Review – Watchmen

Originally Posted at Aint It Cool News 03/03/09

What if superheroes were real? Well, they’d probably be pretty fucked up individuals. Let’s examine that, shall we? WATCHMEN.

Alan Moore is a crotchety, pissy old bastard. Adaptations of his works typically, in the oft-used critical parlance of our times, suck. His magnum opus is “Watchmen,” a deconstruction of the superhero, a 12 issue miniseries so dense it could be classified as an element on the periodic table, its entry represented by a shifting inkblot. Alan Moore has said it is an unfilmable property. Alan Moore says a lot of things. Dude wears those gaudy Saturday market rings where a purple rock forms the torso of a pewter scorpion. Genius or no, you can’t take a guy rocking one of those things that seriously.

Unfortunately, Moore was right this time. Watchmen is unfilmable. Or more to the point, the things that make Watchmen work haven’t been captured on film. Zack Snyder tried. The effort expended, the sweat, the passion for the book, it’s up there. It’s visible. This is a beautifully constructed work of art; much like Jon Osterman’s Glass Ship on Mars, it cracks easily and doesn’t hold together too well.

I find myself using the character of Doctor Manhattan himself as a stand-in for the movie overall. There are moments where it coalesces into something substantial, something that transcends the book and achieves its own sort of magic, a magic I’m sure our favorite shaggy wizard might even appreciate; but like Jon in his early days of achieving minor godhood, Snyder can’t maintain the form, and the momentum dissipates in flashes and blasts of loud noise.

The movie spends about half its time in a cinematic uncanny valley. Panel-perfect transitions from page to screen, density of visual information translated flawlessly, moments that for all the sincerity behind the scenes, comes off as superficial. “300” was thematically thin, but felt fuller, more robust than the sum of its parts. “Watchmen” is the opposite, maybe because there’s so much more going on under the surface than in Miller’s sophomoric fantasy-epic, the stuff between the panels didn’t make it to the screen intact.

It’s unfair to compare the movie to the book at every turn, to catalog changes like a continuity nerd dragging a red pen across a series of checkboxes. But if the movie was working right, viewers would be too enamored with the film to concern themselves with changes. This plays closer to a Chris Columbus-esque racing through of collected moments, less like a film Snyder made for Snyder, and more like a film made for the kind of people who create memes on the internet as a form of film criticism.

It’s pretty as hell. Snyder knows how to block a scene, how to move his camera, and generally how to make almost everything in front of his lens look, for lack of a better phrase, “Fuckin cool.” His speed-ramping fetish (overstated online in the last few months) is very subdued in this movie, but when he uses it, it’s quite effective.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Eddie Blake (The Comedian,) Jackie Earl Haley as Walter Kovacs (Rorschach,) and Patrick Wilson as Dan Dreiberg (Nite Owl II) inhabit their characters in ways that are faithful to the text and also alive on their own. But Malin Akerman as Laurie Juspeczyk (Silk Spectre II) and Matthew Goode as Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias) are kind of just there. They don’t suck outright, nor do they impress. They are ciphers. Robert Wisden as Richard Nixon and Carla Gugino as Sally Juspeczyk (Silk Spectre) are buried under bad old age makeup and turn in hammy, lazy performances.

Billy Crudup’s voice work as Jon Osterman (Doctor Manhattan) is good, but the decision to make the Doc all CGI was ultimately a bad one. They apparently had someone  specifically working on the jiggle physics of his wang, but they couldn’t crack the problem of making his mouth move correctly. So many cool little things going on just under the surface of his translucent skin, wasted because when they needed Jon to emote even in the (very) minor degrees someone as omniscient and detached as Jon is, they couldn’t get it right. Again, we’re in the realm of uncanny valley, it’s pretty disorienting, and not in the manner I felt upon first reading the book.

My dad used to buy top of the line stereo equipment, and then forbid anyone to actually play CD’s on it. He was afraid that he’d break it and ruin his investment. This movie feels like Snyder was so afraid to break “Watchmen,” that he didn’t actually use it properly.  Maybe this film represents the best crack anyone is gonna get at taking one of Time magazines 100 greatest novels of the 20th century, and capturing its paranoid, nihilistically hopeful tone on celluloid. Maybe it’s just that the old hairy wizard with the stupid pinky rings is right this time, unfortunately: Maybe “Watchmen” is simply unadaptable.

Published in: on 12/31/2010 at 1:09 am  Comments Off on Review – Watchmen  
%d bloggers like this: