Well, on a Friday afternoon matinee, that would have been about eight people.
Some 20+ years ago, I read Watchmen when it first came out as a limited series comic book. It didn't pick up the "graphic novel" moniker until a later reissue. But even during its first run, it was still widely (or wildly) heralded as a masterpiece.
I really don't remember much about it, other than it seemed to take forever for DC to get all twelve issues out, and after the first run-through, I don't think I ever picked it up and read it again. I think I got rid of my issues years ago. Maybe they're still in a box somewhere around here. I haven't even looked.
Anyway, when I first started hearing about them making a movie from it, I didn't think they could pull it off. But as footage began being released, it looked really impressive. They seemed to be really capturing the look of the original comic. I was interested in seeing what they came up with, and although I couldn't for the life of me remember what the story was about, I thought at some point during the movie, my memory would kick in and I'd remember the ending. I figured I had a pretty good chance of the film holding my interest, at least up until that point.
Even while watching the film (even after a minor spoiler reminded me of who the villain was), I couldn't recall or figure out where it was going. I couldn't recall how it ended, who lived or died, or how or when. The problem was, I really didn't care, either. I didn't care about the characters, their situations, the world it took place in, the story, or how it was resolved.
In that regard, I think it was pretty-much like my experience with the comic book. Sure... I recognized it as being different. Ground-breaking. Maybe even a masterpiece. But I never went back and re-read it. Maybe having it drag on for twelve (or more) months wore me out, and I decided it wasn't worth slogging through it again. Maybe once the story was told, I didn't see any point in revisiting it. I don't really recall. It's one of those things where you may be able to recognize and even acknowledge something as being a masterpiece, without necessarily liking it all that much. Such was my experience with the comic book.
Or maybe it's just been over-hyped all these years by everyone else. I'm perfectly comfortable with either explanation.
So, is this movie a masterpiece, too, and I'm just missing it?
Nope. It's a twelve-month-long comic book story hacked up and crunched down into a three-hour-long muddled mess (and a very long three hours at that). What works in a comic book (endless backstory, inner monologues, time-hopping and plot exposition) doesn't necessarily translate well into film. Much of the film is spent hopping in and out of flashbacks, trying to cover too much ground, and ends up being confusing, badly edited, disjointed and woefully incomplete as a result. So much time is spent on character backstories, that by the time they get back to the central plot, it almost seems like an afterthought. That said, I think the film is faithful to the comic book in the sense I didn't care about any of the characters, story, or situations there, either. They're generally unlikable, unsympathetic, one-dimensional characters. The only one of interest (as he was in the original) is Rorschach (not to be confused with Horshack... which would have been cool if that's who he turned out to be under the mask).
The bigger issue, is that the film is already dated, because it's a essentially a cold-war era story. That's one of the things that made it so renown and powerful at the time. Many of the references from the era aren't merely dated, but obsolete. It significantly lessens the impact of the story. Also, (and I didn't find this out until after watching the movie),
they changed the ending from what it was in the comic book. No wonder I couldn't remember it.
As far as everything else goes, the special effects are generally first-rate. Except for a few minor things like a CGI tiger-thing which looks like it was animated by the guys doing The Clone Wars, and some scale problems where huge things looked more like toys. The costumes were excellent translations from the comic, and the actors looked a lot like their comic counterparts (although Nite Owl should have been fatter). Generally, the acting was very good, and at times excellent. Some of the dialogue came off as being pretty bad though, and there were times during the film where I was trying to figure out if they were trying to be serious, funny, or ironic. The makeup on some of the historical characters (particularly Nixon) was bad to the point of being distracting. The choice of music was at times questionable, and at least twice actually pulled me out of the movie. During one scene (in the owl ship) it was (probably unintentionally) funny to the point of being stupid. Some of it worked well to set the mood of specific time periods though.
When I found out they were releasing Watchmen in March, that set off some alarm bells. That's usually where studios bury movies they don't expect to do well. For a movie this high-profile and expensive, you would think it would be more suited as a summer blockbuster. But that's not happening. Watchmen is starting to bomb at the box office. Why? Well, for one thing, it's nearly three hours long (and there's a longer "director's cut" rumored to be coming out later). That generally will drive off audiences, unless it's a highly-anticipated release, and/or word-of-mouth on the film is excellent (The Dark Knight was only 15 minutes shorter, for example). So far, Watchmen hasn't exactly been tearing up the reviews. Also, it's an R-rated film (for good reason), which drastically cuts down the potential audience. And finally, even though Watchmen may be one of the most critically acclaimed comic books ever, once the comic geek crowd (which is relatively small) has seen it, who's left? These aren't well-know, mainstream heroes. They have no appeal outside of avid, hardcore comic fans. Even if you have a few million of those, that doesn't translate to huge box-office numbers.
Watchmen is a well-crafted film. It looks great. It has some good moments. But if you've never read the comic books (and even if you have), you may not find anything of interest in it. The big problem for me though, ultimately, was that I really didn't care what happened to anyone in it.
On the lighter side, if you have seen Watchmen... this is someone's idea of how it would have been translated for the small screen: