Watchmen Review by JimL2
“You’ve drifted away from what it means to be human. And without that, all we are is cause-and-effect. We become ghosts in a fog.” -Laurie Juspeyczk, Watchmen
“im gonna kick Snyder in the balls and film it slow mo”
-wookie1972, Ain’t It Cool News
Don’t you just love it when movies provide you with the exact quote you need to sum up their major flaw? I sure do. What I don’t like is not remembering that quote later. And since I don’t have a screener in front of me, and I can’t find this quote in my copy of the source book, I just have to hope that Zack Snyder isn’t angry enough at this review to call me on the fact that I basically just pulled a paraphrase out of thin air simply to make fun of him.
Sorry, Zack. Prepare for more of the same, I guess.
This movie is maddening to me. On the one hand, it seeks to be as close to its source material as possible. On the other hand, the ending is entirely different.
In fact, let’s talk about the ending right now. If you’re a fan of the comic book, you know how important the ending is. So you should be aware now–before you get to the theaters and start frothing–that the ending has been changed. Changed to something more pedestrian, as well as more “topical.” This was one of several “topical” changes, mainly enacted in order to slip in a face-smacking bit of too-obvious satire. But for the fan it really doesn’t matter what it was changed to, just that it was changed.
The director has explained the change* with the plaintive cry that “it would take at least fifteen minutes just to explain the [original ending].” I put it to him that if time was such a big issue, perhaps he should not have filmed every single fight scene in motherfucking slow motion.
Oh yes, Snyder still has 300 disease, and it seems to have become worse. While the fight sequences in the book served only to show man’s brutality towards man, or how old the Watchmen had become, Snyder romanticizes them. The shots alternate between “too fast” and “two slow,” emphasizing what he apparently thinks are the more cerebral moments of the clashing. Nite Owl juts out his lantern jaw; sure that he will defeat evil. Ozymandias raises his eyebrows to show his aloofness. And–in one particularly infuriating scene (visible here), Silk Spectre II kicks a man in the neck and then kneels down on the ground as if palpably overcome by how emo she is.
This is a common issue throughout the movie. I mentioned earlier that the subtle, symbolic backbone of the movie had been removed, and intimated that without it the meaty organs of the film’s plot would simply fall onto the floor. Well, not quite. You see, the dim brilliance that made Watchmen the book such a life-altering experience to so many readers does have a replacement. Guess what it is. Go ahead. Guess!
Did you guess “heavy-handed emo whining and hyper-acted fight scenes?” If so, you’re correct! But wait! There’s more!
Snyder–or whatever producer took the filmstock out of his hands once he was “done” with it–apparently saw this as an opportunity to rifle through his CD collection and use his faaaaaavorite 80s songs to help highlight the moments. You know! For the viewers! Who are apparently too dumb to understand what’s going on in the movie, or how they should feel about it. What the christ ever happened to a solid orchestral score in a movie? Huh? Do we really have to sit there, while “All Along the Watchtower” plays over a totally rad shot of Nite Owl and Rorschach walking through the tundra?
Note to Hollywood: Stay out of the business of AMVs. 14 year-old fans are going to take your “awesomest” scenes and dub in nu-metal, eventually; you should leave this process to them. It makes you look like either an amateur, or a buffoon. In Watchmen, the music was usually chosen for its lyrical content over its–you know–music (a classic mistake in student films), and at some points didn’t even fit the visual cues.
“Hey, everyone likes 99 Luftballons,” I can hear one executive saying to another. “We’ll just put that in here. Oh, we only have 45 seconds until the dialogue starts? No no, that’s okay. In fact, that’s perfect. My favorite thing about 99 Luftballons is when it ends in a jarring way at a really illogical point, you know? And I love how it breaks the flow, reminding us that we’re watching a movie. That’s pretty cool also.”
There were two other egregious over-uses of music that made me so angry that I wrote them in my notebook and triple-underlined them. But I won’t bother explaining them, because who cares? And besides; my movie partner enjoyed them.
