Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Watchmen (2009)

Watchmen is a long, boring film cranked out by Zach Snyder, based on the comic book by Alan Moore and David Gibbons which has gone unread by this writer. Everything about Watchmen the film seems animated by its determination to be some kind of meta commentary on—what, exactly? Comic book films? Action movies? Vigilantism? Twentieth century American history? Reagan's America? All of that, and none of that; Snyder is, seemingly, the cinematic definition of a dilettante, a fellow whose visuals, for instance, serve little purpose but to amaze and stun, or at least repetitiously wash the audience in the computer-generated imagery as in his adaptation of Frank Miller's 300. Likely fancying himself an enfant terrible, Snyder seems completely oblivious to the themes of the comic books from which he is making his films. Snyder's 300 was reportedly a painstakingly faithful adaptation of Frank Miller's “graphic novel”; Watchmen's fidelity to the source material has instigated much debate about whether or not, or to which degree, Snyder's film has remained faithful to Moore's original work.

It must be reiterated: everything about Snyder's new film is, apparently, aiming to convey a meta annotation, but Snyder's dearth of originality and finesse stifle his Watchmen. This is, after all, a comic book movie in which the villain—whose idols fluctuate between Alexander the Great and Ramses II—says, “I'm not a comic book villain.” The villain looks exactly like a comic book villain and behaves just like one—in appearance and social strata (blonde, handsome, charismatic, rich, brilliant and shot from low angle), he firmly belongs to a long line of villains, and perhaps that is the point. That same question mark lingers over almost everything about Watchmen. Are large swathes of the dialogue deliberately atrocious beyond the outskirts of camp on purpose—making ample fun at the very form in which Snyder and company are indulging? Or is it unintentional? Is all of the dialogue directly from the comic book?

Evidently disbelieving in the conservative thinker Richard Weaver's maxim, “Ideas have consequences,” Snyder darts from an ostensibly neoconservative dream like 300 to what seems like a left-leaning nightmare with Watchmen in which Richard Nixon enjoys a hold on the presidency into the 1980s not unlike Franklin Roosevelt from 1933 to 1945, and America won the Vietnam War so, as one especially wretched character feverishly notes, it would not go insane from the loss. This is not unlike Moore's dystopian England-based fantasy, "V for Vendetta," also written in the 1980s, with the heirs to Margaret Thatcher's government creating a fascistic police state that remains in 1997 with the ideal of gestalt serving as its—quite literally—organizing principle. (Moore would complain about the 2006 film adaptation for its cowardice in taking an England-based story and transmitting unmistakable American liberal concerns under George W. Bush to its telling.) Snyder seems to not care about the political undercurrents of his films, so long as he can slam on the brakes with slow-motion as his protagonists literally beat their adversaries to a pulp and tear them limb from limb.

In complete unison, screenwriters David Hayter and Alex Tse have spun an over-plotted and under-written film, which wearies its audience for little reward and diminishing dividends after an admittedly intriguing prologue. Uncertain of what properties of the Moore creation have been abandoned or carried over, one wonders whether or not a longer running time would have helped the film come together. As is, the only character in the film whose back-story and motivations seem wholly clear is Rorschach, who happens to be performed with an alleviating sharpness by Jackie Earle Haley, but the film goes into exhausting depth, journeying through all of the various Watchmen and their origins (sans poor Patrick Wilson's Nite Owl II, the group's resident milquetoast). Haley, however, has the benefit of playing the saga's one truly juicy part—but at least he brightens the film with his machismo-laden, tough-guy appearances.

In truth, Snyder's self-references are probably the most smugly annoying part of Watchmen. First, in the long opening scene's battle, a digit on a door is knocked off, leaving the number “300,” naturally shot in slow-motion. Later, amidst a panoply of television sets on which various films are visible, the 1962 movie The 300 Spartans is playing. Other keynotes seem to be influenced by Moore's beliefs and realizations—such as an homage to The Outer Limits television show at the film's end, as Moore purportedly realized that his “Watchmen” epic bore many similarities to the famed episode “The Architects of Fear.”

