Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Who's Going to Watch the Watchmen?

I finished reading Watchmen last night, and I'm suddenly quite nervous about the film. The trailer was epic and enticing and featured a bitchin' song, but now that I know the story, I'm perplexed.

Because the graphic novel is not epic. It's layered, it's multi-faceted, it's complex, it's gritty. It's not epic.

Which is not to say that the film will suck. But I'm concerned.

First, Zack Snyder does not impress me as a director. I really didn't care for 300 all that much. For all the pomp and vim and homo-erotic undertones, the thing that really, truly bothered me was that it claimed to be rooted in realism (like, you know, the graphic novel was) but came off in the end as quite cartoony. Some things I can overlook, like the over-the-top depiction of Xerxes. Others I can't--like a whole diatribe about how a phalanx works, only to completely abandon that fighting style when the actual, you know, fighting starts, in lieu of every-man-for-himself bravado.

But, regardless of my feelings for the film, certain things about 300 did work. The graphic novel was about an epic battle, and a sweeping, grand, epic style was appropriate for the film. Nothing about the film was subtle, so it didn't matter that David Wenham was belting out lines from behind his eyepatch and Speedo. You don't go to 300 for the nuance. But 300 seems to be Snyder's qualification for directing Watchmen, and Watchmen is a completely different animal. The thematic elements are much more rooted in moral relativity versus absolutism and the human-ness of costumed heroes. So, perhaps a bit of subtlety and nuance is appropriate. But consider that trailer.

Every damn frame of the trailer is in slow-motion. Rorschach with his homemade flamethrower was a tense, fast-paced, brawl in the book, not a slow, grand, epic, fast-paced brawl. There's a scene in the trailer in which Dr. Manhattan is split into three copies of himself, all in the same room. This happens exactly once in the book, and it happens when he has a fight with his girlfriend. Why should this be slow and grand? It needs to be tense and hostile.

Then there's the fact that the movie is cast almost entirely with B-listers (if not C and D-listers). With the possible exception of Billy Crudup, but his character is a hulking blue computer graphic for 95% of the film. Well, Patrick Wilson is moving into leading rolls now, but he's not exactly on the tip of everyone's tongue, now is he? I'm not saying they should have cast Brad Pitt, but the fact that I'm having to look up people to find out what they've been in before does not inspire confidence. These are supposed to be complex people with complex motivations and relationships. You need a solid actor for that.

The cast also feels young--particularly the actors playing Ozymandias and Silk Spectre--arguably the two most important characters to the story. The main story takes place when they are retired, middle-aged. These actors are both 30 and could pass for 25 in a pinch. Now, that may be part of the plan, since the story has a lot of flashbacks in it, so, as above, it's not a deal-breaker, but it does not inspire confidence.

The costumes have been modernized to look a bit more... well, hero-ish? Perhaps Spandex is the wrong direction, but take a look at Nite Owl. In the book, he's an awkward, pear-shaped man who manages to transform into a pear-shaped but surprisingly effective hero. But the filmic rendition seems to be going for pure bad-ass. So the whole Nite-Owl/Silk-Spectre/Dr. Manhattan dynamic that is so central to the plot is going to be eschewed for... bad-assery?

All of this brings me back to my central concern. It looks like Zack Snyder has every intention of giving this film the complete 300 treatment. But the problem with 300 was that, for all it's religious adherence to visual style, it abandoned the soul of the work. Furthermore, what worked in 300 probably won't work here. 300 was a gore-fest on paper, remarkable for it's brutal depiction of a historical event--it was almost bereft of dialogue. Watchmen is much more literary. Besides being the only graphic novel to ever win a Hugo award, it contains an incredible amount (for a comic) of novel-style writing. Pages of it in every chapter. It gives the world and the characters depth, and all that back-story will not be available to the audience, so it is up to the director and the actors to convince us that it still exists. And I have seen no evidence that they are up to the task.

I hope I'm wrong. Come March, I'd much rather be able to say "that was awesome" than "I told you so."

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1 comment:

Abigail R. said...

thank you for putting into such fine discourse everything i've been trying to say about my concerns with "Watchmen."

i'm just going to get you to ghost write everything from now on.