Tuesday, August 04, 2009


So I mentioned last week that I had finally gotten around to seeing the "Watchmen" movie. The friend at whose house I watched it has posted his own thoughts about the film, and I agree with most of them, so I'm going to take the lazy way out and say Sargon is right on when he praises the film's art direction and opening credits and general faithfulness of adaptation. It's visually marvelous, and the performances are generally pretty good. I also think the writers accomplished a very hard trick when they made the film's climactic plot twist exactly the same, but different from, the graphic novel's, when they could have taken an easier (and stupider) way out. So extra points on degree of difficulty (which is not to say I don't have issues with the plot, just that my issue is not "those bastards changed it").

If you don't want to read Sargon's long and detailed review, here's his takeaway:

I think the only real problem with Watchmen as a movie is that it does not do anything the comic didn't do, and the comic really did it all better.

Overall, I liked the film. It's slow, deliberate in the same way "The Sixth Sense" was, but then, so was the comic it was based on. It's more like a mystery or horror story than a traditional super-hero story, because there's this long process of discovery, of peeling back layer upon layer, connecting seemingly disparate details until finally you reach the core of the thing and boom, it hits you in the gut with "thirty-five minutes ago." Like finding your wife's head in a box, that line is.

But a little before halfway through the movie, I found myself in a very odd place, emotionally. I was watching this movie that I'd been looking forward to for over twenty-years (obligatory name-drop: when I went on my very first movie junket to see "Lethal Weapon" in 1987, I remember having a very brief discussion with Joel Silver about how much I was looking forward to Terry Gilliam's upcoming "Watchmen" film), but as I was watching it, I was so absorbed in my own memories of the comic that I was unable to appreciate the film on its own merits.

I was constantly comparing the film to the comic in my head, noticing where they'd changed things, added lines to pad a scene (and the new dialogue written for the movie sometimes clunks hard) or pushed the violence to greater extremes. I couldn't really enjoy the movie on its own terms with fresh eyes, and I kind of wish I had been able to.

And even though I love the graphic novel and have reread it many times, I think director Zack Snyder went a little overboard in his fidelity to the source material. There are a lot of sequences that hold onto Moore's narration, for example, and though it's good stuff in general, I think there's too much of it. I think Rorshach's opening narration goes on too long, for instance. In the comic, the multiple flashbacks during the Comedian's funeral work very well, but in the movie, they're disorienting, I think. Snyder's "Watchmen" isn't as literal and clunky in its execution as "Sin City" was, but it goes too far in places (of course, I was watching the extended director's cut, so maybe the theatrical version wouldn't have been as bad in that aspect).

I also found myself occasionally wincing or giggling at lines that worked well on the page, but not when actually spoken. Rorschach's verbal tic of not using articles of speech works okay on the page, giving him a mysterious creepy air and a distinctive speech pattern, but it's stilted and annoying when spoken out loud that way. Likewise, Silk Spectre is sexy in the comic, but you get the feeling that she's sort of trapped in that role and you relate to her as a person and a victim of her own image. But seeing her as real live super-hottie Malin Akerman turned me into a bit of a giggly schoolboy. When she said she had something "to get off [her]chest," my first reaction was "Like that blouse?"

Okay, that's more a slam on me than the movie, I guess, but it illustrates one of the hazards of adaptation, I think.

Snyder does a lot of bullet-timey stuff in here during the fight scenes, speeding up and then virtually freezing the action in order to create a series of visual exclamation points (or virtual comic panels, if you will).

But a little of that goes a long way. I think he overdoes it, especially in the climactic sequence. We're supposed to be in awe of Ozymandias physical perfection and mad skillz, but nothing dropped my jaw the way a typical Jackie Chan fight sequence does, with a series of inventive stunts piled one atop another at high speed within a few seconds. And I would really like to have seen something like that, with Ozymandias moving at full speed for a sustained period of time.

Then of course, there's the entire issue of sub-text and political relevance. The one thing about Watchmen, the graphic story, that hasn't aged well is the entire global thermonuclear hysteria, which was pronounced in the mid-80's, but no longer.

When Watchmen was published, the idea of some super-genius putting forth an elaborate plot to avert nuclear disaster between the U.S. and Soviets seemed like a clever solution to the pressing problem of the times. Now it just seems quaint and misguided. Ozymandias might as well have tried to avert that impending Ice Age people were warning us about in the 70's. If Snyder had changed Veidt's plot to killing a bunch of people in the name of avoiding global warming, that would have approximated the type of relevance Watchmen had when it was first published. But that would never fly, would it?

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