Rohan Williams watched Watchmen and he wrote us up a review of the film. Enjoy! – BC
When it comes to Zack Syder’s Watchmen, most of us seem to fall into two camps: those expecting a laughable mess, and those expecting a masterpiece (the latter group, while starting off small, seems to have grown considerably as the marketing campaign ramps up). Both groups are going to be disappointed.
The true winners of the Watchmen sweepstakes are those who expected the film to be… just kind of there, I guess. The quality of the production oscillates wildly between ‘solid adaptation’ and ‘fan film’ (or, perhaps, community theatre in slow-motion).
Obviously, Moore’s masterpiece inadvertently creates a number of problems for anyone trying to adapt it to a different medium. Looked at from that perspective – as a formal exercise – Snyder simply can’t keep up with the bearded madman. The famous (infamous?) use of dialogue as overlapping narration doesn’t survive the translation, for example, and Dr Manhattan’s mind-bending sojourn on Mars becomes a fairly pedestrian flashback sequence.
Synder’s handling of the story’s major ‘reveals’ is also perplexing. Walter Kovacs is barely seen (and never heard from) before his unmasking, robbing that scene of much of its impact. It doesn’t help that the few times we do see him, the film seems to be screaming his ‘true’ identity at us.
Likewise, and far more detrimental to the story, is Matthew Goode’s performance as Ozymandias. He possesses none of the inherent nobility given to his comics iteration by Dave Gibbons, and – in a move that can only be designed to appeal to the LCD – is backed by ominous music and/or thunder virtually every time he opens his mouth. The same twist that resulted in fans saying ‘holy shit’ on the comic book page gets little more than a ‘well, DUH’ here.
It’s not all bad news, though. In the moments when Snyder (with screenwriters David Hayter and Alex Tse) chooses to actively adapt the work for the screen, rather than slavishly recreate the comic, the film shines brightest. Despite the predictions of some people based on a few YouTube clips, it’s nowhere near as direct an adaptation as 300 or Sin City.
In fact, the much-ballyhooed replacement ending (yep, the Squid really isn’t in it) is actually quite clever, and works better in the context of a two-and-a-half hour movie than the alternative would have.
For all the criticism traditionally directed at Snyder’s handling of actors, a few of them acquit themselves quite well here. Haley’s Rorschach is every bit as good as you might expect, while Billy (Dr Manhattan) Crudup and Patrick (Nite Owl II) Wilson are as close to their comic book equivalents as possible.
Despite their best efforts, much of the charm and subtlety of Moore and Gibbons’ work has been lost, and that’s a shame. The loss of the pirate comic is acceptable, but the sheer amount of ‘callback’ scenes we get that don’t actually call back to anything (as the original moments were cut) is quite galling.
Speaking of the ‘pirate comic’ – weirdly enough, Tales of the Black Freighter is only ever referenced as a poster in the background, while Hollis Mason’s Under The Hood biography is mentioned countless times. You have to wonder if the direct-to-DVD people have focused their energy in the right place!
For over 20 years, a successful adaptation of Watchmen has been Hollywood’s Gordian Knot. I can only admire Synder and co. for doing their best to cut it, but ultimately, they leave it slightly frayed at best.