. The only real loose end it leaves is Bubastis, Ozymandias's genetically engineered tiger (product of the same technology he used to create the gigantic alien corpse).
3) The comic was and is intensely political, being a contemplation on the politics (and philosophy) of the cold war & nuclear arms race. Essentially the comic is following the same route of what I love to call the "pessimist's utopia" in the style of Aldous Huxley. However the actual politics, specifically politicians, is all implied, or detailed in the text-sections of the comic. Not having the space for such detailed implications, even in a 3-hour movie, explicit politics are more starkly referenced. Rorschach in particular rants about "liberals," and there are several added scenes to explicitly detail the brink of nuclear war which is merely implied in the comic, forever looming over the story. This has the unfortunate effect of occupying valuable screen time with "Richard Nixon" in a jarring-ly comical parody of the figure... but I have to admit, as this is no longer the 80's, the omnipresent threat of nuclear war wouldn't have the proper impact, and you'd have trouble with the emotional justification of Veidt's actions, even if they told us it was intellectually justified, otherwise.
There are also several similar small changes attempting to reflect current political climates and do for current audiences in the current world what the comic did for 80's audiences in an 80's world. Specifically, the story is structured in a more world-concious, less US-central mindset. The ending doesn't occur in just New York, but in capitals and important cities around the world. This is partially necessitated by the re-focus on Dr. Manhattan... he being a US hero who supposedly turned on the US, much of the rest of the world would not feel terribly threatened unless shown differently. Also, there has been some demonstration of the fact that there are places in the world where catastrophic events devastating New York would distinctly not result in coming together as one humanity. The rest of the changes are surprisingly subtle. On the last page of the book, one character, upon hearing of the candidacy of Ronald Regan, says "...we do not dignify absurdities with coverage. This is still America, God Damnit! Who wants a cowboy Actor in the white house?" The film version? "...we do not dignify absurdities with coverage. This is still America, God Damnit! Who wants a cowboy in the white house?" The difference (one word) being a subtle shift to indicate our most recent ex-president, the invecitive pointed at "cowboy," rather than another president, who was more decried as an "actor." That right there? That's pretty damn clever.
But never fear, the politics, while displayed in somewhat starker contrast, and satyrized through the Nixon bits, remain as morally ambiguous as in the book. You conservatives and pragmatistis, bear through the obvious lampooning until you get to the meat of the story. Liberals and idealists, if you're not feeling beseiged by this film mid-way through, then you're not paying attention. The film (and source) takes many stands, and shatters them all. The plot's central tenent is intensely pragmatic, but self-acknowledgingly hypocritical. The story's greatest (anti?)hero is the world's last idealist, but knows he must die because of it. In the end, there's only acceptance, "not condoning or condemning."
4) Pirates. The pirate story that everyone but me hated isn't in the film at all. BUT IT'S COMING OUT AS A COMPANION DISC. Holy crap.
5) The fights are more intense and lengthier. But not excessively so, and are frequently intercut with other material so the book's intense talky-ness never drags on the screen. They are also really, really beautifully shot, so I'll forgive 'em. I have something of a comic-nerd nitpick with 'em... epitomized by the first scene. The Comedian did get flung around in the comic, but the strength he displays as a 67-year old man is vastly in excess of anything he showed in the comic, making him obviously super-strong. (Yeah, I know he's a Cap America stand in.) (Further nit-pick, his fighting back is in direct contradiction with the events in the comic, where he just seemd to have given up and was resigned to his fate.)
Those were the changes, far as I can tell (not bad for a book I haven't read in five years). Now for the problems:
1) This doubles as a real honest-to-god arthouse credit to the film, but there is a lot of dick on screen. (No, not Nixon.) And blue balls. Yes, the propensity of Dr. Manhattan to float around nude is retained in the film, and the camera doesn't try very hard to crop around him or have convenient objects in the way. Lots and lots of full frontal male nudity. Minus ten points for giggly audience members, plus several hundred for authenticity and audacity. Seriously, though. Y'all get over yourselves. This is going to be the snicker point for detractors for weeks, and it's really gonna get in the way of how awesome the movie is for some people.
2) By far the weakest character of the main set is the Silk Spectre. And she really wasn't bad at all, just inadequeate next to some truly incredible performances. (Someone else back me up on this... is it just me or is the female acting potential out there dwindling down in favor of whoever fills out the outfits? I mean, it's always been a problem, but is there no actress who could have done that part better? Are comic book movies beneath actresses?)
3) The music. Very hit and miss in a few scatterd spots. It's almost like they used the soundtrack to insert the bombasity that was pointedly missing from the plot and environment. Some good solid hits, but used in places to mock the action on-screen, the worst example being where Dr. Manhattan is vaporizing Vietcong as "Ride of the Valkyries" plays. I realize it's an attempt to accentuate the horror of the moment through the contrast of humor, but that wasn't a moment that needed even the darkest of punchlines. Then again, it's like three seconds long.
4) The characters look. A little. The character re-designs added a little here and there, and took a little here and there. Night-Owl's paunch has fallen victim to the need for super heroes to always look awesome, and women to only fuck guys who are in perfect shape (especially since the camera man apparently needed us to see him naked too...). The silk specter... hrm. It's nice that the pvc fetishists get a gift like this, and I'll hardly object on those grounds (though there were a few moments she had trouble moving in it), but it distinctly pulled her outfit out of period for me. That outfit is more late 90's than mid 80's. And there will be countless cosplayers at D*C now exclusively drawing from that design. (Plus, there's something of a wardrobe malfunction at one point that makes it look kinda crappy.) Other than that, outfits were perfect.
Good things. EVERYTHING but note especially:
1) Possibly the greatest opening credits sequence in history. Seriously, it's that good. Packed full of information, beautiful, smooth, striking, meaningful. Damn.
2) The Comedian and Rorschach. Performances as near perfect as I've ever seen. Jackie Earle Haley owns Rorschach in a way McGuire has never owned Spider-man, and a way that Hugh Jackman almost owns Wolverine. You will not be able to think of Rorschach especially without his mask and not think of this actor.
3) The plot. THEY DIDN'T LEAVE ANYTHING IMPORTANT OUT. Rorschach's first murder (made more violent, but essentially the same). THE WHOLE PRISON BREAK. The rape in all it's hideous importance.
In short, other than the big change (which I'm still evaluating) all the changes are niggling little ones, necessities, or actual improvements.