Yet just as frustrating is Snyder's inability to bring anything new to the proverbial table. There are numerous reasons why many view Christopher Nolan's Batman films as truly adult, even if they happen to be under the auspices of a PG-13 rating, and one reason for that is Nolan's adroitness of tying the thematic overtones with the rather crisp pacing demanded by his films' action-packed narrative movements. One imagines that if Snyder made The Dark Knight, Batman and the Joker would have actually met in a diner as the protagonists did in Heat. Indeed, one of the chief differences between the highly talented, borderline excessively deterministic Nolan and the adolescence of Snyder is that Nolan actually understands the themes of the films to which he is paying homage. Snyder's infantile tributes to Dr. Strangelove and Apocalypse Now (deeply, obsessively political films which transcended political platitudes: the anti-Watchmen) are paper thin—placed in Watchmen for no greater reason than to allow others to know that he has seen them. As is apparently the case with the adaptation itself, Snyder is so literal he chokes off any of his own film from breathing in some much-needed oxygen.

Alas, who cares? Render unto the fanboys what is the fanboys'. It is they to whom this film is gifted. So, with that in mind, Rorschach is a truly cool bad-ass; Dr. Manhattan is a sick creation; Carla Gugino is really hot, but kind of ancient (she's approaching forty—long live Jessica Alba or whomever); and Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl II is a decent continuation of the Peter Parker syndrome of nerds ultimately prevailing. Perhaps this would be the best time to seek out Moore's “Watchmen” to see which themes and nuances were lost in translation from page to screen. Humorously, the very alleged fanboys so enamored with the source material seem the least troubled by the film's own confusion. If one must be “in” to “get it,” perhaps getting in may be worth it. Or maybe not.


Cassandra said...

I agree whole-heatedly with your analysis. I was less than impressed by the movie, and am kind of tired of second-rate hero movies flooding the industry (unfortunately, DC has their own production studio now, so we'll be seeing a lot of those). Movies with political agendas are getting old. There are only so many ways to hide it under an appealing surface, and Watchmen didn't do such a hot job with that. I left the theater (both times I saw it) very unfulfilled by everything I saw. Nerd gets pretty girl, bad guy lives one more day (for the change of a sequel), and the only character I sympathized goes to a gloomy end. Very upset.

Imagery of Joker and Batman duking it out in a coffee shop... very amusing!

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you, Cassandra. Yes, I agree with you completely--and I particularly like the way you write that the one character you sympathized with goes to a gloomy end while the nerd gets the pretty girl, etceteras. It's great hearing from you.

You particularly deserve plenty of points for sticking it out for a second viewing. I don't think I could do that! :-)

Moses Hernandez said...

Egg. Zactly.

My only problem is you were too kind, Alexander. Well, more kind then I woulda been. Zach Snyder is a total hack.

Gotta say though I was sick of hearing about THE WATCHMEN in the f***in 80s.

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you, Moses.

I felt strange writing about this, as I'm severely handicapped, never having looked at the source material. I'm determined to give it a shot now, though, just to see the difference... The film, however, left me nearly ice cold.

Ari said...

I agree completely with your review.

To answer your last question, as someone who loves the source material (it is, in fact, the only comic book I've finished from beginning to end), the idea of catching up with it in order to "get it" will only frustrate you further when you see how unimaginatively Snyder copied and pasted Moore's vision.

The dialogue reads well on the page because it's good comic book dialogue. It's not screen dialogue, it's not a screenplay, so it naturally sounds awkward and silly when it's transfered to the screen.

The book is a satire on the concept of the "superhero". It's very dark, but it has a devious sense of humor (which the film fails), and the alternate history they created is meant to underline the ridiculous nature of these characters had they actually existed in the real world.

The film loses every ounce of Moore's commentary. It just painstakingly recreates the panels from the page and tries to be "cool". "Cool" wasn't the point.

Film-Book dot Com said...

I was hoping you would review Watchmen Alexander and if you had read the source material, your review would most-likely be double the size but a smile would have crept onto your malcontented face during some of the translated scenes in the film.

