Saturday, 21 March 2009

Watchmen The Film: What A Horrible Mess

As a fan of Alan Moore's Watchmen, the real Watchmen, this Zack Snyder film is an obscenity. Gratuitous violence, an ending that both ignores the book and changes itself into something dumb and horrifically anti-climatic (the film ends with twenty minutes of, is that it? That's the stupid moment you've been building towards). The actors are at best miscast, at worst woeful (take a bow the guy playing Rorschach for all those horrific and misplaced line-readings). The camera moves all over the place but forgets to actually frame and cut to suggest subtext, nor to place actors in frame that gives the film drive and feeling. Action scenes extend themselves far longer that what Moore suggests, and are in love with blood. The music is just awful, plastered on every few minutes loudly, with no reason.

Above are the base problems with the film. For narrative problems we have simple bases not covered. The world is not set up coherently. If I hadn't read Watchmen I wouldn't have had a clue what was going on a lot of the time. The film spends a lot of time showing the characters in different time zones yet never establishes character nor emotional context. The point repeatedly made in the comic book is that these loony superheroes are at base an expression of various absurd forms of cultural immaturity made manifest in different time periods in American history, suggesting bizarre dreams of of an immature American culture that in the forties gave us noir, in the fifties the cold war, the sixties Vietnam, the seventies distaste and civil revolt, in the eighties all-powerful American expansion policies. Moore takes these feelings to the extreme by showing his characters, setting them up carefully in context, in carefully separated and chaptered segments of the story, have stories within stories (such as the Black Freighter) that introduces the fiction of this Watchmen world, which gives atmosphere, character and subtle plot details as well as to suggest how the fiction influences and creates absurdities in the minds of those reading it. Within the main narrative itself you have these stories flashing back and forward, always compact within themselves to suggest what the characters are feeling, with much clearer suggestion of the emotions in the fictional world of the characters and the real world we live in that has been given one last fantastical push by Moore into various myopic absurdity. (All the Watchmen characters are myopic, thus who watches the watchmen)

The film doesn't get that. The idea of stories within stories is dropped, the social ideas in the books are placed up and made to look stupid, not having the wonderful sense of humour and of the absurd that Moore gave them, where the joke is any type of self-appointed ambitious leader is a total nut in one way or another, now lets look at them. The Vietnam sections in the film are absurd, make you think what, while in the book its handled with a lot more humour, of immature wish fulfillment and brutality, not as a plot point. There are civil disputes in the seventies that are brutal yet suggestive of something worse, make narrative points while in the film are crude and have no punch, make you wonder is that it. There's no sense of humour to the right-wing fascism shown throughout in the story while its all over Moore's comic.

Another example of the lack of humour is the film tries to make a character called the Nite-Owl sexy and dangerous, this a character who intentionally always looked silly in the comic. They try to make his characters actions exciting where in the comic there is a wonderful grace to the moments where he flies his ship and does things because it looks goofy. That's one of the main points where the film kept losing me. The mocking tone on the world and what these characters think of themselves, as well as their subtle brutality, is not there, is instead replaced by scenes that go on forever and make a fan of the book bored. Watchmen is a pretty boring film based on something that is clear and self-contained.

I could go on about what the film gets wrong, such as a truly awful sex scene (worse than anything in Showgirls) replacing a wonderful moment in Moore's original, a dull prison scenes, the lack of stillness in the story (the comic had a wonderful sense of framing to suggest emotion amongst what should be pulp absurdity). But the film is just a mess. The only reason its not the worst Moore adaptation is because The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen exist. But the theatrical cut is a very weak, ignorant film in dire need of a good director and writer. It hasn't raised the level of the genre (and who cares about that, these movies are meant to be imaginative and a little pulpy). All its done is make the source look stupid. I think Alan Moore has had enough of that already. I just hope they leave the poor guy alone and stop adapting him.

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