17 March 2009

Watchmen (2009)

The Watchmen are group of superheroes living in a world on the verge of nuclear war, and one of them has just been killed. This is Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, not to be confused with Alan Moore’s Watchmen. Moore’s work is a complex and subtle story. Snyder’s film is like being hit in the face with a big, bloodied fish, then sitting dazed for a while before being hit again. I like violent films, but the original comic’s implications of violence were much more effective (like in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho). Snyder must think film goers are idiots who need everything made more obvious to them. Or is he just pandering to American audiences who love guns and violence?

Incidentally, I have no reservations referring to Watchmen as a comic. I don’t need to justify its use of pictures to tell a story (and the art by Dave Gibbons is magnificent) by calling it a graphic novel. Calling something a novel doesn’t make it any more valid a literary item than a comic. Have you seen most of the novels that are out there? They are derivative, uninspired trash. If African Americans can make “nigger” non-derogatory, if homosexuals can claim the terms “queer” and “gay” as their own, if punks can make the term “punk” positive, then “comic” can be acceptable terminology for sequential art narrative (as the lovely and talented Nicki Greenberg once described them). It is an art form more varied and intricate than many people realise. The problem is with people, not the terminology.

The task of converting the 12 issues of Watchmen to film was always going to mean sacrifices to the story, but why leave in aspects (like an unmasked Rorschach’s early appearances that don’t show him enough to be recognised later or the final scene at The New Frontiersman without explaining what the publication is) that mean nothing to people who haven’t read the comic. Was Snyder trying to appease the fans with in-references at the expense of the uninitiated? I saw the film with people who hadn’t read the comic and they were confused by some scenes and subsequently bored by the film. Snyder could have dropped some of the unnecessary sex and violence he added to explore other plot threads, or he could have made a shorter movie. Perhaps the Directors Cut when it is released on DVD will be better, or maybe there will be even more unnecessary additions. I can’t decide which is worse, the gratuitous violence, or changing the ending. I was never that convinced by the validity of the comic’s ending, but I would never be presumptuous enough to change it. Who does Snyder thinks he is to rewrite Alan Moore? Perhaps he is rewriting the end of Romeo and Juliet next. (Am I sounding like an aggravated fanboy yet?)

The film is not all bad. Snyder couldn’t destroy everything from the original, and what is left of Moore and Gibbon’s story makes the film enjoyable (at times). The opening credits are a great recap of what has happened in this alternate world of superheroes, even if it won’t mean much to those who haven’t read the comic. Jackie Earle Haley’s Rorschach is the standout character, and the acting is generally good, except for Matthew Goode’s Ozymandias. Rorschach (an obsessed, masked vigilante trying to clean up the streets of his city) is a much better Batman than anyone else has managed to create on film (even if he is meant to be more like The Question than Batman). Niteowl is also a better Batman than anyone else as managed to film (and at least he is like Batman in costume and accessories). The Comedian (excellently played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is a better psychotic, violent madman than any Joker ever filmed as well, and he is not even meant to be the “real” villain. It’s common knowledge that films are never as good as the books they are based on, Watchmen is no different. I liked it despite all there was to hate.

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