“I'm not a comic book villain.” The villain looks exactly like a comic book villain and behaves just like one—in appearance and social strata (blonde, handsome, charismatic, rich, brilliant and shot from low angle), he firmly belongs to a long line of villains, and perhaps that is the point.

Brilliant and hilarious. I missed that.

"The Outer Limits 'The Architects of Fear'"

I have got to check this episode out.

"Indeed, one of the chief differences between the highly talented, borderline excessively deterministic Nolan and the adolescence of Snyder is that Nolan actually understands the themes of the films to which he is paying homage."

I believe you are right and wrong on this assessment. I think Snyder understands the themes. A 2-hour film was too small a space to translate them properly. He tried though. He should have created a 10-12 part mini series on HBO for Watchmen. A series like Band of Brothers.

"Carla Gugino is really hot, but kind of ancient (she's approaching forty)"

Are you kidding me? I would take Carla over Alba any day of the week.

@Cassandra. I will be seeing it a second time as well.

Alexander Coleman said...

Film Book Dot Com, before I address anything else--since this is clearly the most important issue at hand here--I would take Carla Gugino over Jessica Alba any day. That last paragraph, minus the final two sentences, is me going into retarded drooling fanboy mode. (Which I detest.)

Seriously, Gugino is a magnificently beautiful woman. And she actually has a personality, and, evidently, judging from her performances, a brain. Alba is, like so many others in the movies today, an overgrown girl. Age matters not to me.

I'll reply to the less important matters brought up by Ari and you shortly. (See what kind of mood this film has put me into?)

Joel E said...

I'd have to second this one:

"'Carla Gugino is really hot, but kind of ancient (she's approaching forty)'

Are you kidding me? I would take Carla over Alba any day of the week."

I hope you were being sarcastic there, Alexander, and we just missed it.

Alexander Coleman said...

Sarcasm on the Internet just don't work, do it?

Alexander Coleman said...

Minus the final four sentences, actually. I couldn't stay in that mindset for very long, apparently.

Ari, thank you very much for the terrific and highly informative comment. I was hoping someone would help me out and clear some of this up. I'm honestly not surprised about the dialogue--as we all know, what reads well on the page does not necessarily work when spoken aloud. This seems to be the main issue which you and others who love the source material have intelligently taken on with this film: Snyder recreates specific comic book panels and keeps the dialogue, but everything buttressing the enterprise (theme, subtlety, satire, etceteras) has been lost.

Reading the "Watchmen" Wikipedia page, I see that Moore himself said that the main impetus behind creating his twelve-part series was to essentially bring revisionism, satire, humor and twisted subversion to the very concept of the comic book hero. This by itself sounds remarkably fascinating to me. There were certainly hints to this scheme in Snyder's film, but almost everything lacked meaning. The only character that actually interested me was Rorscach, and I believe almost all of that is due to the actor in that part.

In any event, Ari, you have certainly made me more interested than ever in checking out Moore's "Watchmen" in the near future. It won't be difficult to forget Snyder's film when doing so.

Film Book, yes, I imagine that if I were judging this against its source material, this would have been a much longer piece. As it is, though, not being exposed to "The Watchmen," I'm more readily able to simply, almost lazily dismiss Watchmen. I'm open to anything, especially something which has been as hyped over the (now) decades as Moore's "Watchmen," but like Ari I found the film a failure. Would it actually improve after investigating Moore's work? An intriguing possibility; and one I may find out one day after taking in Moore's source material.

Yes, "The Architects of Fear" is a superb episode of The Outer Limits--a television show I adore.

bruno de lucca said...

Carla Gugino is a goddess you dummy!!!

Alexander Coleman said...

I'd be willing to form a religion around her! I'm actually drawn to sexy, "mature" women (hmm, how should I prove this? Never mind) myself. I feel IQ points drain off just by listening to Jessica Alba try to act!

Anonymous said...

"Carla Gugino is really hot, but kind of ancient (she's approaching forty—long live Jessica Alba or whomever)"

Could you have been any more insensitive? What are you, some pathetic little kid?

Alexander Coleman said...

Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. --Luke 43:23

Alexander Coleman said...

I'm dyslexic today. That should be Luke 23:43. And, no, I don't have a Christ complex!

Matthew Lucas said...

I hated this movie. So. Much.

Love your last paragraph.

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you, Matthew. I agree--although I didn't think the film was even worth hating. In the end I was just happy when it finally ended.

Thanks especially for the kind comment about the last paragraph. Glad you got it, haha! :)

Sam Juliano said...

I went into WATCHMEN with dread.

I knew I was going to hate WATCHMEN.

I hate all films like WATCHMEN.

I am as cynical as the most adverse to movies that are violent and noisy like WATCHMEN.

I don’t like Super Heroes or Graphic Novels.

I abhor the kind of violence on display in WATCHMEN.

WATCHMAN is very long and noisy.

The final verdict???

WATCHMEN, which get 4/5 from me is an operatic, stark, beautiful, kinetic and visceral film that is pure cinema. It’s suggestive, philosophical, nihilist, existential, expressionistic.

I challenge the nay-sayers to a battle-to-the-death!

Just kidding. Alexander is my very good friend. As is Matthew, Ari, Joel et al.

But I must say the severity of the hate for this film shocks me, and I dare say that some people may well be talking differently down the road. I personally did not find this tedious at all, if a bit uneven at times. Likewise I found absolutely no "death of originality" in this film, but rather a plethora of it.
I'll agree that much of the dialogue was "under-written" as you contend, but I do not share your position that the film is "overplotted" as plot really is besides the point in a visual presentation like this where themes and ideas are far more significant.
I am equally thrilled with you on the OUTER LIMITS reference, and am a huge fan of THE ARCHITECTS OF FEAR.

As to the question you pose: "who cares?" well I'll say right off I am neither a fan boy nor an afficionado of this tiresome genre, although oddly enough I did like the film your reference generously here: Moore's V FOR VENDETTA. I gave WATCHMEN 4/5, and while it propbably will not get close to a ten-best list at the end of teh year, it's certainly a stark, thought-provoking, visceral and absorbing experience.

Where does that leave us?

Up shit's creak!


Tremendous review, regardless. We can't always be on the same page.

Alexander Coleman said...

Haha, Sam, ever fearless, I love your passion and with Watchmen you show that you're perfectly willing to remain on the... ahem, outer limits. What you once in a great while lack in correctness, you make up for in wit and enthusiasm. Haha--I am only kidding about the first part of that sentence. :-)

We can't always be on the same page. Although, as a disclaimer, I'm not actually attacking the film for its dearth of originality (there was some, at least, all of which it seems we can thank Moore for), just its director's dearth of originality... which I did think was harmful to the film, but, as always, your cinematic mileage may vary.

Long live The Outer Limits! I'm continuing the show in order on DVD. Such a wonderful experience!

Kevin J. Olson said...

Alexander --

Great review. I just got back from seeing this, so I have some thoughts about it....but I'm still processing. I will say this: I think I disagree with just about everything you say. I've read the comic twice in the last few months (this was my first time visiting the material, I didn't grow up with it) and seeing those images up on the screen made for an experience I will not likely forget. I don't know if that means the movie is good or bad, but it was an experience.

More thoughts later, but I just wanted to say that I loved your review, even though I don't necessarily agree with you.

Alexander Coleman said...

Fascinating, Kevin. I look forward to what I assume will be a spirited defense of the film coming from you. Evidently, Snyder, at the very least, tried to be as dutifully faithful to the source material in its imagery and basic story structure (as well as dialogue) and I imagine that for many fans of Moore's work, they will be very pleased. As it sounds like you were. Thank you for the very kind words, and I'm happy to hear you enjoyed the review despite disagreeing.

jennybee said...

Ooh, Alexander. You and I are so on the same page here.

But GAWD. The very idea of a Snyder-made Dark Knight gave me an audible shiver of sheer revulsion. Uggggghhh!

I think the only point I disagree with you on is Carla Gugino. She gave me the creeps, in that washed-up boozy old crone way, both in old-age makeup and not. But then, I'm not the sort of person her character was intended to attract, so what do I know.

