It's all Watchmen this weekend

by Paul William Tenny

Watchmen PromoSomething about this movie bothers me. I don't know what, it just bothers me.

All the online hype suggests a blockbuster, but that doesn't really mean anything in light of what happened with Snakes on a Plane. Now that some preliminary numbers are in for ticket sales, it seems like all that hype might be justified after all. So why does this movie look like it's going to suck?
If I had an answer to that then I'd be writing about that right now.

It could be that outside comic/graphic novel circles, Watchmen looks confusing and overloaded with lesser known heroes that we couldn't possibly care for and we know nothing about. It could also be the inherent contradiction that multi-hero stories suffer from. If we're to believe that any one of these individuals is a hero in their own right, any story that needs all of them will be patently absurd. Anything that doesn't use them will be huge letdown.

I suppose it could just be that I don't know these characters or the story so plainly I don't "get it", but that's a huge problem for Warners, because I actually represent the majority of movie goers it that respect. If it hasn't grabbed me yet, how is it going to reach blockbuster status?

I just get this sinking feeling that Watchmen is closer to Michael Bay than it is Christopher Nolan (Begins, not Dark Knight). There's too many characters, too much action, too much "shock and awe" and not enough depth. All the little opportunities for great moments are glossed over to fit in too much material for too many actors with an overly ambitious scale.

Peter Martin writing for Cinematical calls Watchmen "sledgehammer entertainment", a film that "skims over deeper reflections". Having already screened the flick in advance of its opening this weekend, Martin had compliments for some of the cast, a middle-of-the-pack performance from others, and a group that "sound as though they're delivering their lines for the first time, reading off cue cards."

His summary doesn't really match up with current expectations:

Were the right choices made? Watchmen is a lighter version of very dark material. On its own, the movie is an efficient adrenaline delivery machine, occasionally taking flight and occasionally sputtering, but most often just motoring down a long road with colorful scenery to pass the time.

If that's the impression that people are getting from the trailers, then I don't see how this movie is going to open to a $60 million weekend. I don't see how it opens to $25 million, honestly. But other people who have seen the movie feel differently that Martin does.

Anyone who bought into the bullshit about Watchmen being unfilmable was either a fanboy of the graphic novel, or a neophyte to the film industry. With enough money and talent there isn't anything that can't be filmed. We've had 3 hour epics, $250 million dollar retreads for dead franchises, and all-CGI 3D films where there is literally nothing that can't be done physically since none of it is actually real. Anyone who buys into that crap needs to be ignored until they get a grip on reality.

The Los Angeles times is far less charitable than Peter Martin was, though. The Times film critic, Kenneth Turan said that Snyders adaptation "fails to live up to its graphic novel origins", and contains nonessential subplots. Well, that's nothing new for most movies and is typically the result of studio creative interference, but for a movie that runs over 2.5 hours, that kind of crap shouldn't have been happening. Turan also wrote that compared to 300, Watchmen doesn't take any risks visually, and while he won't connect the dots between these two, I happily will. "His decision to up the novel's violence quotient to at times grotesque levels", Turan wrote, "doesn't help."

That's exactly the kind of empty minded fallback I'd expect from a director. There are far too many directors that think they can punch up a film visually by making everything more graphic than it has to be, and far too few that understand that a stark contrast can exist by toning things down to create a plain, almost painful surreal environment where anything "normal" stands out without you having to actually do anything.

A violent scene in a film that has very little violence, or where violence might not be common or even considered inappropriate, makes that scene stand out without pushing up the gore factor.

I'm sure that nuance directing like this can at times be difficult in material that limits what you can do with it. Everyone who has read the graphic novel swears up and down that 1. Deviating even an inch from the novel is heresy; 2. Being faithful to the novel is impossible (giving rise to the "it's impossible to film" mythos), but that's kind of what you have to do if you want to make a good movie.

Alan Moore made a fine graphic novel by its reputation, but Zack Snyder is making a feature film here. It was his duty to deviate from the source when necessary to protect the integrity of the medium, and had he done that, he might not have felt it necessary to compensate in other meaningless ways like updating the subplots for our time period, and the excess violence.

If the story didn't allow for nuanced storytelling, then you need to change the story. Alan Moore was already going to throw a hissy fit over this no matter how good the film turned out, so you might as well do your job and satisfy your audience -- movie goers -- rather than his. Do your job, not his.

Claudia Puig for USA TODAY, unfortunately, wasn't any more kind. With her you can just kind of take your pick: "Watchmen forgettable after opening blast", the highly anticipated film seems "poised to self-destruct', that "grows plodding, convoluted and forgettable."

Moore has famously disavowed the screen adaptation. Little wonder. For all its special-effects feats, Watchmen is a pretentious and overheated mess. Not many stories require 2½ hours to be told effectively, and this is not one of the rare few. Throughout its protracted length, an intrusive narration grates more than it elucidates.

Most disturbing is the almost sadistic quality to some of the film's violence, especially in scenes involving the killing of a little girl.

There's excessive violence, including the murder of a little girl, and a sex scene "meant to be steamy [that] comically recalls a Showgirls moment that is best forgotten." Obviously I missed the memo that this movie was rated 'R'. That's going to take some off the top right away. All the big comic movies have been rated PG-13, even The Dark Knight should I think is a very questionable rating.

It's debatable, whether to go for the wider audience, or make a truly adult film, I won't deny that. But there's also no denying that 'R' rated films don't perform well, especially right now.

After reading some of these reviews and thinking about it a little more, there's still a lot about this movie that bothers me. I won't be surprised if it breaks big, but I won't be surprised if it disappoints, either.

I think this was bungled regardless. There should be no questions at this point, nobody should be writing bad reviews and nobody should be asking questions about stupid, poorly conceived sex scenes and excessive violence against children.

But we'll see.
in Film


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