March 6th was an important date this year....for two reasons.
First, it was my birthday. Secondly, it was the day that the Watchmen movie opened nationwide. Luckily, I got the chance (thanks to foresight back in January) to see it in IMAX. Admittedly, I've been hesitant about the movie - I've felt that Zach Snyder might not be the best directorial choice, and I was "less than enthused" about the movie, thinking that it was one of those comics that probably should not be filmed... but it was, and having seen it, I can give a very honest opinion.
The good news is that Watchmen actually does what it sets out to do - it's a rather strong adaptation of the comic. The bad news is that, at times, it takes some divergences in plot that take away from the overall themes of the graphic novel. Snyder seems so intent on sticking to the script that story wise, some things fall apart.
In all honesty, I did not expect a page-by-page adaptation - that would be impossible by Hollywood standards, and sometimes you need a compression of ideas and concepts in order to make a film work. The script works miracles with the graphic novel, integrating some of the text pieces within the overall narrative. (Can anyone say, "Bubastis action figure"?). The movie, overall, is actually pretty good - with most of the performances (including my personal favorite - Patrick Wilson as Dan Dreiberg/Nite-Owl) pretty solid. (If Jackie Earl Haley does not get an Oscar nod, there simply isn't any justice in this world). The opening sequence - which shows us the history of the world of Watchmen - is a masterstroke, giving us a five-minute discourse on 50 years of history. In fact, much of the movie is faithful to the novel, with a few minor changes. Some of the changes actually work - with the Black Freighter subplot and the secondary characters gone, there's a much stronger emphasis on the overall plot, and the themes of the work come through.
But Watchmen, alas, is not a perfect film - some of the changes made, and acting by two of the leads...really steal a lot of the narrative power away from the movie.
For example, the fire rescue scene with Nite Owl and Silk Spectre - in the book, the soundtrack is "You're My Thrill" by Billie Holiday; it serves as a prelude to the culmination of Dan and Laurie's "second date". (After all, haven't you gone out at 3 am with a significant other and done something stupid?) It sets a great tone...and also helps us understand that they are doing something illicit. (In the movie, although the Keene Act is mentioned...there is no serious consequence in the movie). However, the same scene in the film is backtracked with generic action music - something which makes the scene exciting, but on the other hand....really makes it more about kicking ass and rescuing people. It works more as an obligatory action sequence than it does to reveal character. But it's the flashback to Rorschach finding the missing girl's remains - and the end of that scene in the movie - that strikes as false. In the novel, Rorschach symbolically offers up his past "delusions"....and in the midst of a fire, offers Walter Kovacs a funeral pyre, beginning his descent towards a thoroughly dark viewpoint. In the movie, it ends differently, with a different emphasis - here, it simply shows that Rorschach, far from having a simple philosophy, is more about getting-them-before-getting us.
(And that's about as detailed as I am going to get without spoiling it)
In fact, several sequences that were redone for the film almost seem to spoil later revelations, as the "flashback" to Lauren/Silk Spectre coming upon her mother and stepfather arguing. Although the novel spared no detail in terms of graphic violence, the movie seems to relish it, as in the opening scene with the Comedian being killed. For every sequence that works, there are one or two that simply miss the mark...or worse yet, don't quite feel as if they "fit". They aren't enough to totally sink the movie, but make it jar at the most inopportune moments. Rather than build as the novel did, the movie simply goes through some fits and starts. This isn't an argument that the movie should have followed the graphic novel more closely, but it seems rather uneven at times - not out of ambitiousness, but more out of a need to polish the script (which is much, much better than the infamous Sam Hamm script )
On the acting side, well...let's just say that Malin Ackerman does a merely passable job as Silk Spectre - not terrible, but you wish there had been more to her performance. And I'm simply kind of surprised that Matthew Goode hasn't done more with Adrian Veidt than a slight German accent - if you'd like to see him in a good role, rent The Lookout . These are two performances that aren't horrible, and they do as well as they can...but there's no real weight behind them. It is almost as if, in their minds, they decided that this was "only" a comic book movie...and although they put in some effort, they do weaken the overall power of the movie as it reaches its climax.
Of course, there has been much buzz about the ending of the movie, as it differs from the novel. Without spoiling, I will say this - it keeps the idea of a world united against an external threat. However, it shifts it towards being more of an internal threat, if one thinks about it. Moore, by his own admission, thought the ending was weak, and had cribbed it from an old Outer Limits episode. The new ending....well, it really seems to just be there. While Moore suggested, at the very least, an uneasiness about the future in the graphic novel, the movie's ending suggest a happier sense of "closure". Even the last ten minutes - which reflects the last page of the graphic novel - seems to provide an open page for a sequel, rather than a sense of "what-can-happen-next".
In short, although I liked the movie, I thought it really....well, let's put it this way: I've argued that the movie might have been made only because Zach Snyder wanted it to be made. I've also argued that Mr. Snyder has spent more time adapting outside material rather than developing and directing original stories. Had he done so before making Watchmen, many of the flaws of the movie would not be as overt - in fact, there might have been some more visual nuances in telling the story. In addition, some of the performances might have been sharper, more explicit, not because he was bringing a great story to life....but because he would have known how to get texture out of the actors. Instead of relying on the cool, he could have relied on telling a story.
Watchmen is not a bad film - I quite enjoyed it. However, I think it could have been a much better one.
But don't just take my word for it - feel free to share your thoughts about it in the TV Party Forum.
Until next month...keep watching!
Read More! For more of Gordon's writings, insights, and
general information, please visit his blog at blogthispal.blogspot.com.
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