A Long Watchmen Post

2009 March 15

Before I start, yes I have read the graphic novel of Watchmen, and yes I plan to talk about it at length within this post. I’m fully aware of my incapability to write a review for the average unacquainted moviegoer. Each frame of the almost-three-hour film was involuntarily compared to the panels of a graphic novel which provided a comprehensive visual outline.

That being said, I will give Zack Snyder one thing — the man knows how to create a visually spectacular movie. He’s still not a “visionary director,” but he’s definitely not a hack either. For the most part, he truly manages to recreate the Watchmen universe on-screen. He just happens to lack any sense of subtlety. Over-the-top, slow-motion fight scenes when the original comic barely showed any action at all? Check. Ozymandias’s character blatantly foreshadowing the ending? Check. Not that I was at all surprised by the former, and going in I knew the latter was ruined by the casting of a pencil-necked effeminate actor.

According to Wikipedia, even the actor had doubts:

“I was very worried about my casting,” Goode says, believing that he was “not the physical type for [Ozymandias].

Snyder should have taken heed. Ozymandias is supposed to be a wise, middle-aged, perfect physical specimen of a man — not a young, thin guy with a vaguely homosexual German accent. Oh, and the music choices were embarrassing. That would be part of the lack of subtlety.

Getting those critiques out of the way, I had way too much fun seeing the comic on the big screen. Dr. Manhattan’s origin story was handled brilliantly, Rorschach kicked an amazing amount of ass, and the Comedian was just as hilariously fucked up as he is in the graphic novel. Nite Owl and Silk Specter were the least interesting in the original comic, and that doesn’t change in the movie. I didn’t find Silk Specter’s acting as offensive as some critics seemed to, but that’s probably because I never cared about the character in either the book or the movie. So with Snyder managing to totally nail three out of the six main characters, and Nite Owl not being half-bad either, that brings the character batting average to .667. Respectable.

I wanted to make the beginning of this post the section for anyone who hasn’t read the graphic novel (most people), but I seem to be already comparing the movie to the book in every aspect. I do think the movie works on a basic superhero movie level, and I recommend a watch if you can stomach excessive, stylized violence and one truly terrible love scene, but it’s no substitute for the graphic novel. It’s a shame that Snyder had to try to fit so much into less than three hours of film, but I think he created as faithful an adaptation as we were ever going to get. It’s also unfortunate that such an adaptation only serves to solidify the argument that the comic would’ve worked better as an HBO mini-series, but I’m not complaining about what we got. The movie at least managed to delve far enough into the characterization of Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, and the Comedian, even if the plot is condensed and compromised. I only wish more people read the book beforehand.

Only continue if you wish to read spoiler-filled rambling about both the movie and the book.

In terms of the plot being “condensed and compromised,” the worst part is the aforementioned handling of the Ozymandias character. Not only does every scene with him telegraph the fact that he is actually the villain, one of my friends who hadn’t read the graphic novel knew it was him in the opening  scene in the Comedian’s apartment. So in adding a gratuitous fight scene, Snyder managed to destroy the mystery aspect of the novel. Awesome job there.

I totally understand the decision to condense the entire backstory of the Minuteman to the opening credits, and I thought it was a pretty great way to get it into the movie. The same friend already mentioned had a big problem with the shot (pun intended lol) of the Comedian assassinating JFK, while I thought it was just a cool little one-0ff addition. I didn’t bother to think of it within the context of the movie, but he certainly did. I’m curious as to how most people took it.

Much of the rest of the movie is extremely faithful to the novel, but in a superficial sort of way. While in the novel Alan Moore emphasizes the fact that everyone is normal other than Dr. Manhattan, the one true superhero (or even God), Snyder has them kicking all sorts of ass throughout the movie. Not that I didn’t enjoy watching the action — as that’s Snyder’s specialty — but it does miss the point entirely. And then of course there is also the music, which also fits into that superficiality. I felt like I was watching Forrest Gump with that soundtrack of insanely popular and overplayed songs. That’s not good when you’re supposed to be in an alternate universe where Dick Nixon is serving his fifth term. And what was up with the war room straight out of Dr. Strangelove? Can Synder come up with ANYTHING original?

Oh yeah, he did use a different ending, but one that serves the same purpose. There was no way a movie with a $150 million budget was going to end with a massive squid exploding in New York City, but I still say that works better with regards to fucking with the minds of the entire world, instead of tricking the world into thinking Dr. Manhattan went apeshit. And I thought the destruction portrayed in the graphic novel was much more haunting. Those panels are fucking legendary. It truly drove into the mind of the reader the question of whether such death and sacrifice was worth it for the hope of world peace.

And that’s the type of stuff I think the movie misses. It tries, but it just doesn’t quite get there. Even when Ozymandias says he’s made himself “feel every death,” it rings hollow in the film. Christ, Snyder really fucked up the Ozymandias character. I just need to concentrate on how great the Dr. Manhattan origin sequence was, and how amazing Jackie Earle Haley was as Rorschach. And those two things alone, combined with the visuals, make the Watchmen movie worth seeing. Just don’t expect anything revelatory. You need to read the book for that.

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