Avril Brown Presents:
WATCHING THE WATCHMEN
WARNING: The following column contains definite spoilers both for the movie and the graphic novel. As much as it pains me to say this, if you have not seen and/or read WATCHMEN and wish to be surprised in any way, do NOT read the following column. The time for pussyfooting around has come and gone, and there are issues which need to be addressed.
Last Sunday afternoon, slightly hung-over and anxious to make it to the theater before the previews started, I walked into the Webster Theater with several friends ready to see the WATCHMEN movie. Armed with a few ridiculously large popcorn bags, two or three soft drinks the size of my head and a king size bag of Reese’s Pieces (they were out of Sno-Caps), we found our seats, kicked back and prepared to enjoy the nearly three hour long film.
As for my initial first impression once the movie was over, I honestly couldn’t say. I really could not figure out if I liked it or not. This confused me. I figured I would have a strong opinion one way or another given the hype surrounding the movie and my feelings towards the novel, but the question: “Did you like the movie?” posed to me frequently over the next few days did not have an answer.
After many hours of sporting a furrowed brow and practicing Zen meditation, I finally figured out what the roadblock was. Before I share my revelation, however, let me convey what I DID know immediately after watching the movie (I’m not even going to talk about the steamy-sex-scene-turned-bad-porno between Nite Owl and Silk Spectre; I figure it spoke volumes for itself).
Like I stated in my last column, creating a visually jaw-dropping film is Zack Snyder’s strong suit. No one can say WATCHMEN was lacking in stunning special effects, sultry color schemes and visceral fight scenes, especially the latter. There are bones jutting through skin, spurting fountains of ruby plasma and shredded pieces of bad guys hanging from ceiling fans, so the blood and guts certainly got their share of face time. I’m not complaining in the least; I love me some good n’ gory violence, but this kind of over-the-top carnage is not for everyone. Not to mention (with the exception of Dr. Manhattan) there is not a single member of the Watchmen who has superpowers, they’re simply all in phenomenal shape while possessing mad fighting skills. Yet in the opening scene where the Comedian is assaulted by a mystery man in black before being tossed through the window, he takes a beating that would’ve given Rogue a fleeting headache. (Translation for the non-nerds: he took a level of abuse only a being with super strength would have survived).
So the masked heroes have been eating their Wheaties, no biggie. I can deal with that type of deviation, and it does make for a more pulse-pounding action film. What I find a bit harder to stomach is the size of the stick nestled securely up Ozymandias’ ass. I cannot say if his perpetually wooden composure was a reflection of Matthew Goode’s acting since I haven’t seen any of his other works, but he was always so cold and calculating he might as well have been wearing a neon sign flashing ‘I am the villain!’ in bright, pretty letters. One of the major plot lines of WATCHMEN was that of a murder mystery. Who killed the Comedian? In the movie the answer becomes glaring obvious when the wildly successful and super smart skinny blond man is the only one walking around with a perpetual frown and a god-complex hanging on him like a second skin.
Due in part to the transparency of who killed the Comedian, the why becomes muddled. In the graphic novel Ozymandias’ overwhelming love, compassion and desire to do what’s best for the human race is what drives him to his horrific actions. In the movie Ozy doesn’t seem to be passionate about anything in particular, besides his own superiority. So the ‘whodunnit’ mystery is solved almost immediately but the cause behind the actions remains cloaked until the end of the movie, and even then it is not very convincing.
With that we now we reach my revelation. Remember when I said in my last column how I can separate the comic world from the movie world? Well, I found myself struggling to make that distinction after I saw WATCHMEN, and the reason why is because in many ways, the movie IS the book. A whole plethora of images and a shit load of dialogue from the movie is taken directly from the book. Very little was altered in terms of script and visuals, which gives fans of the novel little to complain about in terms of ‘staying true to the book,’ at least when it comes to the mechanics. There is at least one major plot line which was completely absent, namely the purely ‘human’ side story, but this is to be expected when translating a complex graphic novel to film. However, the familiarity lured me into a false feeling of comfort, which in turn made the alterations stick out like a sore thumb.
In the conclusion of the book, Rorschach is the only member of the Watchmen who refuses to keep mum about what actually caused the death of millions of innocent people, and he is immediately dispatched to keep the secret, and the newfound world peace. In the movie, Nite Owl also seems to come down on the side of non-believers, yet he is allowed to walk away despite his objections. Why did he receive a ‘get-out-of-exploding-free’ card? If those in power, namely Ozymandias and Dr. Manhattan, were completely convinced slaughtering countless people and blaming it on someone (or something) else was the only way to avoid a world-wide nuclear holocaust, how could they let someone who was obviously against their actions just stroll out the front door with lady love and a clear cut grudge in hand?
The movie bears great similarities to the book, but it also lacked a certain je ne sais quoi; a fire, a passion, an unnamable emotion, whatever you want to call it which made the book such an unshakable part of literary history. But because the movie is the graphic novel come to life in certain respects, it is difficult to analyze it from a purely cinematic perspective. It is almost as if Zack Snyder and the Powers That Be were trying too hard to appease hard core fans of the novel, while simultaneously attempting to tell their own version of the story, and the ‘je ne sais quoi’ got lost in between.
Do I recommend seeing WATCHMEN on the big screen? Hell, yeah. The big screen is where you should see a movie with rocking explosions, shiny structures floating on Mars and bone-cracking alley fights. Overall, however, WATCHMEN is missing something integral, the ‘thing’ which distinguishes epics from an evening’s entertainment. I have no regrets (probably because I didn’t pay for my ticket; thanks Gary!), but I cannot help but pause and wonder if this film was made for the current fans, the fans-to-be, or just because they finally had the budget and CG to pull it off. It was made, however, and it wasn’t a complete burning disaster, so that’s something. These days when it comes to Hollywood’s representation of classic stories and icons, true believers gotta take what we can get and keep hope alive that in the future, overeager production companies and ‘visionary directors’ will learn when to leave well enough alone. Then again, if I’m going to hope for a miracle, I might as well expend my effort praying for a winning lottery ticket instead. I could use the money.Visit CWR at Unsungheroes!
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