Watchmen

Adaptations always rest on the precipice between fans of the source and everybody else.

When taking any book and turning it into a film, moviemakers have to look at the actual events of the plot and then balance them against the intent of each event as it contributes to the story. Everyone involved in the process of discerning which of those is more important will have to balance the intentions of the film they want to make with the content from the source material.

Most fans find it difficult to pull themselves free of rage at the sight of anything that doesn’t fit with their own expectations and assumptions about the things they love. I’ve heard “Twi-hards”, “Harry Potheads” and comic geeks gripe equally about the film versions of their favourite literary heroes. I even know guys who disliked “The Dark Knight” because it didn’t feel “comic booky” enough. In the case of superheroes, this sort of thing can be overlooked, because filmmakers aren’t adapting strict comic plots as they appeared in any particular issues or volume of a comic. There is no Batman comic that is like Dark Knight in any way beyond its themes and characters. This means it’s even easier to reboot the superhero concept with a brand new cast and crew every few years.

On the other hand, Zack Snyder has pretty much taken “Watchmen” straight from the page to the screen. He was probably even hired because he’d done the same thing with Frank Miller’s comic “300”. Of course, the thing about Frank Miller comics is that, while they’re often very entertaining, they also aren’t particularly complex. Watchmen’s author, Alan Moore, however, is the portrait of obsessive compulsiveness and this book is considered one of the greatest achievements in the history of the comic book medium.

Like I said, adaptation is a sticky business, and when it comes down to it, I prefer a suitably distinct product that hits the high notes from the book but nails the thematic subtleties and complexities, rather than just regurgitating the plot scene for scene.

“Watchmen”, unfortunately, does the latter, spending more time recreating things in exacting detail that it does actually sewing them together. The book is executed in chapters that Snyder fails to merge organically into a cohesive whole. This leads to the inclusion of scenes such as the origin of Dr. Manhattan in stunningly laborious detail, dragging on like a mini-movie shoved right into the middle of the action.

The cast of Watchmen.

The distended, disconnected directing even extends to the cast, who stride theatrically about the sets reciting comic book dialogue at its most verbose. They’re an incredible assemblage of talent – Patrick Wilson and Billy Crudup deserve specific praise – but everything that happens to and around them seems eerily 2-dimensional and out of sync with the reality Snyder is trying to create. And when he does tend to focus his lens on something, it’s the incredible levels of violence and sex that make the book a ‘mature readers’ title rather than any of the subtext that make it a critical hit.

During the movie, the God figure, Dr. Manhattan, remarks coldly that there is nothing structurally different about a human body whether it is dead or alive. It’s too bad for Zack Snyder that the same can’t be said for a movie.

The Gist: “Watchmen” is like a hot ginger: visually stunning and entertaining, but utterly soulless. Its director has no intent except to flick the pages of a picture book so that the images move.

The Best: The opening titles to Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A’Changin’” are visually amazing, proving that Snyder is best at style over substance.
The Worst: If the Dr. Manhattan origin sequence wasn’t so exquisitely acted and presented, it would’ve been the worst bit only because it slows the entire movie down. The clincher is most definitely the so-long-it-hurts sex scene to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.
Rating (in erections): Half Mast

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Comments
One Response to “Watchmen”
  1. Ivan The Burninator says:

    As you know, I walked out of this film at the cinema. I can’t really remember why, but I do recall feeling that the sex scene to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” made me seriously consider burning all of my comics and becoming a eunuch.

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