I've just got back from seeing Watchmen, and I feel like I let Zack Snyder gave me a facial for three hours. And not the good kind that leaves my skin feeling fresh and where I end up looking prettier when it's done, but the porno kind.
Don't listen to the apologists. I understand how badly fans want to like things like this, but if you have been waiting more than twenty years for this movie, then you should really be more demanding, you deserve better than one man indulging his personal fetish for latex and corn syrup. Just because Snyder got a few things exactly right, that doesn't make up for the fact that he got it wrong in every way that matters. It's like listening to a full CD for a couple of really wicked drum solos. There are a lot of bad lyrics, false melodies, and cheesy guitar riffs to get through to hear some lummox bang on the cans.
Actually, there is a lesson to be learned from the music. Snyder commissioned My Chemical Romance to cover Bob Dylan's "Desolation Row." Be it good or bad (and I kinda like it), the band did in three minutes what Zack Snyder could not do in 186: they made what they were adapting into their own thing, made it work in the context of what they were doing. It's clear to me that Snyder never stopped and asked, "Is there a better way to do this that makes more sense for motion pictures?" Comics are not the same thing as movies, I am not sure how he didn't get the memo, and so sticking to the panel-by-panel didn't work. Scenes were too long, and some of the visuals came off as way too heavy handed. I mean, really? You think keeping the smiley face on the surface of Mars was a good idea? A slavish attention to detail is laudable in its way, but a dogmatic blindness to what makes the storytelling is not.
So much of the movie could have been cut down. The extensive histories of the various characters, including the Comedian, could have been chucked to make the story move faster. Removing the subplot between Laurie and Sally Jupiter would have also trimmed out the unnecessary, but even more important, those scenes play to Snyder's weaknesses. The guy has no ability to direct human emotions. Whenever he tried, it was just bad melodrama. Then again, this is the director whose music cues include playing "The Sounds of Silence" over a funeral scene and Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" during the flick's lone sex scene. These are not just lazy choices from a filmmaker with a limited vocabulary, but the latter also inspired laughs throughout the audience.
Seriously, just because Rorshach's mask looked cool doesn't make up for the fact that the motion-capture version of Dr. Manhattan didn't. Just because some of the prison riot was exciting doesn't excuse that the other action sequences are overly choreographed and devoid of life. Just who was it that decided that something exciting should have a pause in the middle? Would you want to be watching a basketball game and when the star player goes up for a big dunk, he hangs in mid-air for a second? He might as well stop and eat a sandwich before putting the ball in, he's already destroyed the adrenaline rush.
There maybe wasn't a good movie lurking in Watchmen, but there could have at least been a passable one. Get rid of the extraneous side stories, cut down the long chats, and stick to the mystery that is at the heart of the plot, and at least you'd have a decent capes-and-tights whodunit. Instead, we've got a boring whendoesitend.
UPDATED TO CRITERION CONFESSIONS...
Exclusive to my Criterion blog this week:
* Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, Fassbinder's early '70s tribute to Sirk.
* Dodes'ka-den, a DVD release of one of Akira Kurosawa's quirkiest films.
THIS WEEK IN DVD REVIEWS...
* Far from the Madding Crowd, John Schlesinger reteams with Julie Christie in an epic, romantic adaptation of Thomas Hardy.
* In the Electric Mist, Bertrand Tavernier tackles a James Lee Burke novel with mixed but mostly good results. Tommy Lee Jones stars as Burke's Detective Dave Robicheaux.
* Murnau, a collection of six of F.W. Murnau's silent films from Germany, including Nosferatu, Faust, and The Last Laugh.
* Paul Newman X 2: The Helen Morgan Story, a fairly average biopic about a doomed singer, and The Outrage, Martin Ritt's perplexing remake of Rashomon.
* The Romance of Astrea & Celadon, an Eric Rohmer period piece that gets stuck up its own class.
* The Starter Wife - Season 1, Debra Messing is charming in some wholly forgettable but time-killing television fluff.
* Yentl, the Babra Streisand musical is a real eye-opener.
Current Soundtrack: Keane, Perfect Symmetry
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All text (c) 2009 Jamie S. Rich