Why the Watchmen film is shit.

10 March, 2009

The general consensus on Watchmen is that those who read the graphic novel will love it and those who didn’t will hate it. This theory conveniently explains the mixed response it has received from critics and audiences alike. Well I will prove to be the exception to the rule. I read the book, I loved the book, and the film is dreadful.

There is a reason why the first director approached to make this film is Terry Gilliam. Others offered the job include the excellent Darren Aronofsky and Paul Greengrass. These are three gentlemen who have a strong visual style but crucially understand the mechanics of themes and storytelling. Eventually the studio settled on Zack Snyder, laughably referred to in the trailer as “the visionary director of 300.” That’s not to say 300 isn’t a fun film but it’s altogether meaningless and it knows it. Could this man best known for a style-over-substance snuff picture possibly have the capacity to bring Alan Moore’s pessimistic vision of complex superheroes to the screen?

Let’s start with the acting. Besides the sole stand-out of Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl, the cast is made up of actors who are at best wooden and at worst a stockpile of logs. Jackie Earl Haley is watchable as Rorshach but the talk of an Oscar nomination is deeply perplexing since all he had to do was scowl. Plus I preferred the one scene where he wasn’t utilizing the Christian Bale Batman voice. I also have to excuse Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan since the character isn’t supposed to emote. Everyone else, however, would be better suited as firewood.

A friend of mine allegedly referred to this film as a perfect adaptation. Perfect. In other words, it looks like the illustrations by Dave Gibbons. By that logic, I could pick up a copy of The Catcher in the Rye, frame and film the text, add music to it, and presto: I’ve made a perfect adaptation of J.D. Salinger’s book simply because all the words are in it. Just because it gets the plot and the visuals mostly right, doesn’t mean it captures the essence of what Watchmen is really about. Ask yourself if you really cared about any of the characters as portrayed in the film. Of course you didn’t care, stop lying! The reason you don’t care and I don’t care is because Snyder doesn’t care. What does he care about instead?

He cares about how bad-ass Rorschach is. He cares about how awesome gratuitous violence is. He cares about how much we all want to bang Silk Spectre. The film ends with Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row” on the soundtrack as interpreted by My Chemical Romance, which makes you think Dr. Manhattan has just teleported you into the heart of an emo mosh pit. Instead of the bittersweet taste you are supposed to have in your mouth due to the Machiavellian actions of the heroes, you feel like cheering. But what is there to cheer about?

Ultimately the film doesn’t know what it wants to be. On the one hand, the book suggests that it should mean something, but on the other hand, depth is not as fun as breaking fingers in slow-motion, and because slow-motion looks a bit artsy, the emptiness of Snyder’s vision is masked with the utmost portentousness. The soundtrack perfectly sums up this notion, making use of Simon & Garfunkel and the Mozart Requiem for no other reason except it sounds cool. It’s the Tarantino School of Soundtracks but at least Tarantino films never pretend to be important. All this would be forgivable were it not for one scene that plays Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” over a sex scene that was lifted straight out of a late night softcore romp on Cinemax. That scene, with its excessive thrusting and its noir lighting, is the essence of Zack Snyder’s Watchmen.

By the time Terry Gilliam’s chances to direct the film fell through in the late 1980s, he came to the conclusion that the only faithful way to adapt the book was to make a five-hour miniseries. I suspect he was onto something since the 2 ½ hour Watchmen is all sizzle and no steak, so maybe there was no way to make it work. Stanley Kubrick famously had no regard for the books he was adapting, especially Stephen King’s The Shining, but he was able to use them as a starting point for his own cinematic vision. He made The Shining work. Maybe because he didn’t have to worry about winging fanboys in 1980. Now I’m imagining what Stanley Kubrick’s Watchmen would look like. And now I’m happy.

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12 Responses to “Why the Watchmen film is shit.”

  1. derricknation said

    Well for me, the film was everything that I expected to be. I didn’t care much about the story, even though I m a huge fan, because I already knew what Watchmen was about. I did not need to see the movie to understand that. I was just glad to see all the detail and wonderful cinematic effects of the movie. It was great to see the characters in something other than an illustration. Even though it was not the greatest thing in the world and will not replace the graphic novel at all.
    People need to take it for what it is. A movie.

  2. Noah said

    So because it’s just a movie it shouldn’t be taken seriously as a work of art?

  3. Robert Hamer said

    First off, Jackie Earle Haley and Jeffrey Dean Morgan were awesome in their respective roles, so I don’t what you’re talking about in regards to them. Though I do agree with Matthew Goode being wooden as a 2×4.

