Sunday, March 08, 2009

Watchmen (2009)

Watchmen (Zack Snyder, 2009)

Zack Snyder, visionary director of 300 (2007), once again proves himself a visionary with his latest film, the adaptation of Alan Moore's much-revered graphic novel Watchmen. Of course, the term "visionary" was used in the trailer of Watchmen as nothing more than a marketing tool: a single-worded invitation that means "if you want more of 300's arbitrary use of computer graphics and action sequences that are replete with hyperactive switches to slow motion and back, then spend your bucks on this flick." The term "visionary" is being used here with a sizable dose of sarcasm, for the truth of the matter is, Snyder, with three features under his belt, is no different from the thousands of MTV-educated movie-makers that are currently working in Hollywood's soulless assembly line; and blessed with a budget of hundreds of millions of dollars and projects with already existing storyboards, he has been capriciously knighted by Hollywood's marketing executives with a title that is reserved to a handful of filmmakers.

If Snyder's Watchmen is assessed solely on ambition, then it is an indubitable masterpiece. After all, several directors have attempted to adapt Moore's graphic novel, all of which ending with the project being shelved and eventually forgotten. Director Terry Gilliam, who was once tasked to adapt the graphic novel in the late eighties, considers the material unfilmable, unless it was done as a five-part miniseries. Perhaps there is truth to Gilliam's observations. Moore's graphic novel, with its narrative and thematic complexities, simply cannot be condensed in a span of two hours or so (in fact, Snyder's adaptation is half an hour over the two-hour mark). Snyder, despite many failed attempts in the past, adamantly pushes forward and arrives at a final product that is comprehensible and pretty. Ambition, however, is never the barometer of quality. While Watchmen passes intelligibility (one can easily follow the story, as simply laid out by David Hayter and Alex Tse's screenplay), it ultimately fails to be anything more than an overbudgeted evidence of Hollywood whim and bullyism.

There is an obvious effort in realizing the alternate history that serves as setting to Moore's tale about costumed crime fighters who are struggling in the midst of an impending nuclear holocaust. The opening credits, a finely crafted montage set into motion by Bob Dylan's majestic The Times They Are a-Changin that traces the history of the Watchmen from its humble beginnings to the troubled band of superheroes that it is now, summarizes concisely the backstory that puts logic to the plot's internal grief and its alternate timeline. Snyder, however, betrays the opening's initial promise of visual succinctness when it thrusts the rest of the film in an over-indulgent exercise of revelry and spectacle.

Snyder fills each frame with special effects (whether it be a computer generated background, a completely animated Dr. Manhattan, action scenes in stylized slo-mo that calls attention to teeth flying, bones breaking, and bodies disintegrating, obviously for shock rather than anything else) that hardly mean anything but nevertheless sum up what Snyder's adaptation strives for: visual ingenuity which is actually a facade to what essentially is an empty core. Snyder is an aesthetic leech. He pilfers the artwork of greater and more pertinent visual artists as his own, utilizing Hollywood's unscrupulous mechanism and its almost unlimited bank account to establish himself as an expert in comic-to-film adaptations. In reality, it is a lack of artistic integrity that is often confused with faithfulness to the source material.

It is not apparent from Snyder's film that it is birthed from a trailblazing material, a graphic novel that revised superhero lore from one-dimensional do-gooders to damaged individuals who inconsistently balance their personal demons and the weight of our sinful world. Watchmen maintains the narrative, keeping intact the lack of trust Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) has with the rest of the world; the widening lack of interest Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) has with a humanity that is getting more and more distant; the complacency, a result of years of retirement and a distinct satisfaction of being normal, of Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson); the overripe cynicism, gathered from the decades of fighting bad guys, of The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan); the misplaced zeal of Ozymandias (Matthew Goode); the confusion of Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman). However, the manufactured feel and the commercial intent of Snyder's efforts drown whatever depth and integrity that remains.

In the end, neither ambition nor so-called faithfulness to the material can save Watchmen from being just another angsty superhero flick. Hollywood should have listened to Gilliam and we might have something better than this overstretched bombastic snore-fest that talks the talk, walks the walk, but never really gets anywhere.


MewFanatic said...

Must be so cool being so smart ; ) longtime lurker here, and your site is addictive to all cinemaphiles

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks, do comment!

lightning catcher said...

Good to see you have a new post.

I'm looking forward to reading more. I hope you write more frequently.

Past Expiry said...

Check out this cartoon about the Watchmen movie!
*CARTOON*Feel free to post on your blog or "tweet"

amiel (radueriel) said...

hey, i liked watchmen.
i could say twas a tad bit better than the xmen franchise, in technical terms $(overall I'd still pick xmen cuz of its characters' coolness).but watchmen had the graphics and the story depth going on.

Anonymous said...

couldn't agree more with your review...

I look forward to your movie insights and I honestly think you could make a some dough off this or at least some measure of notoriety or even (ugh) fame.

by the way, re: Gilliam's assertion that Watchmen is 'unfilmable'---one of Moore's main gripes about his work being made into movies is that they rarely---if at all---translate well primarily because they were never meant to be rendered as movies.

In his own words, Watchmen was written to be read and re-read again and again as a graphic novel in the similar way that one reads any piece of great literature over and over again.