Watchmen (Snyder, 2009)

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Watchmen, the masterful graphic novel created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons in the mid-1980’s, envisions a world where masked heroes are outlawed, nuclear war is imminent, and American history becomes a complicated river of deception, murder, and greed, producing a hurricane of pertinent subtext, political commentary, and dense mise-en-scene throughout 12 blood-drenched chapters. Zach Snyder’s ambitious but ultimately flimsy screen version imitates the graphic novel’s menacing and shifting visual aesthetic, yet completely hollows out everything that made the original so important. Snyder’s Watchmen starts out brilliantly with a brutal re-visioning of The Comedian’s death, then one of the best credit sequences I’ve seen, charting the Watchmen’s origins and involvement with 20th century wars, assassinations, and political unrest, all to Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” Without dialogue, Snyder captures the vitality of the story’s historiography and brings his own visual flourishes to the table, often tilting the image to simulate a photograph being snapped and recorded. However, Snyder never elaborates on the connections between the original Watchmen and their tormented predecessors, something that made the original so damning. Call it a casualty of screen adaptation, trimming down the excess fat for the meatier action and sex scenes. But the scars of such absences are unmistakable throughout, leaving dramatic scenes without much background, instead dwelling on the amazing visuals to carry the plot. Also, aside from the ingenious casting of Jackie Earle Haily as the ideologically immovable Rorschach and Jeffery Dean Morgan as the psychotic The Comedian, Snyder’s choice for actors, from Billy Crudup’s lifeless Dr. Manhattan to Matthew Goode’s preening Ozymandias, are uninspired caricatures of the originals. The film never gives the performers enough nuance to bring these conflicted anti-super heroes to life. And so goes Watchmen, a grand visual spectacle with moments of greatness swirling around in a mass of Hollywood melodrama and super hero expectations –  a near miss not nearly as complex as it should be, problematic in all the wrong ways.

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3 thoughts on “Watchmen (Snyder, 2009)

  1. That’s the thing about something like “Watchmen” – everything in the story matters. This plot element is connected to that plot element is connected to that one, and so on. Thusly, I’ll always be of the mind that the only way something like “Watchmen” can work is as an HBO miniseries. Still, even if you were going to make a film, I’m sure there’s a director out there who could have worked around this particular problem more successfully than was done here.

    It doesn’t help that I’m not much a fan of Snyder as a director, either. How does one earn the title of ‘visionary’ after two films, one of which was a panel-by-panel translation of the comic it was based on (which had been done before and more successfully with “Sin City”) and the other a schlocky remake of “Dawn of the Dead,” without as much of the political bite – ? Makes no sense, I’ll say.

  2. Absolutely Henry,
    Snyder is all surface. He has nothing interesting to say with these films, he is in no ways a visionary, except of fluffy masochism. As for your mini-series idea, that’s definitely the only way to do Watchmen justice. It would be amazing in the hands of…? I’ll have to think about that.

  3. Terry Gilliam would be my first choice – after that, I’m not quite sure who. Perhaps Paul Greengrass, or one of the people behind stuff like “Deadwood” and “Carnivale.”

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