Who Watches “The Watchmen?”

Yeah, I know. So far this entry is off to quite a weak start. But I’ll have you know that I tried adapting the original quote in Latin and replacing the latin for “watchmen” with “The Watchmen.” But the verb used in Juvenal’s quote is custodare, which translates more into “guard”. Anywho. Now that you are all once again well acquainted with my nerdiness, I will begin the meat of the post.

This past tuesday, I went with several friends to go see Zach Snyder’s new masterpiece, “The Watchmen.” There were two main highlights of the experience: going to Cinebarre, where you can order a delicious pizza, beer, and or milkshake, and the previews. All the previews are movies that I am looking forward to, so that did not disappoint. 

The movie, however, did very much disappoint. When the end credits started rolling, I could think of only one word to describe it – dumb. I have since thought exactly why it was dumb, and I feel that I can adequately describe my feelings toward the movie. 

A quick preface – I did read the graphic novel, and that did have an impact of my opinion of the movie. 

1. The Soundtrack. Seriously, every song and musical cue that came on made me groan. I don’t have anything against the 80’s, or its music, but there are other ways to indicate the time period in which the movie is set without using 99 Luftballoons in the cheesiest way possible.

2. Every piece of acting (Rorschadt and Dr. Manahattan excluded. The Comedian was good too, but not as important to the forward moving storyline). Was Ozymandias german in the graphic novel? Maybe he was, but it wasn’t until much later in the movie that he starts to affect some kind of accent. There’s been enough written about Laurie’s (Malin Ackerman’s) lack of realistic human expression, but the main point that I noticed was in the sex scene. It was as if her direction was to watch some porn, and then act like that, and then, for no reason, look angry. It didn’t help that the sex scene was set in slow motion to a cover of  The Hallelujah song. Even Dan Dreiberg seemed to have a very limited repertoire of facial expressions. Confused, impotent, and awkward smile. Rorschadt was a high point of the movie, but they even screwed him up, which I’ll go into in point number 4.

3. The movie was simply a frame by frame shot of some (if not most) of the graphic novel. The movie added absolutely nothing to my enjoyment of the original. I think, I have to agree with Terry Gilliam’s original claim that the graphic novel is unfilmable. The pacing of the novel is brilliant. The depth of each panel is not meant to be glossed over, but to be soaked in and enjoyed. The movie, by it’s very nature, simply glosses over all the details that make the novel such a pleasure to read. (Another note: I do NOT, in general, like graphic novels. Alan Moore’s work, thusfar, has been a HUGE exception to this rule.) Arguably, the biggest moment of the graphic novel is… SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT…

when the “villain” reveals that he has already carried through with his plan.  We have that frame with the simple “I did it 30 minutes ago,” followed by a large frame of our “heroes” looking open-mouthed in disbelief at him. 

In the movie, the actors’ lack of ability, compounded with musical cues (dun dun dun!), made that scene seem cheesy and tacky, like much of the movie. 

To be fair though, I did quite enjoy the change to our “villain’s” plan from the graphic novel to the movie. I’m almost inclined to say that I like the idea from the movie better than a giant squid monster. Read the book, if you haven’t already, to know what I’m talking about. 

4. The last thing I would like to point out is the minor and unnecesary changes (omissions and additions) to certain characters, that greatly affect their impact and the understanding of such characters. I will be using specifics so be forewarned, more SPOILERS abound. Not having Laurie smoke was a silly decision. I understand that the good guys don’t smoke in movies anymore, but Laurie is a complex character, and her attempts to quit smoking in the novel highlight some of the nuance that make her character so enjoyable. Also, when she first gets in Archie, why did she hit the button with a very clear fire symbol on it? In the graphic novel, she mistakes it for a cigarette lighter – because that is understandable. In the movie, she’s just some dumb woman who messes with buttons. She had just as much reason to hit the button with two missiles on it. 

Also, I hate how stoney Ozymandias was in the movie. In the graphic novel he is charming, and reveals his exultation at succeeding with his master plan. In the movie he is pompous and lacks any expression that doesn’t make me want to punch him. His exclamation of “I did it!” in the graphic novel, reveals a major part of his character – his uncertainty towards his plan. This is lacking in the movie. 

But my biggest (although seemingly insignificant) beef is with two changes to Rorschadt in the movie. One is with the line “Your hands, my pleasure,” as opposed to “your hands, my perspective.” That really stuck out for me, since the latter is such an emotion-neutral line. But the movie version, substituting pleasure for perspective, is not only unecessary, but it makes Rorschadt’s motives seem hedonistic instead of “righteous.” I never got any indication from the novel that Rorschadt enjoyed what he did, not like the Comedian did. He felt it was necessary. He had to distinguish between black and white, right and wrong, not out of enjoyment, but out of a weird self-imposed duty. 

The second scene I had a big problem with is when Rorschadt kills the kidnapper/murderer. In the novel Rorschadt kills him by handcuffing him to something, leaving him with a saw, and then upon telling him not to even bother trying to cut through the handcuffs, burning the building down. We are left to our own imaginations to visualize the man trying to escape the burning building, while Rorschadt stands calmly outside. In the movie, all of this is thrown out the window in favor of having Rorschadt fly into a rage and kill the man with a cleaver to the head. This seemed to sum up my general impression of the movie – the nuance and subtlety of the book replaced with more blood, carnage, and sex.

Basically, it is a highly faithful adaptation of the comic, and it did have a few enjoyable scenes, but it pales in comparison with the original source. This wouldn’t be such a problem if the original source wasn’t as brilliant as it is, making the movie, quite simply, dumb.

~ by aeqvitas on March 13, 2009.

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