tongue-tied lightning

Watchmen (Snyder, 2009)
July 7, 2009, 5:46 PM
Filed under: film


Being a huge fan of Alan Moore and the comic book Watchmen, I put off watching this film for a long time.  Hate is a kind word for what I felt towards Zack Snyder’s 300 and I felt I’d respect Alan Moore’s wishes and leave his masterpiece untainted.  Well, curiousity got the best of me.

Right off the bat it felt very different from the book.  The opening with The Comedian watching TV I suppose was there to introduce people to the world.  Nixon being president, the doomsday clock and whatnot.  I preferred the more subtle way Moore did it.  Then came a recurring problem that is likely my biggest gripe with the film.  Song choice and extended slow-motion fight scenes.

The latter was a trademark of 300, and I feel like in the comic book the violence was visceral and brutal feeling, where Snyder’s approach tends to glorify it.  Having an anachronistic song like Unforgettable underneath it only magnifies that effect.  Then the bit with the Comedian killing Kennedy during the opening credits had me considering shutting it off.  It was just kitschy and I felt it reinforced Alan Moore’s doubts about an adaptation.

Fortunately, it gets much better from there.  The slo-mo and questionable soundtrack continue throughout (Valkyries during a slo-mo slaughter of the Vietnamese and Hallelujah playing as Dreiberg overcomes ED are probably the two worst instances), but all other aspects of the film improved for me.  It’s very very faithful to the comic.  There are some minor changes, and a couple major ones, but you can tell Snyder and Co (aided by Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons) took pains to make it as close to the comic as they could.  Most of the time this is a good thing, at other times I feel it slows the film down and gives it the feeling of a filmed play.

I really don’t think Snyder is a good actors director.  There is no denying he has a keen visual sense, but in both Watchmen and 300 he seems unable to get anything more than wooden performances out of his actors.  Here it’s most evident with Malin Akerman, easily the worst casting decision of the film, but even Patrick Wilson, Billy Crudup and Matthew Goode seemed to give bad performances.  Jackie Earle Haley was the only one that impressed me, though I suppose he was aided by having a really cool mask covering his face.

I’m not sure I agree with all the changes.  I understand why they cut Tales of the Black Freighter but it’s absence hurts the film.  The way Moore interwove the two stories was masterful.  Having Janey Slater appear at the television studio weakened the impact of that segment for me.  It seemed to make the show feel more like a tabloid and less like a respected news program.

The biggest change is obviously the squid.  I feel like this really impacts the climax in a negative way.  The squid worked, because it was assumed to be aliens, and the US and USSR banded together to fight a common foe.  Having someone in the employ of the US military attack the US would’ve impacted the world, but I don’t think the USSR would’ve been so quick to make amends.

Things I liked: It looks great, Gibbons input may have helped them get close to the source material but even 300 was a great looking film, cinematography is not Zack’s weak point.  When seemingly every violent scene was bolstered by slow-motion I was glad they had the decency not to use it during the rape scene.  Nixon inhabiting Kubrick’s war room was a really cool touch.

It’s a passable adaptation.  There are some things that were hard to get across, like the Watchmaker episode, and I felt they did as good a job as one could expect.  But there are things that should’ve been easier like Laurie and Dan’s relationship that just didn’t work for me.  It’s a very good film that is drug down by an unecessary change or two, Snyder’s overreliance on slow-motion, some bad song choices and some wooden acting.  It’s not the disaster it could’ve been, but it’s not going to change Alan Moore’s opinion of Hollywood.


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