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Zack Snyder Turns ‘Watchmen’ Into Loud, Disjointed, Brutal Mess

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Average: 3.5 (45 votes)
HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 2.0/5.0
Rating: 2.0/5.0

CHICAGO – For years, fans of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s masterful and influential “Watchmen” have been waiting for a filmmaker willing to faithfully and slavishly adapt their favorite graphic novel. Well, we got what we wanted in Zack Snyder’s frame-copying vision of this legendary book, but as someone once said - You should be careful what you ask for because you just might get it.

Snyder’s take on “Watchmen” is like a karaoke singer who hits most of the notes but doesn’t understand the lyrics to the song. The filmmaker has recreated a majority of the panels from his source material, but he’s compiled them in such a way that makes for a brutal, disjointed, misguided experience.

There are enough good ideas in the original that people unfamiliar with it and still refusing to read it may have something to talk about after seeing “Watchmen” but those elements that work are in spite of the people who made this film, not because of them. Except for a few strong performances (balanced out by a few awful ones) and the strength of the ideas at the core of “Watchmen,” the film is a complete disaster, one of the biggest disappointments of the last several years.

CPatrick Wilson as Nite Owl II, Malin Akerman as Silk Spectre II and Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach.
Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl II, Malin Akerman as Silk Spectre II and Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach.
Photo credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

The opening credits to “Watchmen” arguably make up the most effective sequence in the film. Set to “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” Snyder introduces us to his alternate universe, one in which masked crusaders have come and gone and Richard Nixon is still President in 1985. The world is on the edge of nuclear armageddon as the U.S. and U.S.S.R. have their nuclear weapons pointed at each other, held back from launching them by the existence of a God-like figure named Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup).

During these tumultuous times, a former hero, The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) gets tossed from his skyscraper window. Someone is killing off former heroes. And all the people who were near Dr. Manhattan during his time on Earth appear to be dying of cancer.

The misanthrophic Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) suspects that The Comedian was not killed by a burglar and that someone may be targeting former heroes. He goes to warn the people otherwise known as Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman), and Ozymandias (Matthew Goode).

The story for “Watchmen” goes deep into what it means to be a hero and a villain, especially in a world where the two are often interchangeable. When good guys develop weapons that can bring about the end of the world and when our greatest fear is the use of those weapons, what can a masked hero possibly accomplish? And when people on the side of good look deep into the heart of evil, is it unreasonable to think that some of it won’t rub off on them? “Watchmen” is not only about the fate of mankind but whether or not there is really anything that can be done to save it.

Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson) fights off a rioting prisoner as Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman) lends a hand.
Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson) fights off a rioting prisoner as Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman) lends a hand.
Photo credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

It’s deep material for a graphic novel and even deeper material for a 162-minute pop epic. Apparently, too deep.

The big problem with “Watchmen” is that Snyder and writers David Hayter and Alex Tse have to rush through the multi-chapter book, creating a disjointed film in which none of the action is given any time to sink in. “Watchmen” was originally published in single book episodes for a reason. You’re not supposed to read it all at once. You’re supposed to let parts of it sink in before moving on to the next.

Part of the failure of “Watchmen” comes down to one of the essential differences between the forms - chapters. Moore and Gibbons clearly wanted readers to step back and digest what had just happened, even going as far as to end each book with a non-illustrated chapter of a fictional work from the “Watchmen” universe.

With the breaks of the original removed, “Watchmen” feels completely different. It’s rushed, like a season of a TV series crammed into a nearly three-hour running time. If someone took all the highlights of a season of “Lost” and put them on the big screen for a 160 minutes, it wouldn’t be the same experience. It wouldn’t work. Nothing is given time to breathe in Snyder’s “Watchmen,” as each revelation, each origin story, each character introduction is hurried through to get to the next.

Stories like “Watchmen” are not the sum of their parts. They need a filmmaker who can recognize the difference between the forms and turn a great novel into a great film. By being so loyal to the source, Snyder has made a film with bizarre pacing problems, sudden transitions, and some scenes that simply don’t work on the screen like they do on the page.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian.
Photo credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

The biggest problem Snyder has is with tone. There are brutally violent passages in “Watchmen” and a genuine quality to Jackie Earle Haley’s movie-stealing performance as Rorschach that feel like they’re from a different movie than Matthew Goode and Malin Akerman’s Saturday morning cartoon characters. On the good side, Crudup adds a touching sadness to his vocal work as Dr. Manhattan that does truly work and his biggest passage - the origin story of Dr. Manhattan - is easily the best part of the film.

RELATED READING
Star26-Image Slideshow from Watchmen, Part One


Star26-Image Slideshow from Watchmen, Part Two

So, ultimately, “Watchmen” the movie is faithful to “Watchmen” the book. But to what end? It would be a four-hour film if Snyder and his writers included every element of the book, so once that was deemed impossible, why stay so loyal? If I told you that you could only sing two out of three notes of a song, would you think your cover version would be the same?

There are elements of film - storytelling, pacing, tone - that are different than the graphic novel and it’s almost as if those elements were never considered because everyone was so concerned with being loyal to the book. “Watchmen” is widely regarded as one of the most important and influential graphic novels ever written but none of that registers in the film version.

