Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Hurm: A "Watchmen" film review

Rorschach’s Journal. March 10th, 2009:

Went to see Watchmen couple days ago. Latest showing, Saturday night … not many people in theater. Suppose not many people can handle it. People turn away, hide from truth. And truth is this: film isn’t very good.

Will say positive things, however.

Alternative “master plan” used in film maybe better than one in novel -- at least tighter narratively. Seems more natural, more seamless for cinema.

Some actors good. Jeffrey Dean Morgan engaging as Comedian. Patrick Wilson dead ringer for sad-sack Nite Owl, though strangely somewhat more confident than comics version. Jackie Earle Haley good, and commendable for taking risk of acting behind mask for almost all of movie, but had always “heard” Rorschach as more stoic when reading. More raspy than growling. Still, minor complaint, chalk up to interpretation.

Title montage with Bob Dylan song playing over march of history completely fascinating. Use of pop music in general very good: Hendrix’s version of “All Along The Watchtower,” “The Sounds of Silence” … when Juspeczyk sees Dreiberg in restaurant as “99 Luftballoons” plays, couldn’t help but smile. Even most cinematic comic cannot replicate influence of music on scene, so was interesting to experience familiar story with addition of songs.

Less happy with score: too melodramatic, too big, too much. In fact, whole film is like that, and that is biggest problem. Seems like director Zack Snyder loved plot and themes of novel, but not tone. Wanted to make movie of Watchmen and wanted to make “badass” superhero movie, and thought he could do both at same time.

Novel is violent, but ... subdued. Physical conflicts not epic, graceful battles like in most superhero comics. Instead: short, brutal, unpleasant. Other hand, film’s fights extremely stylized. Visually stimulating, but working at cross purposes to supposed realism of film. Also: in novel, Veidt takes out Nite Owl and Rorschach easily, with little fuss, almost looking bored; in movie, choreographed martial arts fight breaks out. Veidt’s imposing superiority feels diminished.

Acting also too much sometimes. Feels theatrical. Actors seem to be directed to act like they’re in superhero blockbuster, not drama where people just happen to wear funny costumes. Veidt is worst. In novel, Veidt is genial, charismatic, warm; in film, sinister and superior, almost as aloof as Dr. Manhattan. Matthew Goode soaks every line in gravitas, whereas Ozymandias of novel casual at all times. Famous “I did it thirty-five minutes ago” is big emotional moment in movie, but a more horrifying shock in novel because said off-handedly, like paid bills or got milk from store.

Also, felt novel’s satire of superheroes not strong enough in film. In film, superheroes are cool, wear sculpted costumes, pose and look intimidating. In novel, superheroes are awkward, paunchy belly in skintight costume (movie is one of few times spandex outfits would work on film, to highlight how silly costumes would look in real life). In novel, Nite Owl and Silk Spectre discuss mundane, embarrassing problems of having to go to bathroom in suit; in movie, too busy fighting criminals in slow motion.

Whole problem right there: Moore’s thesis is superheroes, even ones looking and sounding “normal” as Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, would be maladjusted, dangerous to society and themselves. Snyder doesn't understand or doesn't care. Wants superheroes in his movie to look cool. Moore subverts superhero clichés, Snyder embraces. Moore’s superheroes reasonably realistic, Snyder’s just darker.

Could be if had not read book, would think movie is simply interesting, straightforward superhero movie with cool action sequences -- just more violent, more political than Spider-Man. Possibly unfair to hold movie to novel’s standards. But when director tries to be so faithful to source material, director invites comparisons.

This is my review. Have not read every blogger’s reviews; do not know if writing in Rorschach pastiche has been done, old hat. Even if so, no apologies. Never compromise.


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