Few scattershot thoughts on the Watchmen film (anyone who doesn't want spoilers should not read):
Overall, I think it's the best feature film that could be made on its source material, and the best adaptation of an Alan Moore work (though that's saying next to nothing). But I also think it's proof that an HBO-style miniseries would be the best format to adapt Alan Moore and David Gibbons' seminal epic graphic novel about retired and disgraced costumed crimefighters in an alternate New York in 1985.
Director Zack Snyder and writers David Hayter and Alex Tse made smart cuts (for the most part) to make such a dense book a two and a half hour film, but they couldn't circumvent an inherent problem with a feature film based on this material: you don't have time to reflect on anything you're watching. It feels simultaneously overstuffed, yet thin. Neither the story nor characters have room to "breathe." The characters (with some exceptions) seem very two-dimensional, and some of the acting (again, with exceptions) is pretty gosh-darned terrible, though that may be the fault of the direction rather than the acting.
The casting/acting: Jackie Earle Haley and Patrick Wilson as Rorschach and Nite Owl, respectively (who, coincidentally, were both in Todd Field's 2006 film, Little Children) are really the only two actors that seem to be playing real people. Everyone else, unfortunately, seem like talking action figures/props. I'm not gonna lie, Billy Crudup is particularly lame as Dr. Manhattan, and I think the filmmakers made a huge error with Ozymandias (Matthew Goode is horribly miscast, and the film's overall take on the character is misguided: he comes across as a sinister creep right out of the gate, which takes away any weight to the revelation that he's behind the Comedian's murder and Dr. Manhattan's exile).
Consider the scene where a Vietnamese woman has just sliced open the Comedian's face. The Comedian, face dripping with blood, stoically telling Dr. Manhattan he's lost touch. Nothing in his voice or body language indicates that he's even aware that, y'know, his face has been horribly cut by a broken beer bottle. When the Comedian's finished with his monologue, he then calls out, "Medic! Gimme a goddamn medic!" as if it just occurred to him after his mini-monologue he needs medical attention.
Weird incongruous scenes like that happen throughout, where the actors seem to forget what exactly they're doing.
And, the violence: the film's excessively violent, and all the Matrix-style violence and action sequences are horribly inappropriate. The irony is that the Watchmen comic book didn't have comic book-style violence, whereas the violence in the film is simultaneously excessive and cartoonish. The fight sequences constantly took me out of the movie. And I know this is supposed to be a hard-R superhero movie, and I know this is supposed to be gritty and all that, but was Silk Spectre ripping a knot-top attacker's bone out of his arm really necessary?
Okay, enough shitting on the movie. Here's what it gets right:
Yes, they change the ending. It's better. Don't look at me like that. You know I'm right. It makes more sense and is less silly. (I mean, we're all friends here, we all love the book, but come on: a giant fake alien squid monster? Little silly.) It ties into the concept of Dr. Manhattan better and makes his decision to leave earth after getting a renewed interest in humans make more sense.
Notwithstanding my dislike of the fight sequences, the overall production value is great. It looks amazing, and captures the feel of Dave Gibbons' original artwork.
Again, they actually made very smart cuts to fit the sprawling story into a feature-length film. My gut instinct is that this may be incoherent to anyone who doesn't know the book (not unlike this rambling post), but according to some rave reviews from Roger Ebert and Salon (from critics that are unfamiliar with the source material), I may stand to be corrected. I'm not being glib when I say this really is the best film that could be made based on the graphic novel.
I found the opening credits sequence interesting. It's scattered with nods to scenes implied and referred to in the comic (the death of certain costumed crimefighters, the Comedian killing JFK), all played to Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A Changing," but aren't really referred to again in the film (except obliquely). For someone who's read the book, I enjoyed the hell out of this. For someone who hasn't, I really can't imagine it would make any sense at all.
I may be in the minority on this concept, but if it's a choice to make a slavish adaptation or an adaptation that makes lazy disrespectful changes to cater to the lowest common denominator, give me slavish. I'll take Snyder's Watchmen over the Hughes Brothers' From Hell any day. Though there are several changes throughout, you can tell Watchmen has been made by a director that has read, reread, and re-reread the source material backwards and front.
Anyway, those are some of my thoughts on the film. Feel free to discuss.
Sharpening his ears
James "Moloch" Comtois
Labels: comics, film