Oh–did I mention I went to see Watchmen with a partner? Yeah. She made it through chapter one of the book before deciding that she couldn’t keep track of the characters, and giving up, so I figured she’d be a perfect bellwether for “John Q. Popcorn”–deflecting my jaded drunken grousing. And in this case, she did not disappoint.
“I thought it was okay, because the movie was set in the 1980s. So it sort of fit in that way.”
First of all, I’d like to point out that this mistake is almost as bad as choosing a soundtrack because of the lyrics. When it comes right down to it, your main goal in creating a movie should be about evoking the spirit of the scene. Yes, that often means that the music needs to come from the cultural mileau of the scene that you’re showing. For example Casablanca, Overlord, and O Brother, Where Art Thou?… all three rely on music from that time and place to successfully create a scene.
But that brings me to my next point. The world of Watchmen, the “mileau” as I so obnoxiously put it, is very different from the 1980s that we know. For example–just for example, mind–Nixon is still president, we won in Vietnam, and PEOPLE USED TO ACTUALLY RUN AROUND AS MASKED HEROES.
Really, in the book? That resulted in pirates becoming the focus of pulp comics, people wear different styles of hat, smoke tobacco in weird ways, gangs have adopted Japanese looks and pre-fab drugs, you get the idea. The entire idea is that whatever caused The Watchmen into existence was a big fucking deal and made a big fucking impression on the world.
Oddly enough, the one 1980s-era band that is mentioned in the original graphic novel–DEVO–was completely absent from the film. Could it be because DEVO’s message of a dying world culture was TOO APT for the movie? Or is it just that they didn’t ROCK AS HARD as My Chemical Romance, providers of the end-credit music? Either way, you’re an idiot, and so is your stupid soundtrack.
Note: Previous paragraph only applicable if you’re the one who chose the soundtrack for Watchmen. I am looking at you, Zack Snyder, because right now I’m too drunk to remember anyone else on the production team.
None of that is to say that the movie is all bad. Again, it’s visually stunning (if you’re familiar with the graphic novel). The story is more-or-less faithful to the original, even if it isn’t completely devoted. It seems to be a labor of love rather than a simple exercise in crass money-making. And small touches abound, any of which will make fans of the book smile.
Perhaps the most brilliant part of this movie is the casting. Not simply of the main characters–who effortlessly become three-dimensional projections of their “2-D” motivations–but of the various background characters throughout the movie. I know it seems odd, but I’m praising characters such as John McLaughlin,
But in the end, can we really blame Snyder, or screenwriters Hayter and Tse, or Warner Brothers? They’re movie men. All they wanted to do was use their one great skill to create a live version of one of the most important comic books of all time.
Let me end with this anecdote. Very soon after Watchmen was published as a trade paperback, a buzz started in Hollywood about turning it into a movie. The first director attached to direct the movie was excited, and spent over a year re-working drafts, planning scenes, and personally raising money to film it. After calling it “the War and Peace of graphic novels,” he finally abandoned the project as essentially un-filmable. Nine years later, as part of a retrospective, he declared that the only way to do it would be as a 5-hour miniseries. “By reducing it to a two or two-and-a-half hour film, it seemed to me to take away the essence of what Watchmen is about.”
That man was Terry Gilliam, fresh from Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Watchmen, directed by Zach Snyder, is two hours and forty-two minutes long.
The Bottom Line: Composed of beautiful sets and inspired casting, this movie could easily become the standard visual representation for Alan Moore’s lauded story of “real-life masked heroes.” However, in the crunch to fit the story into a feature-length film, it peels the straightforward actions away from their allegorical backing. The small but unceasing repetitions, which serve to flesh out the characters and their world, and which crash together at the climax of the book, are lost. This leaves you with the _what_ of the story, but not the _why_. Fans will be upset, and new viewers may be confused.
*Note to Walker: Please buy me a thesaurus for my birthday. Thank you.
**Note to the reader: I never found a good place to slip this in, but the best way to sum up this movie is “ham-fisted.” The music, the fighting, the over-wrenched acting, the “timely” satire that would make Jonathan Swift roll his eyeballs. It’s all too obvious, and in the end, insubstantial. We are, as Laurie Juspeczyk said, nothing but frogs drifting in the goats. Or… whatever it was she said.