Saturday, March 21, 2009

Why no one is watching the Watchmen

The Watchmen is a triumph of creativity. It is a re-imagining of a medium upon which all subsequent works shall be judged. It has layers of depth that are a commentary upon the politics of the times, the pop culture that surounds it, and a meta-commentary on the medium and its place in culture. Of course I am speaking of the comic, as the movie is a dolled up piece of pablum that we have seen countless times before and an embarrassment to the source material.

The movie suffers from the same problems as the director Zack Snyder's last effort, shot for shot devotion to the source material. Where Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons used violence sparingly in order to maximize its effect, Snyder has limbs cracking and heroes galivanting around like low rent X-Men. None of the Watchmen have powers except for Dr. Manhattan, but looking at the movie you'd think radioactive spiders were hiding beneath all the masks.

The violence while beautifully shot as is everything else a distraction from the story and the philosophies that the characters embody. This is part of the movie's greatest failure, it can not stand on its own. An adaptation no matter how faithful to the source, even if scenes and dialogue are lifted word for word, has to stand on its own as a self contained narrative. It has to use the techniques of its medium or create some of its own to tell the story. If it needs external sources to make sense of what is being presented it is not a movie version of the comic but a poorly written companion piece.

I am a huge fan of the comic and would say that it is one of the best pieces of writing in any form to come out of the '8os. The fanboys who argue that the only people who don't like it just don't get it and should read the book miss the entire point of making a movie in the first place. If it is only for fanboys spending $150M to shoot it is ridiculous, there is no way to recoup the cost by relying on the fans that already exist. The purpose of a film adaptation is to expose the material to those who never read the book and hopefully inspire them to read it.

The movie has remarkable graphical flourishes but the story is poorly served by the writers and director. The comic is about the characters' psychology and philosophy but they can be lost in the movie to those unfamiliar with the source material. It also suffers from the fact that the idea of the dark hero, while revolutionary 20 years ago is a bit cliched now. The ending while changed is still faithful to the spirit of the comic and is a parody of the comic book genre.

Frankly, the precipitous drop in box office should be foreseen as the trailers are a lie. The trailers make it look like an action movie but the comic is moved forward by dialogue, the movie is mired in it. There are only a few set pieces of violence but they are so over the top and more graphic than the comic that they stand out and make the pacing of the movie all wrong.

Alan Moore and others were right Watchmen is unfilmable, Snyder proved the point. The dense amount of backstory and character development is done in the comic with flashbacks, letters, excerpts of text etc. With the movie it is done mostly with leaden dialogue delivered by wooden actors. It would have been better as a miniseries so that the characters and story could breath.

If you read the book it is a good movie if you haven't read the book before do so before thinking of seeing the movie.

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