It's Watchmen, but it's not Watchmen
by, 8th March 2009 at 10:43 PM (369 Views)
As a fan of the graphic novel -- one of the finest pieces of literature I've read -- I was incredibly skeptic as to if Watchmen could be transitioned well onto the silver-screen, and this film did nothing to initiate a change of heart. It's sad, because there is so much here, so many possibilities -- pieces of a puzzle -- that ultimately, don't come together as they should, leaving you to connect with it solely on an aesthetic level.
The opening scene -- Edward Blake/The Comedian's murder -- is wonderful. It is almost a carbon copy of the scene in the novel, and it works perfectly. What comes after, however, is the first dip in the roller-coaster of quality that is Watchmen. After Blake's murder, we get an needlessly long opening credit sequence that is a time-line starting from the Minutemen, continuing through their demise, and concluding with the beginning of the Watchmen. This is something that could have been done bit by bit throughout the film, and I am not sure why they couldn't just do that.
Watchmen follows this up-down formula throughout it's entirety. Most of this is a direct effect of Zack Snyder's direction. He isn't an actor's director, something you need for a film like Watchmen. He has this love affair with slo-mo and gruesome stylized violence that appears in abundance in all his films, including this one. Now, the violence in the graphic novel was very stylized, but there are people in this film adaptation beaten to a pulp for the simple reason of needing someone's bone to stick out of their arm. The amount of slo-mo shoehorned into this film was a given, and I can't say that I was surprised by it, and I'm wondering if we will ever see Snyder lose the inkling to take a story and put his signature on it, rather then simply telling the story. Snyder goes out of his way to reiterate that this isn't a kids movie, which is pointless, as it isn't going to stop idiots from bringing their youngins to see Watchmen. There were at least four kids under ten in a room of fifteen (Sundays at 3:00p.m. are never packed) in the theater I was in alone.
Because of the above-stated problems, the subtlety of the graphic novel is wiped away. It almost spells out what you are supposed to be morally conflicted about, and then beats you over the head with it, all whilst shoving a level of violence down your throat that doesn't fit here.
Speaking of things that don't fit. . .the musical selections in this movie are at times laughable, at times annoying, and almost all bad. Most are great, classic songs, but they do nothing more than bring nearly every morbidly dark moment down to campy, tongue-in-cheek, cheese. Even if lyrically they fit, if "99 Luftballoons" and "Hallelujah" have become songs that evoke chuckling, you shouldn't be using them in a film as dark as this. As epic as playing "I'm Your Boogie Man" whilst someone is gunning down protesters is, it doesn't fit the tone of Watchmen.
The stand-out in the annoying-music-department is My Chemical Romance's cover of Bob Dylan's classic "Desolation Row" that plays over the credits. Dylan's original, slow, almost haunting, version would have fit so much better in the context of the film. Instead we are treated to a cover that is -- no need in mincing words -- shit.
Another general annoyance is Malin Akerman's performance as Laurie Juspeczyk/Silk Spectre II. Calling her cardboard would insult cardboard. She was just awful. Her entire performance feels contrived, and is brimming with wasted potential.
The new ending has created much controversy, with some loving it, and some hating it. I'm indifferent. It doesn't leave you with the haunting moral ambiguity that is evoked in the novel. Instead, you have two, clear-cut sides to choose from, neither of which come without sacrifice. Interesting take on the ending, probably not what I would have done, but I guess thats why I don't get paid to do it.
Under all it's flaws and outright absurdities, there is a little bit to love here. Jackie Earle Haley's performance is one of these. He is perfect for the role of Rorschach. Haley is brooding, menacing, disturbed, and -- to put it simply -- really pissed off. I can't imagine anyone better for the part. He takes this character seriously, and it shows. He conveys Rorschach's bleak, cynical outlook on the world and its inhabitants masterfully. In his final scene, he is able to sum-up the character's journey perfectly with facial expressions and few words.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan is also great as the gruff, almost fascist Edward Blake/The Comedian. Amidst all his dirty-deeds and moral-lapses you are compelled to feel sorry for him. Patrick Wilson, Matthew Goode, and Billy Crudup also give solid performances as Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl II, Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias, and Jon Osterman/Doctor Manhattan respectively.
Another bright spot is the beauty that is the visuals not pertaining to the excessive slo-mo. Everything is meticulously detailed to match the aesthetic feeling of the graphic novel. If only they did the same with everything else.
Usually, its a no-no to critique a film adaptation based on its source material, but this is a special situation. The novel is so dense, so morally layered, that to diverge from the morbid feeling of the novel would be a travesty. This film tip-toed that line a few times, but never crossed into complete camp. I am happy I walked into this film with a -- as always -- cynical attitude. Due to this, I didn't walk away disappointed, as I'm sure I would have if I was hyped as some have been. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised, but because of it's many flaws I can only recommend a theatrical viewing of Watchmen for the sake of soaking in the visuals. I can only pray that the director's cut helps cure the curable ailments within this film. As a movie alone, it is decent -- with sparks of brilliance that are extinguished by its obvious flaws -- just don't go in expecting the masterpiece that is Alan Moore's WATCHMEN.
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