Is ‘Watchmen’ a disaster?
On the face of it, no. It’s enjoyable enough and certainly superficially exciting enough to keep the non-comic book fans in their seats. Even the super-duper, uncut three and three-quarter hour version with ‘Tales of the Black Freighter’ thrown in zips along at a decent pace.
Personally I rather enjoyed Watchmen, but there are some who didn’t and if I’m being objective I can see why.
Despite some omissions, what is there is 100% faithful to the source material. The dialogue matches Alan Moore’s perfectly, even when they are required to tweak it for story purposes (notably the ‘crime busters’ scene from the comic) apart from the odd word being changed it’s much the same.
Even the shots and colour scheme are constructed to match Dave Gibbons artwork exactly.
So what are the pros of this approach?
As a screen adaptation of an alleged unfilmable book, it’s pretty bang on, or at least as bang on as anybody had the right to hope for.
So what are the cons?
Well… frankly… We’ve seen it all before.
I was fortunate enough to not be overly familiar with the comic at the time and so seeing a direct translation to screen was thoroughly enjoyable. Although perhaps to a more hard-core comics fan there is a sense of same old same old. I have to concede that in this area director Zack Snyder couldn’t win, if he had deviated it would have been sacrilege, but he didn’t and it’s dull, so I was willing to be charitable.
Then ‘Man of Steel’ happened. And then ‘Batman Vs Superman’, and it turned out that Zack Snyder is one of the most uninspiring, unimaginative, unoriginal and dullest directors ever to disgrace the big screen.
Man of Steel was boring. For a film with that many explosions it should be difficult to concentrate on one’s watch, but I managed it for two and a half hours. The clunky dialogue didn’t help either;
‘There’s only one way this can end. You die, or I die’That’s two ways Zack.
As Kevin Smith says ‘He can set up a shot’ this is true. His shots are excellent, but this is hardly surprising as he just copies them out of the comic, deserving no credit for them whatsoever. ‘300’ was no better, again as I was not familiar with the comic I enjoyed it well enough, but having since seen the comic, I can’t credit Snyder with any of it.
‘Batman Vs Superman’ didn’t fare better either, looking like a violent hybrid of ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ and ‘Lego Batman’.
Another danger in being so true to the source is the muddying of storytelling styles. What works on the comic strip panel, does not necessarily work on screen. On the page, Rorschach is direct and ruthless, his dialogue being used to advance the story and be entertaining to read. On screen he’s crass, unjustifiably violent at times and rambles unnatural sounding dialogue that doesn’t always fit the situation in the form of a clichéd voice over.
It’s these slight shifts in perspective that turn a good read into awkward viewing. The love scene between Nite Owl and Silk Spectre is a tender thing on the page, on screen its somewhat awkward and thanks to Leonard Cohen, unintendedly hilarious. This is another shame as much of the soundtrack works extremely well, and as this is the only aspect not present in the original, it’s frustrating to see these flashes of brilliance and not have similar inventiveness bleed into the rest of the production. The opening credits are perhaps the only wholly original addition, played out over a montage of the hero’s heyday and being amazingly evocative of 40s and 50s comics.
That’s not to say it’s a complete disaster, some scenes work extremely well, Dr Manhattan on Mars being a highlight, but I’m sorry to say I feel this is luck more than judgement. Also the cast are generally good, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Billy Crudup are particular stand-outs, with one cringe inducing exception.
Matthew Goode as Ozymandias is such a huge miss-step it’s difficult to credit. This is supposed to be the ‘Watchmen’ equivalent of Superman and we are presented with a somewhat uncharismatic, skinny bloke who looks like he could be floored by a gentle shove. With everything else so pin-point accurate, this seems a huge oversight.
As I mentioned previously, I was willing to be charitable to Snyder as making ‘Watchmen’ was always going to have to meet a certain level of expectation that it never could. But my charity falters when I see he is clearly capable of great work, but opts to copy other people’s instead, and having seen his efforts since, I can’t help but feel that a more competent director would have handled it better.
Dominic Fellows is an actor and writer from Birmingham in the UK. He is also producer of the group Stripped Down Theatre (find them on Facebook). His shows have had more than one or two ‘geeky gags’ in them.