Monday, March 16, 2009

Zack Snyder's WATCHMEN

Weighing in on Watchmen is like flicking a turd in the ocean: no one's really going to notice, but it certainly adds to the general pollution. So be it. Just let me say my peace. By in large, Watchman has been unfairly dismissed and there are a couple points I feel compelled to assert as a humble fanboy and an even more humble critic.

First, Zack Snyder's Watchmen is faithful in spirit to the graphic novel. The comic is a text of grand postulation and complex parable that is just as relevant in 1985 as it is now. Omissions were minor, and the film did its best to stay true to the essence of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's creation. The novel draws conclusions, but they are by no means definitive or absolute; the film is bravely willing to stick with that. The characters are brilliantly conceived from page to screen, especially Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan.

Second, we are dealing with a very unlevel pop culture playing field. I bet for every critic who disliked Watchmen, you wold find a critic who loved Batman Begins. For months the trailer has been telling us that film is take from "the most celebrated graphic novel of all time." Those unfamiliar with Watchmen immediately made the super geek association—how else could something be so celebrated yet unknown—and those familiar with Watchmen simply wondered who said it was the most celebrated graphic novel of all time. Batman is easy. Batman is available through so many machinations it makes my head spin. It is a huge, huge franchise whose hero is always a hero. Watchmen is not so easy. There is nothing iconic to a mass audience and the 'heroes' are unredemptive at best. I found people being way to generous to Batman Begins and way to unforgiving to Watchmen.

After more than a week thinking about Watchman, having general water-cooler conversations about the film and revisiting the comic, I've warmed up to the film to the point where I am considering screenwriter David Hayter's plea to see the film again. The film's major blunder, in my opinion, was the overpowering music montages. The overtly kitschy choices were not only nauseating, but totally wrong. (Hire a friggin' composer for what you spent on the rights for those songs, dude.)

Snyder had an impossible task in front of him and I truly think he made the most of it. If you spend a week with the complete graphic novel, it will still seem like not enough time. The film crams most of that into 2 hours and 40 minutes. Inevitably, statements like "Life and death are unquantifiable abstracts" translate better to a reader than a viewer. Watchmen has a life of its own, and Snyder obviously did not want to tinker with that. Perhaps that was his biggest mistake, to not give the film a life of its own. Be it good or bad, it is chained to the graphic novel.

Watchmen has not done the business that its makers had hoped (hence the open letter to pretty please go see it again.) Watchmen was supposed to be a bigger, better and smarter film than Snyder's previous chest-beating 300. I would say, without hesitation, that Watchmen is heads and shoulders above 300, but this is apparently not what people want. Race to Witch Mountain is the new king of the hill, as Watchmen drops to number two (just ahead of Last House on the Left Redux.) God knows, no one is going to stop adapting comic books anymore than they are going to stop remaking horror films, but I'll take Rorschach over Batman and Dr. Manhattan over King Leonidas any day of the week.


Sandy Nawrot said...

I get where you are coming from. I like super heroes to be a bit flawed and not always the hero. I doubt that I will ever watch this movie though. It is hard for me to see a rated R movie...they are saved for those rare times when I have a couple hours of free time to watch a Netflix movie at home. I'm not saying its right, but a superheroes movie that kids can't go see gives it a half dozen kicks in the arse before it even comes out. Otherwise, I betcha it would have beat out Witch Mountain.

Kathie Smith said...

It's a good point. Watchmen misses out on the kids (and their parents) due to the R rating. I will say the the R rating is very deserved, and not for the buck naked Dr Manhattan. It is raw and at times very very brutal. That being said, I'm glad the makers didn't play the game of toning it down for a milder rating (and more ka-ching.)

Daniel Getahun said...

Great point about the music. Despite the decent sequences (Dylan was alright), the bad ones (Hallelujah) were REALLY bad.

This movie could have made for an iconic, classic score in the hands of a John Williams or Hans Zimmer.

Kathie Smith said...

Soooo many possibilities with the music. Think what popular music would sound like in that kind alternative 1985, or a composer willing to envision this alternative past/future... Instead we get songs that we associate from our own very real past. Oh yeah, I couldn't believe the use of the Leonard Cohen song.

I'm waitin' for your review Daniel!

Daniel Getahun said...

Not gonna happen I'm afraid! All I had to say about it is here.

Cool idea about music from an alternate 1985 - I didn't even consider that.

Sam C. Mac said...

That's more like it! - you know what I mean ;)

I agree with you on the music, and on the film in general for the most part (I think our grades equal out to be the same on different scales), but I would also add that Snyder's speed manipulation fetish works to derail this thing a bit as well.

I actually think it can be effective some of the time - slowing down some sequences can enable them to have the same impactful effect as a still frame in a graphic novel - but he doesn't seem to know the word "moderation," and the speed up stuff I can't defend; I think he just wants Night Owl's foot to 'impact' the badguy's face faster.

On that same point, having not read the novel (but read enough about this damn franchise to equal out to the length of the actual novel; how sad is that?), I was confused about the fact that these non-super-powered people can jump real high and fight like ninjas...doesn't that sort of contradict the working-class superhero vibe?

Still, like I've said before, far be it from me to dismiss a film of such scope, passion, and craft. For all the stupid shit Synder does wrong, he provides us with enough stunning visuals and thought-provoking ideas (admittedly, cribbed from Moore, I assume), and so I was happy to have seen "Watchmen."

Again, nice review Kathie!