Why You’ll Love-Hate Watchmen

I don’t envy Zach Snyder.  No matter what he did, he was going to get it wrong in the eyes of one majority or another.

The problem is that there are three parties interested in a Watchmen film.  The comics fans want to see the beauty of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons comic brought to life frame for frame, syllable for syllable, a frakking giant squid and black freighter; because anything less would be sacrilege in the face of perhaps the most important comic in history.  The consumer audience wants to see another mindless, pretty, action-packed Superhero flick; the next Dark Knight if at all possible.  And the movie studio wants another Dark Knight cash cow as well, only cheaper, shorter and more efficient; and they don’t give a damn if Watchmen is anything like the book.

At least one of these groups will be disappointed, and as usual, it’s the fans.  Projects do not transfer from medium to medium organically.  Some comics just do not work in film form. Changes have to be made.  For the majority of these projects I judge them by their story-telling ability and their handling of the characters.  However with some books, such as Watchmen, that just isn’t enough.

The studio wants an action movie that will bring in millions of ticket sales.  And so does the public.  But Watchmen is not an action film.  Nor is it really about Superheroes.   It is for precisely that reason it is so beloved by it’s fans.  The essence of the story is about what makes us human, and what is the nature of good versus evil, and ultimately about whether power gives one the right to decide the fate of others.  And really, it’s about much more than that. It’s a very dense read with an incredible amount of subtext.  But honestly no one wants to see a movie about that. Movies are often a lazy medium, one where the audience doesn’t want to think.

Which leads us to writer Alan Moore’s opinion that Watchmen is unfilmable.  But honestly?  He’s wrong.  I went into the theatre having read and appreciated (though not loved) the book.  And what I saw met most of my expectations, and exceeded a few.

It isn’t the book.  But it is a decent adaptation that meets the majority of needs for all three groups, as long as you don’t go in with any expectations.   I think the majority of consumers will be disappointed in it without ever giving it a chance.  The film has been mis-marketed from the start.  Watchmen is much closer to The Usual Suspects than X-Men in content and subject matter.  There is sex and violence in it, but not nearly as much as the trailers imply.  And yes, for you purists, the ending was changed slightly.  No giant squid.  But honestly, it works.  In fact, it makes more sense than the giant squid does.  Yeah, I know I just lost loads of nerd-cred, but it’s true.  A film-maker’s job is to simplify and fully realize (emphasis on the first two syllables of the last word) any adaptation.  Snyder did just that.  And what’s more, he did a damn good job of it.

The only complaints I have are minimal.  Some of the music is atrocious.  As much as I love Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah, the use of Leonard Cohen’s cover of it in the sex scene is so ridiculous that I went from sexual arousal to gut-busting laughter in the span of a second.   Likewise, the use of 99 Left Balloons at a key scene took me out of the film and made me feel like I was watching a romantic comedy.   Beyond that, the only problem areas occur because of the cinematography.  Watchmen’s style is meant to bring the comic to life.  It worked tremendously in 300, but here, there are a few scenes which feel cartoonish, particularly scenes with the Golden Age super-team, The Minutemen.  Not a huge problem, but it is a little distracting.

The bottom line is that Watchmen gets more right than it does wrong.  And like the book, it will merit multiple viewings to fully digest the menagerie of beauty and philosophy thrown at you, however precisely, like cogs in clockwork.  The bar previously set by The Dark Knight will probably not be exceeded here, in terms of revenue, style or fan response.  But honestly, I’m happier that way.  Watchmen couldn’t have been made any better by anyone else.  It is a tight, lean movie that moves at a decent pace despite it’s long run time and heavy psychological thoroughbred.  It works.

It’s not only filmable, it’s watchable.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Now I’m stoked to go see it. -I prefer The Usual Suspects to X-Men… I’m not going to tell H though:D I think he’s in it for the comic fan reasons… Hopefully the ride home won’t be too bitchy.

    You should write these professionally.

    Reply

  2. Like I said, I think it’s good enough for fans to be satisfied. But it isn’t perfect.

    I wish others agreed with you.

    Reply

  3. Me too. The world would be a better place if everyone just fucking listened to ME! *snicker*

    Reply

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