Sam's just posted my thoughts on the film and the source material (I had deep problems with both). Check it out if you get a chance:

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you, Jennybee. I'm glad to hear you were sickened by the thought of Snyder making The Dark Knight. Haha. That is the kind of reaction I was going for all over the place with this review.

I just read your review (Wonders in the Dark isn't letting me comment right now--it's probably something on my end screwing it up... hope this comments makes [fingers now crossed]) and I agree completely... Though, again, with the disclaimer that I have yet to read the Moore work. You didn't exactly whet my appetite to do so. And I love the entirely apt comparison to waiting for the doomsday clock of the film to wind down so the whole experience could finally end. Haha!

Oh well. Thank you again for the comment. Everyone interested in another perspective (i.e., a more informed one) should seek out Jennybee's review.

Laetitia said...

"The villain looks exactly like a comic book villain and behaves just like one—in appearance and social strata (blonde, handsome, charismatic... brilliant"

SO basically you're saying that YOU are a comic book villain!! :P

Alexander Coleman said...

Yes, that is exactly what I'm saying, Laetitia. Minus being ridiculously rich, of course (and being shot from low angle).

And that part about being charismatic.

And... Never mind. :-)

Film-Book dot Com said...

“Gugino is a magnificently beautiful woman. And she actually has a personality, and, evidently, judging from her performances, a brain.”

Glad to hear it.

Everyone is breaking your stones about Carla now. Who knew she had so many fans? Sin City did wonders for some people’s careers.

“The only character that actually interested me was Rorscach, and I believe almost all of that is due to the actor in that part.”

Everyone loves Rorschach and his portrayal.

@Sam Juliano

“I personally did not find this tedious at all, if a bit uneven at times. Likewise I found absolutely no "death of originality" in this film, but rather a plethora of it.”

I agree with both statements. Watchmen is superior in many respects to many superhero films.

“I'll agree that much of the dialogue was "under-written" as you contend, but I do not share your position that the film is "overplotted" as plot really is besides the point in a visual presentation like this where themes and ideas are far more significant.”

The problem hampering many films is that they are “underplotted”. Watchmen does not just have one thing to say, but multiple things. It unfortunate for the uninitiated that those themes are only brushed upon in the film. For the initiated, the film is a highlight reel as is The Rules of Attraction in comparison to the book.

Hopefully I will be watching THE ARCHITECTS OF FEAR soon. Have you seen that ep. of The Twilight Zone that The Village is similar to?

“it's certainly a stark, thought-provoking, visceral and absorbing experience.”

Agreed. More than a few scenes had me, especially the opening fight scene. Well choreographed.

Alexander Coleman said...

Yes, I paid the price for the Gugino sarcasm. Probably deserved! Haha, good point about Sin City doing wonders for certain performers, Film Book Dot Com. Look at Mickey Rourke, for instance.

I think I know which Twilight Zone episode you're talking about, Film Book. And I absolutely love The Prisoner! Now that is a classic cult television series.

Thank you for your thoughts. Again, like several others here, you're far more informed on this subject than I.

Film-Book dot Com said...

Hay Alexander, since you're into Carla Gugino...

Laetitia said...

You know you and Matthew Goode look eerily alike, Alexander. You're even about the same height but you're brawny and American.

In fact the character is supposed to be big and brawny like you! So you shoulda been in it. :P

Alexander Coleman said...

Well, I don't think I could have been any worse in the film. :)

Alexander Coleman said...

Thanks for that, Film Book!

Alex said...

Excellent review. While I was a little more forgiving of the film's flaw, you've managed to wonderfully articulate a lot of my own observations. Looking forward to reading more of your reviews.

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you, Alex. It's good hearing from you. I look forward to seeing you around Coleman's Corner. said...

Alexander said,"I just read your review (Wonders in the Dark isn't letting me comment right now...
Alexander, check your email...there maybe a solution
at "hand."

Deedee ;-D

Daniel Getahun said...

