I think by now everyone knows – I’m a fan of Alan Moores the Watchmen. I also think that there’s a fair chance a lot of people have seen the movie. Experienced it.
The graphic novel is a very powerful story that you either get – or you don’t. As they went to the effort of creating the world of the Watchmen on film they were so very careful to keep the detail of the visual. Zach Snyder the director – is great for those kind of details. And he did – he pegged it visually almost perfectly So where the movie works best is in replicating that world.
Where it fails is in those areas that don’t fit on film. The subtle nuances that can only come from a book. What we are left with on screen from his efforts can best be described as a visual feast – an optical orgasm – a color filled three dimensional… turd.
(If you have not seen the movie – turn back now – spoilers ahead)
I am not a purist. When I heard that the original ending wasn’t used I kind of wanted to cut Zach a break because all of the visual elements of the film were done so well in the pre-release scenes we got to see. Now I have to admit that by removing the original ending and substituting Doc Manhattan as the “big evil” that the world must fear to draw us together. Now not only didn’t this work as a plot device but there is a rule about monkeying with a classic story – if you’re going to change the plot – change it for the better. So – all of that was a waste. Zach’s attempt to provide us with the message that the only reason we’re decent humans is our fear of Dr. Manhattan (substitute “God” for Dr. Manhattan and you’ll see what Snyder was shooting for and missed) – this message almost everyone missed who wasn’t watching for Dreibergs lines at the very end.
And the hinting that – perhaps – maybe – there could be “more of the story” a … sequel? That’s just incredibly poor taste. For those who missed these hints – trust me it’s all there. It was blended carefully … hidden, almost like a subtle threat – but it’s there. Snyder sold any die hard fan out with that ending. The original, would have made far more sense. I had to ask several people if anyone else caught the supposed logic of tying the nukes to the death of the inmate Rorschach “greases” in the film.
With the supposed logic that when he died – the prison would go insane – and this somehow would be the trigger for Dr. Manhattan’s global attack. Umm… yeah… that… is a lot more believable to the world and will bring them together than being attacked by an alien life form which wipes out all of New York, and causes madness for miles around.
The film was rushed – and although visually detailed – the story was so lacking as to cause a feeling as if we, like Dr. Manhattan, are merely observers to this world and have no real emotional stake in it. And I can’t blame the actors who did amazing jobs on this. Each understood their characters so well and brought them to life adroitly – with the exception of Ozymandias. Who was, card board – a cut out of the book’s character and not a very good one at that.
If it were not for Jackie Earle Hailey’s stabilizing presence of the character Rorschach this film would not even merit discussion. It’s his complete and total ability to sell the character of Rorschach that allows the film to work even on a basic level. He’s supported of course by the other performances that are damned good, but it’s his time on screen both with the mask on and off that really sells this movie.
Even the death scene works without going over the top, and he brings to the role the sensitivity and an empathy needed for us to buy the meaning to his death. This is where the film really works – in the scenes with Rorschach. Here Snyder can wring out of the story something close to what the story really is, his attempts with Manhattan, and NiteOwl are well intended but they’re only “good”.
This is not a movie that can get away with “good”. You either have bought into the premise presented and are going along with it or you haven’t. Which frankly is where it fails and falls flat. It’s the insecurity of Snyder’s need as a director to reinforce the world he’s created that moves it from allowing us to accept it to rub it in our faces. It’s in his need to keep beating us over the head with “Hey this is an alternate 1985” or “Hey did you notice I can put yet another blue penis into this shot in spite of the fact that it wasn’t in the book… I just thought it’d be cool to show a blue man’s penis so you’d know he has not concept of or the need for clothing…”. So instead of just having these details where they belong – they become a gaudy display, they rub our noses into this world.
Instead of acceptance it becomes a struggle to accept. The actors have given us their all, the sets, the crew, all have provided us with a perfect replica of the world needed for us to fall into this reality … and then the Director has to screw it up by forcing this world on us rather than letting us see it, accept it, and not need to have storied aesthetics that add nothing and make us go “Huh? What? – Why… Wha?” and before we can digest it – have the story move on again to a moment which seems not to make any more sense than the words before. As a result … It’s a long movie that ambles all over the place trying to make a point and in trying to make so many points – it’s doubtful if it ever does.
Others may judge this film differently but to me – this was a film that needed to be made in 3 films – and to take your time. But that’s not what we got. It was pretty. It was kind of deep. But it was not… the Watchmen.