And that’s what’s truly tragic about “Watchmen”. It will be a footnote. Yes, it will make a killing opening weekend at the box office, but this is a movie that will be forgotten by the summer, much less the end of the year. It’s a tragic ending to the story of one of the most anticipated adaptations in years and a joke that even The Comedian wouldn’t find funny.

‘Watchmen’ stars Malin Akerman, Carla Gugino, Billy Crudup, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Matthew Goode, and Patrick Wilson. ‘Watchmen,’ which was written by David Hayter & Alex Tse and directed by Zack Snyder, opens on March 6th, 2009. It is rated R.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

By BRIAN TALLERICO
Content Director
HollywoodChicago.com
brian@hollywoodchicago.com

Anonymous's picture

A word of advice, you hack...

…leave the movies to Hollywood, and the deep-dish pizzas and crappy sports teams to your windy-ass city. The movie was great. You clearly have no attention span.

Anonymous's picture

no the critic is right the

no the critic is right the film is a cheap imitation of the comic that feels way to rushed and and seems to miss capture the essence of the source material
making it feel like a saturday morning cartoon instead of a serious look into the dark side of the human race, not to mention the soundtrack is horrible and adds to the cheap factor and whats up with the ending why couldnt they keep the orignal the movie all in all is an epic fail

thedude's picture

sorry but everyone who

sorry but everyone who slates this film comes off as a whiny comic fanboy, bitter that someone else made the film and not him.

it is INCREDIBLE. there are some sequences that will stay with me forever, and i know i’ll be watching it many, many times.

the critics can be damned.

incredibly smart film. “an abbattoir of retarded children”?!?! How many times do you hear a line like THAT in hollywood?! And the mature approach to genitalia?!?! This film is 100 times more complex than “what it means to be a superhero/villain”, which was the deepest thing this shmuck of a reviewer got out of it.

yargh it makes me mad it does! thsi film will go down as a classic.

Anonymous's picture

Did you read the book?

My question to you: Did you read the book?

Anonymous's picture

Excuse me, but, “the

Excuse me, but, “the soundtrack is horrible”? Nearly every song chosen for the film was quoted somewhere in the novel itself. I thought you were implying that you had actually read it.

Roxy's picture

about the soundtrack...

while watching the movie I was constantly reminded of a phrase I had read in another review:

“moronic music cues”

they were too loud, too on-the-nose and terribly cliched

Anonymous's picture

I really agree with the

I really agree with the review. Yes I focused on the movie and loved how it gave so much of the background pretty efficiently. The action scenes were great and anyone who read the novel could appreciate the different characters as characters. But the truth is this would be much better served as a miniseries. Think of how Band of Brothers made each episode focus on some very specific areas. Now consider how the Watchmen could easily be crafted to do the same.

I do disagree that the film could have used a director that could convert a novel to film better. The only way to do the complex narrative justice is to follow the comic book. As I said previously though, a miniseries would have made it much easier to accomplish. Or perhaps even a simultaneous release ala the last two Matrix films.

I really enjoyed the movie and thought it was well done. It just simply is too much material to cram into the restricted conditions of a single movie format.

Anonymous's picture

YOUR WATCHMEN REVIEW

Sorry, but I think your review is off the mark and completely wrong. Ive seen the film twice now and the second viewing was better then the first. I feel that the film gets better with repeated viewing. One thing I was always worried about a Watchmen film being made was the fact that I always imagined that the finished film would turn out a disjointed, uncohesive whole, something along the lines of David Lynchs Dune adaptation. That didnt happen with this movie. If there is anyone thinks differently then I suggest that your attention span is probably to blame because this movie, works, as a cohesive whole, despite all the flashbacks,side stories etc.
I take my hat off to Snyder for this movie. I will never be able to watch something like Fantastic Four or even Iron Man after watching this Watchmen. All those Matthew Goode haters need to S.T.F.U now that the movie is out because personally I found his character to be captivating whenever he was on screen. The only thing that bugged me about him was that he was not in it enough. I am really looking forward to seeing the directors cut of this film and I feel this is a film which will do better on dvd than it will at the cinema. I think that in the future, the critics who responded negatively to this film when it opened, will change their tunes when other critics start to look back upon the directors cut of the film as being a classic. I am almost certain that this film will receive the same treatment as regards to critical opinion, that Blade Runner did, years after its release.

Orion Moony's picture

I enjoyed the film greatly.

I enjoyed the film greatly. There were certainly issues in pacing - for reasons everyone could have seen coming and for reasons you touch on without quite grasping in your review. There is no filmmaker who would realize how to convert the deliberate pace into three hours - it could have been done in a miniseries, or a much longer film, but not a commercial release.

The one point I’d really take issue with, though, is your analysis of Matthew Goode’s portrayal as “Saturday morning cartoon”. I found him to be excellent - he had an astoundingly commanding presence, and he never needed to blatantly assert that presence to make it felt. I would consider him one of the brightest spots in the cast - along with Haley, who was spectacular.

Ultimately, though, I was very happy. I would like to see everything that was filmed - I have a sneaking suspicion there will be an extended version released, if this makes any money. Much like the Golden Compass, this film is a victim of short attention spans more than anything. Unlike the Golden Compass, this has the capacity to make a lot of money, and we’ll likely see a better take come the DVD release.

…this rambled more than I meant it to.

Anonymous's picture

Watchman

I just got home from seeing it. I thought it was a great movie.

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