Zack Snyder’s WATCHMEN haven’t left puberty yet.

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[WATCHMEN trailer here.]

Zack Snyder’s film adaptation of Alan Moore’s seminal graphic novel Watchmen retains an incredible amount of content from its sprawling source material and is overwhelmingly detailed in its recreation of the book’s panels. And yet, the film is a dismal failure transforming a politically provocative piece of literature into a Sin City-esque adolescent fantasy.

This is certainly not surprising. Zack Snyder has to this point only managed to direct the moronic, hyperkinetic aesthetic monstrosities Dawn of the Dead and 300. Though he has a knack for creating arresting images, he also shares a dunderheaded, masculinist-hyperactive-film-schooled directorial style with such directors as Guy Ritchie and Tom Tykwer. 300 in particular proved Zack Snyder to be a political black hole, reproducing the fascist, racist and homophobic qualities of Frank Miller’s graphic novel in his slavish adaptation without batting an eyelid or flexing a brain muscle. Watchmen should have been different though: Zack Snyder wasn’t slavishly adapting source material as politically repugnant as 300. He was adapting one of the most groundbreaking graphic novels of all time. So where did it all go wrong?

French New Wave director François Truffaut famously opined that it is impossible to make an anti-war film because scenes of war inevitably thrill the audience more than they repel the audience. While it might seem somewhat esoteric to quote a French New Wave director in the context of a Hollywood superhero film, in some ways Alan Moore’s work shares much in common with the New Wave. Like Truffaut and Godard’s films, Alan Moore’s Watchmen was a self-conscious critique of its genre, attempting to find a new language incorporating a more complex philosophical approach into its medium. One would hope that Zack Snyder’s Watchmen would be able to find a new cinematic language for superheroes but instead he opts for the type of shallow, sharply edited, glossy ultra-violence so prevalent in Hollywood action cinema. I know what some of you might be thinking: But all of that violence is in the novel! What is the difference? Well the difference between a still panel and a moving image is that the former invites more contemplation than the latter. In the comic, when Rorschach breaks the fingers of a man in a New York bar in order to get information, the reader lingers over the image registering the pain of the victim’s face and the fear in the eyes of the bar’s patrons. Movies don’t allow the same amount of reflection. A movie camera easily transforms violence from a questionable moral act into an exciting piece of entertainment. Also, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a Hollywood film to reconsider its approach to action. The Bourne trilogy and the recent Batman films are very recent examples of Hollywood films adopting stylistic traits such as handheld camera, staccato editing and haphazard fight choreography in order to give their action some weight. Importantly too, those films dared to question the morality of their vigilante protagonists’ actions. In Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, Rorschach comes off as more of a lovable hard-ass than the right-wing psychopath that he clearly is in the graphic novel.

There are plenty of flaws in the film to nitpick at: the expository dialogue, the cardboard acting, the dubious music choices (99 Luftballooons playing in an up-market restaurant? My Chemical Romance covering Bob Dylan’s Desolation Row? What the fuck?). But the broader and most damning thing I can say about Watchmen is that even though almost everything in the graphic novel makes it to the movie version, Zack Snyder has robbed the Watchmen of any depth. Under the Zack Snyder touch violence becomes action, sex becomes pornography, childhood traumas become origin stories, complex emotions become sound bites, global destruction becomes decoration and humanity gets sorted into heroes and villains. Alan Moore’s Watchmen was a plea for comics to grow up; Zac Snyder’s facile film version has pulled the Hollywood action film back into puberty.

SEE THIS FILM WITH:

Mr. Freedom (William Klein, 1969)

Did you know that the definitive postmodern film on superheroes as a commentary on American foreign policy was actually made 17 years before Alan Moore even wrote Watchmen? William Klein’s Mr Freedom is a more than adequate cinematic substitute for Watchmen. Look out for Serge Gainsbourg who pops up at the end of this clip. The film is difficult to track down but worth the effort.

The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)

Whether you like the film or not, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was an honest engagement of the superhero genre to address the contemporary political climate in America in the Bush era. In some ways, The Dark Knight is a better adaptation of Moore’s Watchmen than the actual Watchmen adaptation.

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7 Comments

Filed under Reviews

7 responses to “Zack Snyder’s WATCHMEN haven’t left puberty yet.

  1. oh you squid purists seriously.

    If we’re going to bitch about the music in the film I think the original, synthy and tripped out hallelujah had absolutely NO place in that sex scene and helped make it one of the most awkward, confusing and wooden moments of the film.

    That being said I kind of liked this movie. Maybe you drifted asleep during the film (entirely possible considering it goes for 10 hours) but I found the entire prison-sequence to be quite satisfying. The guy playing Rorschach was the only one who could act worth a damn and he stole those scenes with a crazed psychopathic tension.

    p.s blue dicks.

  2. I want to read the graphic novel, in spite of the film. The source material is so well lauded, but I can’t tell that from this fairly mediocre, throw-away film. The sex and violence are clumsy, the acting clunky, the CGI wishy-washy. There’s a few good sequences, but it’s hit-and-miss. There’s no consistent flow to keep you in the film.

  3. Brad

    Paul – I’m glad you said it. Most of the people on the net arguing back and forth over whether WATCHMEN translates well to the screen are people who have read the book. But I think the true test of success for WATCHMEN the film is whether it provokes the kind of philosophical/cultural/political debates in virgin audiences that it did for people who read the original graphic novel. Judging from your assessment, it does not. Also, please please please read the original graphic novel!

  4. “I think the true test of success for WATCHMEN the film is whether it provokes the kind of philosophical/cultural/political debates in virgin audiences that it did for people who read the original graphic novel.”

    I didn’t in me. However, Like Paul, it’s made me want to grab a copy of the graphic novel and give it a proper read.

    That being said, I’m going to stick to my guns and call this movie kinda fun to watch.

  5. FWIW, it’s the adulatory talk about the novel that has me wanting to read it, not the film. There’s nothing about the film at all that would inspire me to seek out the source material.

  6. Brad

    Adam – well it’s in the same league as SIN CITY which was fun in its own way.

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