Zack Snyder and the WATCHMEN, and who wasn’t watching! A HT movie review!

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I just came from seeing the WATCHMEN, a much anticipated movie. My first film on the big screen since being back on the East Coast.

My first theater experience, made me miss the Southern Californian movie theaters. LA as you can imagine is a place that takes their theaters seriously. From enforcing restrictions on R rated showings, to having state of the art sound and picture, to policing the screenings.

The policing part made moot, by the fact that the Socal movie crowd, like I said is serious about their films. This east coast screening however, slightly marred by the fact that some idiot with a laser pointer made me want to kill somebody. An irritation easily resolved in the short term by having an usher in the theater to monitor just such idiocies, and in the long term by more selective breeding.

This country has too many of the wrong people breeding. This moron, someone told me later was in there with three kids (seemingly his), and all four of them looking like Howdy Doody.

I hate morons. Always have, always will. I hate people who cross the line.

That minor idiocy bringing us back to the topic at hand, the WATCHMEN. The 12 chapter graphic novel at its heart is a cross-generational murder mystery, about a time and a breed of people, that hold an ever more broken line.

The graphic novel is an acknowledged masterpiece, that I read when it first came out in 1986, and reread recently… just a scant month before the opening of the film.
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The graphic novel is deserving of its praise, as written and drawn and colored by three brits, it uses the trappings of the hero genre to examine and dissect the paranoia of a cold war America, and the violent, decadent, cannibalistic American id. An oft covered topic now, back in 1985-1986, the work was revelatory. In many ways it still is.

Dense and layered and rich, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons and John Higgins’ WATCHMEN was the wakeup call to a medium, that had been a long time sleeping. There is a sophistication to what these gentleman had done in the WATCHMEN that has since been much copied, but seldom equaled.

For over 2 decades it kicked around Hollywood, unfilmable most said. But that was before. Before comic properties routinely started generating over 100million dollars. Before CGI grew up. Before Zack Snyder’s 300, made much money on little investment.

So the unfilmable movie has been filmed, and director Zack Snyder is to be applauded for his vision, his style, his direction, his faithfulness to the source. There are many scenes that made me smile, because they capture exact and momentous moments, capture them well. Many scenes improve on the source, make moments cinematic and visceral, definitely Snyder’s strength in 300.

His action scenes are phenomenal. Not since Peckinpah and Woo has anyone used slow motion as effectively.

In pieces, in parts, the movie impresses; but as a whole it unfortunately fails. And that can be summed up in one word: Pacing.

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Snyder tries to be faithful to the book, but the book is too dense and too rich to be shoehorned into 2 or even 3 hours. Without having read the graphic novel, large parts of the movie are going to be confusing and incomprehensible to the audience. Even having read the novel, I clearly saw that much of it was muddled at best. I felt the whole conceit and destruction it was building up to and that the ‘heroes’ were racing to stop, got lost. The characters moving from scene to scene, but the why of their movements either lost on the cutting room floor or never filmed. I knew the ending of the book, but based on just watching the film, you wouldn’t.

Snyder’s faithfulness to the source material, costing him in terms of making it accessible and exciting as a film. Bottom line, there was too much happening, in too little a period of time, to too many characters.

And it cost a visually inventive movie its heart. Its audience.

The movie would have been better served as a tv show, or a movie trilogy.

Both options giving the audience time to know the characters and care for them, an empathy absent from this film.

Looking at the trilogy aspect, the first movie should have ended with the death of the Comedian, not been just the beginning of a movie. That would have covered the Minutemen years. The 2nd movie would have been Rorschach’s investigation and the Watchmen years, and the third movie would have been the last hour and a half of the movie we saw in the theaters minus the muddled shoehorned in back-story.

But hindsight is 20/20. I can see clearly what works, because of Zack Snyder’s effort.

He had much right. The casting I thought was spot on, the performances, the acting, the visuals, the music, however the script and the pacing did not play to the strengths of cinema, this edit of the movie largely was nonsensical and cost a movie that could have been… great, its greatness.

So all in all, a failed film. That I would not recommend to anyone who has not read the book, and even those who have… may find it a viewing better reserved for when the extended, and hopefully re-edited DVD comes out.

But I still count Zack Snyder, with only 3 movies under his belt (DAWN OF THE DEAD, 300, WATCHMEN), as one of the most exciting filmmakers working, because even his misses, are visually more interesting than most people’s successes.

A filmmaker to watch.

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