Watching: Watchmen

Zack Snyder tackled one of comicdom’s most celebrated graphic novels and delivered a fun action movie packed with stunning visual, intense action, and gets the gist of Allan Moore’s story down but, unfortunately, does not do it without a plodding pace, sub-par acting, and a soundtrack that nearly killed the whole movie for me.

A little background: I’m a huge fan of Allan Moore and David Gibbons’ work in Watchmen. I’ve read it on and off for the last ten years or so just finished re-reading it cover-to-cover only a few months back. The story just gets better and better over time as the layers that Moore has worked into the stories offer a little bit of everything for the casual comic geek, hard core sci-fi head, and lover of literature. Gibbons’ art lends the right amount of deep noir, classic panel-to-panel action, and detailed facials that let the reader appreciate the nuances in Moore’s story.

When word came out that the long rumored film adaptation was turning into movie reality, I was skeptical but optimistic. While I love my comic books, I also love great cinema and how one artist can build off the work of another artist. Sometimes for the better and some times fro the worse–anybody want to compare Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight to Joel Schumacher’s Caped Crusader?

In his adaptation, Snyder has trimmed a lot of storyline fat to get to the heart of the superhero story. On the good foot, his changes to the climax (Bye, bye Giant Squid of Telepathic Doom; we hardly knew ye) make some great logical sense and allows us fro an extra destruction scene that we don’t get from the comic and his condensing of the pure text postscripts to the comic chapters into one coherent opening montage was a bold move that I think paid off in terms of keeping the feel of the comic and laying out the back-stories.

I haven’t seen the “Tales of the Black Freighter,” the movie-within-a-movie, yet but I don’t think the movie lost anything from it’s absence. What does hurt the movie is the conversations that happen at the corner newsstand while the “Black Freighter” is being read, the reactions from the newsstand owner and his constituents is the Greek chorus Moore uses to let us know what the average citizen thinks of all this masked hero business. Without that chorus or the whole issue dedicated to how Rorschach’s madness/clarity affects his jailhouse psychiatrist, or the tragic demise of the original Nite Owl, we have a stripped down version of Watchmen that is sadly devoid of humanity. The bad cameo roles of historical figures like Richard Nixon, Lee Iaccoca, Ted Koppel and the like just adds to the lack of human perspective. Who watches the watchmen? In Snyder’s movie, it’s just capes and spandex regulating capes and spandex.

The bad acting doesn’t help either as most of our major characters are going through the lines like if they just read them for the first time or never really get the fact that they are all caricatures of superheroes and not the actual heroes themselves. I don’t know what to make of the fact that the best acting came from Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach and Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan, two key figures that are equal parts amazing voice work, CGI effects and standout acting when in their civilian gear.

Any mention of Dr. Manhattan will probably lead to the fact that Snyder decided to go full frontal, a wise move if you think about all the negative reaction to last year’s Beowulf that fought for 10 minutes in the buff in a scene more Austin Powers than awesomely powerful. Snyder also didn’t hold back with the gratuitous “Hey, let’s give all the geek guys who show up their money’s worth!” sex and with the insane violence and fight sequences that were so good I was cringing in my seat.

Last point of contention, Snyder should revisit that part of film school called “Soundtrack 101” where you learn that popular music should aid and enhance a scene not explain it before hand with the subtlety of an anvil coming down on a toe. The before mentioned opening montage with Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’” was cool but from there it goes downhill fast to the point where it’s not bad enough to have Tears for Fears’ “Everyone Wants to Rule the World” as the music for Ozymandias’ plotting but the elevator music version to boot. Whack.

Still, it is still Watchmen and Snyder does get the visuals right invoking the same response heard in Sin City and 300, “Wow, that’s straight out the comic,” with astounding sound effects, and some masterful CGI sequences that along with the shell of Moore’s narrative gives us a film that delivers the surface elements of Watchmen’s parable of superhuman power gone wrong with (for good and bad) all the punch of a Hollywood Blockbuster.

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