In one of the most beautiful moments of the “Watchmen” graphic novel, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, two characters who had been lying to themselves for so long finally go back into action and feel alive for the first time in years — and they make love, wearing their costumes, which are, after all, their real skin — finally embracing who they are and what they want.
In the “Watchmen” film, this scene happens in slow motion to the sound of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and ends with a orgasm metaphorically represented by a flamethrower.
I am being serious.
I could feel my face muscles cringing and my balls atrophying. This was the moment where I finally stopped trying to overlook this film’s gaping flaws and decided to accept it wasn’t going to be a masterpiece, or even excellent. As the movie went on, this lowered to “decent”, “poor” and finally to an inexplicable wish to personally apologise to Alan Moore for — I dunno, allowing this… thing… to happen, I guess.
I’ll admit my hopes were high — however, I was prepared to accept a flawed film. “Watchmen” is, after all, an extremely complex masterpiece that would require subtlety to be adapted — and the script by Alex Tse and David Hayter was actually decent, if flawed, and a few revisions could have shaped it into an excellent blueprint for the ultimate adaptation. However, nothing could have prepared me for Zack Snyder’s tremendously innapropriate direction, which removes all the dramatic punch of the graphic novel and replaces it with light, cheap humor. A humor which, in the graphic novel, enriched the drama subtly — in the film is only a source of laughs, many of them unintentional.
You could say I’m being unfair, comparing the movie so much to the novel, but unlike the excellent “V for Vendetta” (the only good movie based on Moore’s work), “Watchmen” tries to be faithful to the source material, to the point of re-creating panels of the book. And, amazingly, it completely misses the essence of the original work. Therefore, it is subject to comparisons.
It is never explained, for example, how Rorschach and other “human” vigilantes are capable of jumping several feet, running up walls or punching people so hard they fly against walls. The graphic novel made a point of stressing the only superhero with powers in its universe was Doctor Manhattan, and the others were mere human beings — which, in fact, only made Dr. Manhattan’s growing distance to the rest of humanity even more obvious. But Snyder destroys this concept with his exaggerated action scenes that need half the scenery being destroyed by superhuman punches in order to be intense. It’s particularly bad when he feels the need to add the close-up of a face being punched in super slow-motion, which happens with the Comedian and Rorschach (“Look, the blots in his face move around when his face is punched, this is COOL!”).
Super slow-motion, in fact, is something Snyder seems to have become addicted to since “300” — but while it worked for that film, it rarely does here. For every beautiful shot using this technique (the Comedian being thrown out a window), there’s ten others where this feels exaggerated and unecessary (the Comedian jumping from Nite Owl’s ship during the riot scene). The initial credits sequence, for example, is painfully innapropriate, since it gives “Watchmen” a light tone, showing pictures of violence and Cold War headlines in pretty colors and to the sound of Dylan’s “The Times, They Are A-Changing”.
Violence is yet another aspect Snyder fucks up in. Instead of using it brutally, he uses it in an aesthetically pleasing way, like a (super slow-motion) shot of an elbow being broken, which is comically over-the-top. Not to mention the scene a man’s arms are sawed off, where the quantity of blood splattering on the wall caused giggles in the entire movie theather. This kind of violence is simply gratuitous, it’s there just so Snyder can show a liquid being spurted. In slow-motion. Super slow-motion.
But his greatest fuck-up, his major mistake was to turn the most beautiful moments of the graphic novel into awkward jokes — and I’m not sure this was his intention. If it was, he’s insane. If it wasn’t, he’s a poor story-teller. In the scene a character fails to get aroused during sex with another, for example, Snyder keeps the camera on them — which makes the scene funny and light. Hell, even on the graphic novel Alan Moore had the common sense of turning his “camera” away, much like Martin Scorsese did in his famous camera movement in “Taxi Driver”, when Travis Bickle had a painfully awkward conversation via phone. And when these two characters finally manage to make love — after going back into action, as aforementioned — “Hallelujah” starts playing. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had doggystyle sex to the sound of “That’s The Way (Uh-huh uh-huh) I like it”, then Rorschach appearing and joining the fun, later with a lesbian scene between Laurie and her mother… okay, I’m digressing.
