Sunday, May 24, 2009

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Watching the Watchmen

Directed by Zack Snyder
Written by David Hayter and Alex Tse

From the Comic by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

"There are things that we did with Watchmen that could only work in a comic, and were indeed designed to show off things that other media can't." - Alan Moore

Alan Moore was right.
Zack Snyder's Watchmen is an epic redundancy. A doppelganger stitched together with hubris and airplane glue but hollowed out, bereft of soul. A dummy twitching on the lap of a ventriloquist with no voice to throw so he throws someone else's. An impostor bursting at the seams with all the digital pretty that money can buy licking your eyes over and over and over until you give and have its baby - - -I looooove you, Zack Snyder's Watchmen ! You're so sooooo pretty! - - - as if the whole point of steeping yourself - - - and to a virulent degree at that - - - in both the lore and the form of comic books is to someday see them blown up at 24 fps, as if the whole point of comic books is to be glorified shooting boards for comic book movies, as if the whole point was not the comic books.

None of this is puritan fanboy outrage, mind - - -there's no blasphemy in getting a comic book movie wrong. And are there still puritan fanboys out there and if there are, have they been out of the house lately? And no, this isn't a disappointment funk,either. Exasperated as I am about lowering my expectations to armor myself from deficient over-hyped blockbusters, it would have been profoundly foolish to come to this with my head in a more heightened space so I expected little from Zack Snyder's Watchmen and got exactly that.

Superheroes, for ages the hot ticket of comic books , have become the hot ticket of theme park cinema. And Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen is only the Citizen Kane of superhero comics. Viral and monolithic but unfilmable - - -that was the recurring prognosis. Too colossal. Too grim. Too dense. Too expensive to mount. A whole litany of too's. But the most crucial "too" is the most neglected out of it not being readily apparent: too self-contained. The nine panel grid was not for the hell of it. The work fed off its medium. This was not Iron Man or Batman or Hellboy where Favreau, Nolan, Del Toro - - -dork, craftsman, genius - - - took characters from another medium then retroactively folded them into theirs. Watchmen demanded more taking apart, more toil, more translation. The last thing you want to do with it is use the comic book as a shooting board. That's the first thing Zack does.

And who is Zack Snyder exactly? What's his aesthetic? What's his stance? He undercranks his fight scenes. That's it. That's my only peg on him as a filmmaker. That's everything he has to say about the world: combat is like ballet when slowed down. Does anybody making a popcorn movie need to say anything about the world? No, but that's just it, Zack's not making a popcorn movie anymore, is he? And before you pull out that haggard art vs.entertainment card - - - Zack sort of said that, not me. Only he doesn't really do much. He undercranks the fight scenes - - -he would. And bloats them into set pieces that go on and on and on- - -when short and sharp and shocking is what they are. He also makes the superheroes super - - -missing the whole point that, apart from the glowing blue dick of Dr.Manhattan,these were little more than kooks empowered by a silly costume and the balls to wear them. He shortcuts his nuances with some of modern cinema's most painfully obvious musical cues - - -The Times They Are A Changin' during the rather wonderful opening montage showing how . . .um, the times are. . .um, a-changin'. Duh. Mason Hood is peripheral. Ozymandias becomes a fascist caricature. The gigantic squid is 86'd - - -well, that one I can let slip. He upsets the dynamic. The feel is off. The plot is lost. Oh, he nails Rorsharch - - - but only a buffoon would not nail Rorsharch and Zack isn't a buffoon by any measure, just in over his head.

His Watchmen is a glorified motion comic. Epic. Redundant. And that's my beef,really. Everything I take from his movie I've already taken from the book. Or maybe I don't. I just fill blanks in my head. That sequence with Dr.Manhattan striding across Vietnam rice paddies shooting death rays from his hands to decimate Cong had me palpitating,sure. And there are about half a dozen other sequences here that do that,too - - - and those undercranked fight scenes of his do have a supple beauty even if they have no bearing, make no sense. Thing is, they all had me palpitating on the page, where they also had the conspirational throb of context. Here, they're just money shots. Eyecandy. Digital pretty licking your eyes over and over and over.

And this, those of us grumbling in the corners are told, should suffice. Shame, that. Know what, maybe this is a bit of puritan fanboy outrage . Having steeped myself in the lore and the form of comic books to a virulent degree, I think I've earned the right to great expectations when a comic book movie rolls into town, to demand more from them than just the fleeting thrill of being gangraped by the digital pretty and to not settle for something just because they got Night Owl's costume right. * *