    Other than that, though, I actually had more problems with the film than you did, especially the ending. So, okay, Ozymandias frames Dr. Manhattan instead of engineering aliens, but that means the appearance of Bubastas (the cat with antlers) made no sense. And what would be the point of all nations banding together against a weapon that the United States created, a god no less? Wouldn’t that just speed up nuclear war?

    Despite that, though, I just can’t hate this movie as much as so many are doing. Maybe it’s because I liked the visual style or Haley’s performance is so perfect to me, or because some scenes worked so well (sometimes following really poor scenes), I have mixed feelings on this movie. It probably would have been better under the direction of Gilliam or Greengrass, but as it stands Watchmen to me is a fascinating and immensely entertaining failure.

  4. mario said

    well i really dont like this movie because it modify the structure that a superheroe is i mean iron man, sentry ,mr fantastic,etc, were scientifics if you understand the doctor manhattan that supposed to be a scientific and a great person because of his knowledgement about society and other things they supposed to defend the human raise aside from the fact the comedian was trying to show how the people are so he is not a superheroe or maybe is a crazy superheroe
    i mean heroes are heroes

  5. mr bogues said

    Watchmen was one of the wirst movies i have seen this year. 3 hrs of drival and no one knew what was going on. Is it about batman ? ? ? ? or are they just tryin to rip the character off?

  6. Petteri said

    Watchmen is total agony piece of shit. This movie is for kids only. I and my wife simply could not watch this “ride” till the end. Too painful to enjoy. He man rules ten times more than this piece of shit!

    Kid stuff, some boring gore.

    Shit movie!

  7. alice said

    I really couldn’t follow this at the cinema – though I enjoyed it and liked it more the second time around. However, I watched it with a friend who is a fan of the graphic novel and he was so disappointed by the treatment of the film that he couldn’t quite communicate to me just how wrong it was. You have clarified this for me. Cheers!

  8. Carlz said

    Goddammit. Most people dint understand the purpose of the movie. It was to convey messages, to show that having super heroes wouldn’t change a thing, in this world. The movie wasn’t about the actual plot but the characters, and the world they lived. It was not about the action, but what those action meant.

    And Mario I dont know if you are a troll or simply stupid…

  9. Bernard Black said

    I just got around to watching this movie. It took me three sittings to ‘get through’ it. Ever eat unflavored gelatin? You can imagine what sort of google seach brought me here.

    First off, never read the paper version, but I love the concepts of the film: back stories, a salad bar of hero conflicts, ect. I knew the acting would be shit, Im ok with that, violence and character concept go along way.

    Anyway, I think what true fans may find difficult to accept, is that past back stories, cool characters, and a well developed world for them to play in, you still need a story. The story here is actually shit. Goopy, greasy shit with floaty lumps to boot.

    Gritty “real’ Heroes? love it. Questioning what a hero’s place is in the world, bring it on. Hero gone wackey and ultra Machiavellian, lay it on me. But holy shit, 10 cities get tacheyon nuked, or what ever fuck and that spurs on world peace? This premise is insulting to even those basement dwelling geeks who are easily distracted by a bare breast and slowmo spin kicks.

    Speaking of breasticles, the sex scenes were actually embarassing. I thought with the internet and ability to instantly access more pron then willingly consumable, we were past cinemax style sex scenes. Dont waste my time.

    Back to the bad premise, Mr Manhattan is a shit character as well. Sorry it just doesnt work. Like when superman teams up with anyone. He is superman he doesnt need help. No he cannot talk to dolphins, but he could freeze them instantly and throw them at you at the speed of sound and toast them up while they are inbound. Ever get hit by a fresh frozen laser baked dolphin? Similarly, Mr Manhattan has to flee because the weak us govt and the weaker russians now hate him? Fine, why not stick around and just turn red and call yourself Mr Brooklyn? Sorry shit character.

    OK, so someone said that this movie/story is not about acting, the story, or any other significant plot point? Well shit, this is the old, ” it is just a day in the life” sort of story. Sweet hair turd from hades, I wish that is what this was about. I would love to see these characters do something besides the idiotic path they were set upon by this piss poor plot.

  10. Carlos said

    Movie was terrible. The characters are lame and look like cheap marvel knock offs. The movie was hard to follow with absolutely no character development.

  11. I just didn’t like the coverup, dr Manhattan is a piece of shit.

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