Friday, March 6, 2009
OK. So I just got back from a screening of Watchmen, the film I have been waiting for more than any other pretty much since The Dark Knight came out last July. I am admittedly one of those geeks for whom the graphic novel hold special significance. However, unlike many others I was not reluctant to see Watchmen brought to the silver screen. In my book, nothing is unfilmable. Even the Lord of the Rings trilogy, fraught though it was with head-slapping moments, especially throughout the last two films, was put satisfactorily to celluloid (or whatever it is they use these days). As I said, my anticipation was running high, and though early reviews were mixed, I was expecting to be wowed.
First, let me say a word about adaptations in general.
They're tough to pull off. I get it. I understand that certain things must be sacrificed in the transition from page to screen. My complaints in the adaptation department usually come instead from superfluous additions to plot or character development. Again, I understand the difficulty. It's why I can watch the Harry Potter films with a general sense of gladness at getting to experience Hogwarts and go along for the ride even though the films leave a lot to be desired. All that to say this: I was ready to be lenient with Zach Snyder. I was ready to pull punches and play nice and not let my geekdom trounce my previously stated good will towards all things adapted.
That didn't last long.
Watchmen does a lot of things right. That is, it reaches the level of the graphic novel a couple of times and in general it keeps its head above water. When it falls short, however, it does so with disastrous results. Zach Snyder films like a thirteen year old horror movie addict. He's as subtle as a sledgehammer, the Steven King of the screen. Nothing can ever be inferred. He shot and cut the movie as if compelled to duplicate the intensity of every frame of the graphic novel he was never going to be able to replicate. Problem is, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons were all about subtlety, even when heads were crushed and blood sprayed and flesh tore. The word gratuitous is overused, especially with regards to film. However, Snyder pushes the G button as many times as his two hours and forty-one minutes allow. The blood and guts and broken bones do not add to the impact of the film; they lessen it, because the audience's attention is constantly being drawn away from the narrative and towards the extraneous bits of diced-up bad guys. Plus, Watchmen contains perhaps the most unnecessary and useless sex scenes in the history of film.
Now, I don't want to come off as Mr. Anybody-could-have-done-this-better. That isn't true. Sure, Paul Greengrass and Darren Aronofsky (both at one time attached to direct) probably would have made a better movie out of Watchmen, but, then again, they didn't. Snyder hits the mark with the look of the film and with the performances he gets from nearly every actor. The cast is excellent almost from top to bottom. Billy Crudup (Dr. Manhattan), Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Comedian), and Patrick Wilson (Nite Owl), all give excellent performances that nail the moods and mannerisms of their characters. The problems with the film do not come from the players. Give Snyder some credit for showing these guys where to go and be glad he got them there. Unfortunately, as good a job as Snyder did coaxing out solid work from his actors, he did as poor a job with the soundtrack. There is not even one song during the movie that does not immediately distract the audience's attention from the action on screen. Music in films - especially pop music - has to serve to enhance the scene without overriding it. The music in Watchmen is antithetical to that principal. The crappy part is that those songs chosen, like, "All Along the Watchtower" actually play a part in the graphic novel. Or at least their lyrics do. However, when reading a novel, you only read the words, you don't hear the music or have to deal with the conflicting mood created by its presence. The music is a huge distraction.
Other than that, there are hits and misses. Overall, the film feels jumbled and disorderly, whereas the novel has a superbly clean, clear structure. At times, the film feels like an overloaded ship without a rudder. It is difficult, especially, I'm sure, if you haven't read the novel, to keep up with all the goings on and maintain an interest in the maddeningly episodic narrative unfolding on screen. In the end, Watchmen (the film) is a noble failure. A valiant attempt, but one that scuffles in the hands of a director who seems doomed for Saw VI, rather than any more films attempting to achieve the rare and dynamic combination of serious and cool. I don't begrudge Snyder for undertaking the venture; it took more balls than a lot of directors would have shown. Unfortunately for us all, he was running without a governor.
I've watched The Watchmen, and I think once was more than enough.