Snyder also removes other moments from the novel which were brief but meant more than an entire hour of dialogue could convey — that would be the unforgettable moment in which Sally Jupiter kisses a portrait. In the movie, it’s replaced… by dialogue. And what happens to Hollis Mason, who disappears from the film?
And I haven’t even got to the ending yet, but hold on, there’s more complaints.
As you probably already noticed, the musical selection of the film is HORRENDOUS. I don’t remember seeing a movie so utterly mistaken in that aspect for a long time. The Comedian being buried to “The Sounds of Silence” couldn’t have been more pretentious and ridiculous, and I fail to see why “All Along The Watchtower” played in the scene Rorschach and Nite Owl travel to a fortress in Antartida. “Ride of the Valkryes” was a ridiculously obvious choice for the Vietnam scene and yanks us out of the movie by making us remember “Apocalypse Now”. And the one truly good selection, “Pruit Igoe & Prophecies” by Philip Glass, doesn’t play for long enough and isn’t explored to its full potential. But okay, okay, “I’m Your Boogeyman” fit well into the riot scene, in a satiric sort of way, I’ll admit.
And the ending — ah, wait, there’s something else. Snyder completely fails to immerse you in the film — not only the aforementioned “Ride of the Valkryes” and other musical selections remove us from it, so do some horribly timed dialogue, like the moment that, in the film’s climax, a character says “I’m not a comic book villain”. And in the prison rescue scene, when Rorschach catches a criminal in the bathroom, Snyder uses the bathroom door to comic effect much like the kitchen door in “The Party”, with Peter Sellers — and once again, not only we’re reminded of another film, but yet another scene from the original graphic novel is adapted lightly.
Finally, yes, the ending. In order to remove some subplots from the graphic novel, like the character Max Shea, they changed the ending to something they felt made the same point as the original work did. Only it doesn’t. The ending feels far-fetched, expositional and – guess what – light, which is exactly the opposite of the graphic novel, which built up to it from the very beggining. There’s also a hideous plothole in that new ending, but this is a spoiler-free review, so here’s a great article by my friend Ted Roland on that obvious flaw nobody seemed to notice. Ah, yes, a character yells “NOOOOOOOOOO!!”, too. Just to make things worse. Oh wait, they get even worse than THAT:
The film ends with a My Chemical Romance song.
Okay? Are you crying yet? No?
The film ends with a My Chemical Romance song, for fuck’s sake.
Did Tyler Bates even compose anything for this movie? What’s he doing in the credits? In a movie that badly needed a strong original score, where the hell was he?
There are, however, things “Watchmen” gets right. Technically, the film is almost flawless. The cinematography, art direction, special effects and costumes are magnificent, with the exception of Rorschach’s trenchcoat, which doesn’t have the blood stain — yes, another important thing Snyder got wrong. Ironically, though, one of the best scenes of this film is when Rorschach becomes Rorschach, even if it’s pointlessly different from the graphic novel.
The casting is mostly right. Unknown actors were a good call from Snyder (something that led me to believe he knew what he was doing, before I saw the film), since their relative lack of star power allows their characters to stand out. Jackie Earle Haley is an excellent Rorschach, shame he isn’t in a better film. Patrick Wilson does well as Dreiberg, but Snyder shits all over the character throughout the movie. Carla Gugino is more of a “deluxe cameo” than anything, but Jeffrey Dean Morgan is a good Comedian. Matthew Goode is, like Patrick Wilson, prevented from doing well because of Snyder’s fuck-ups, but Billy Crudup creates an interesting Dr. Manhattan. Finally, Malin Akerman is horribly inexpressive as Laurie Juspeczyk, standing out as the only truly bad performance.
This is a clear case of a potentially great film being destroyed by an overconfident director who believes his particular style of directing – and his musical tastes – are adequate to any film, even to the adaptation of one of the greatest graphic novels of all time. The “unfilmable” comic book is filmable, but not by Zack Snyder. He can create pretty imagery (in slow motion (SUPER slow motion)), but he can’t make it work in a narrative.
And people say Alan Moore is a prick for demanding his name be taken off the credits.