See, the thing about your reviews is that even the people who love the movie can't find fault in what you say. Watchmen did little for me (in IMAX) other than cause permanent hearling loss, but I wasn't as negative toward it as a whole until I read more and more negative reviews (yours, Chuck's, Jenny Bee's) that made their case so well. Yours was a pleasure to read.

Film-Book dot Com said...

Alexander, I just watched the beginning of Architects of Fear. I've seen that ep before, like 14 years ago. I never knew what it was called. The scheme is still done better and on a far bigger scale in the Watchmen 12-comic book series than in that ep. Basically though, it is the same scheme. I wonder if Alan Moore gleamed that idea from Architects of Fear?

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you, Dark City Dame! :-)

Thank you for the kind words, Daniel. Sometimes others can help us shape our opinions. And sometimes we shouldn't listen to others at all. No moral to that story, I'm afraid. Ha.

Film Book, yes... That is a famous Outer Limits episode. Evidently, Moore himself didn't realize he had, in no small measure, simply remade (and enlarged upon) the episode, and near the end decided to tip his hat to it with the homage that was, apparently, kept just as it originally appeared, in the film. Perhaps he subconsciously found the idea from the episode to begin with, as you suggest, Film Book.

Brooke Cloudbuster said...

I saw this movie the day after it came out, which was about two or three weeks ago, and I really can't reconcile anything resembling quality with Watchmen.

Even Jackie Earle Haley, who I enjoyed immensely in Little Children, felt considerably dulled and handicapped by the dialogue. And any strengths I expected to have, such as depth, nuance, decent visuals, good fight scenes and a general lack of talkie scenes were left unmet.

But I think the worst sin that Snyder has committed is ruining 'Hallelujah' for me. I'll be fortunate if I never see another sex scene as horrific as the one that was forced upon me in this.

I must note that I haven't laid eyes on the graphic novel, but I still find reviews that praise it for being such a loyal adaptation to be really missing the point. I've always found the point of adapting a work from one medium to another was to actually adapt it to make it work for the new medium, not copy and paste it like Snyder seems to have done so here. It's the same issue I have with biopics; I think it's much more important to get the feel of the original text/subject than the detail word-for-word.

Very nice review, yes, I agree, Carla Gugino is very hot. Very very.

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you for the excellent thoughts, Brooke. Fascinating to hear that you were left highly dissatisfied. I completely agree with one of your larger points--which is that adapting material from one medium to another should involve an artistic reshaping, not merely copying and pasting as you say. Thank you again.

ben said...

I just saw this and was bored to tears. Great review. Love the send-up of fanboys at the end.

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you kindly, Ben. Glad to hear you liked the review.

Larry said...

I'm glad you're here as something of an impartial observer because too many fans of the Alan Moore source material seem to have missed the fact that as a movie this just doesn't work. Excellent write-up.

Alexander Coleman said...

Thanks, Larry. Needless to say I agree with your point.

Steve-O said...

Thank you! I thought I was the only one that hated this. I wanted to like it but I felt sick to my stomach looking at a father with his young kids in front of me during the film.

How can you explain such a movie to them? Humorless and frankly violent without any context. I was embarrassed to even watch it.

The references to Apocalypse now were lazy as was the uninspired soundtrack. The Hollywood hype machine made the film a big hit but how in the world could anyone including fan boys stomach seeing this more than once?

I watched Cockfighter and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia at home a few days after this.... and loved them. I have no problem with violent or border-line tasteless if the movie is good. The Watchmen may be the death of these fan-boy comic films.

If the next Batman takes more than 2 years to come out then, yes, comic movies are dead.

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you very much, Steve! It's great to see you here, and I completely agree with your take on Watchmen. Unfortunately, it sounds like the next Batman won't be arriving until July 2012, so perhaps the comic book "genre," such as it is, will be indefinitely "dead." Haha.

I agree that violence in cinema has its place, as does lewdness and distastefulness, even. The two films you point to are fine examples of such properties.

Watchmen, however, was long, turgid, languid and mostly humorless. And it just kept me on the outside, despite my sincere wish that it would invite me in.

Thanks again, Steve. :)