Fearful symmetry

Posted by · 1:02 pm · March 7th, 2009

(from left) Malin Akerman and Patrick Wilson in Watchmen(I was going to hold onto this and some more stuff until the beginning of the week, but we’re ready to go so let’s hit it during the weekend.)

I’m not one of those guys who says this work or that cannot be filmed.  I don’t share the arrogance that demands faithful representation of a beloved piece of literature on the screen, and even with my own devotion to comic books and, of course, Alan Moore’s “Watchmen,” I always thought there was a great movie in there waiting to be unleashed.

I think it was Quentin Tarantino who once said he would never translate a comic book to the screen because there are just too many damn people to please.  There’s some truth there, mixed with a little pomposity.  I had Zack Snyder’s back.  I enjoyed “Dawn of the Dead” enough and was one of “300”’s few serious vocal champions.  I would have preferred a director with a penchant for grit take up the reins on “Watchmen” but I found myself curiously okay with the stylized ballet Snyder seemed to be interested in creating.

But in a nutshell, “Watchmen” damn near stole my faith in movies.  Maybe that’s a stretch, but come on, it’s all up there on the screen.  Minus a climax that was likely changed for the better given what will and won’t work in a film, every inch of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s hard work is laid out for us at 24 frames per second.  And you know what?  It doesn’t work.  And we can’t say anyone involved in the production botched the adaptation because it’s faithful to a fault.

I think we can blame the woeful, stomach-churning, cringe-worthy failure that this is on the frothing-at-the-mouth fandom that scared Snyder and company away from being creative, from understanding the value of compositing (a tactic Christopher Nolan has so expertly employed with the Batman franchise) and from, at best, realizing that the tone we manifest in our minds as we flip through a work of graphic fiction can’t be satisfied by lifting nearly every inch of hard-boiled, wordy (if eloquent) narration.  God bless him for trying to please them all, but what they wanted ain’t art.

“Watchmen” is an awful, awful film.

Snyder shows no sense of rhythm here.  Every musical cue is worth a cringe.  Let’s throw “Desolation Row” in there at the end, you know, because the first chapter of the book is called “At Midnight All the Agents.”  Get it?  Let’s toss Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” in the background of a key Ozymandias scene, you know, because we can’t help but continue the “look, it’s 1985” thing going and because it’s neat and ironic.  Get it?

On and on.  Let’s stick “All Along the Watchtower” in there because we have a cool shot of Rorschach and Nite Owl walking through the snow that we can match tot he lyric “two riders were approaching” for no good reason whatsoever.  Let’s see if we can break “Munich”‘s record for laughs during a sex scene.  Let’s have the gall to put nipples on a superhero costume after a decade of backlash against a franchise that did the same.

It’s not all on Snyder.  This is the biggest of pressure projects.  But two films into his career, I don’t think he ultimately had the balls to take this on, nor the experience to understand why.  “Watchmen”‘s crash-and-burn ride into the annals of “all-time-worst-films-ever” territory can be placed squarely at the feet of a comic-obsessed community that demands their beloved titles receive the white glove treatment.  They share Snyder’s lack of understanding that replication is folly.

Moore’s 12-installment masterpiece is, first and foremost, a success of the written word.  Each chapter is littered with nuance and artful brushstrokes that ultimately could never be conveyed to the screen.  I saw it with my own eyes.  For example, one of the most brilliant volumes ever written (chapter 3 of “Watchmen”) played out in front of me almost to the letter, but it didn’t have that time-bending intensity it did when I read it and ascribed my own atmosphere.  I was shocked: Moore was right.

There is plenty to chew on where the political fabric of this film is concerned, whether the on-the-nose paranoia works simply because it is so on-the-nose, how we might interpret the film differently a year ago, and therefore, through a different prism, etc.  But all I can think of, right here and now, is how wrong every inch of this production felt, from start to finish (minus that a nifty opening credits montage).

Hey, look at the bright side: at least now we know.

Have your say in this week’s sidebar poll (and at length below, if you wish): What did you think of “Watchmen?”

→ 56 Comments Tags: , , , | Filed in: Daily

56 responses so far

  • 1 3-10-2009 at 11:56 pm

    Scott Ward said...

    Uh Kris, seriously not to boast, but see the point I have been making for months now? The same points that you said had no validity. The same points on which you heavily criticized David Poland and others for having. And don’t say I’m taking you out of context or misinterpreting because the posts are there for public viewing. And I told you that you can’t trust these “sources” who talk about a movie months before its release, yet you were utterly obdurate in your faith in them (remember, “I’ve heard nothing but good things about the movie”). I honestly respect you a lot, but I say this showing that just because you have more general knowledge about film than the people on this site doesn’t always make you right and it certainly doesn’t mean our opinions are unwarranted or invalid just because you disagree. So I hope that you can see how I can’t help but feel that people like David Poland and myself are owed somewhat of an apology. And of course not because we ended up being right, but because you shot us down so harshly. I mean, this really isn’t at all surprising. Even if you like Synder’s previous works, their intentions were working nowhere near the level that Watchmen required and no where near the talent required to execute a movie that Synder had shown. So I don’t see how anyone could not reasonably have had doubts and concerns on Watchmen (especially after it was learned that MCR’s Desolation Row would be on the soundtrack).

  • 2 3-13-2009 at 2:43 am

    7x said...

    You could pick any movie and there will be some guy, who says it’s the worst movie ever. And that’s not even pathetic anymore, it’s just boring.
    Your “eloquent” criticism consists of nagging about how faithful this adaption is. And yeah, congrats on comparing a limited 12 issue comic book to a never-ending tale of Batman. While we’re on that note – how come Peter Jackson never recreated Lord of the Rings? Sure, there were some changes, but the whole trilogy is just a too-faithful adaption that just doesn’t work on the screen. Also Liv Tyler? Please.
    And nipples? Really? Now every comic-book movie that features a costume with nipples is “worst of all time”?
    Your review is totally worst of all time.

  • 3 3-13-2009 at 9:44 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Scott: Nothing you said had any real point because let’s face it: you had not seen the film. You were gleefully speculating, and really, your point was that Snyder’s style was going to bring the film down and that’s not the case. It’s a completely different roadblock that no one really anticipated being an issue, that a dedication to the source material would be the downfall.

    You have nothing to boast about, kiddo.

    7x: I never called it the worst movie ever — for the millionth time.

  • 4 3-13-2009 at 9:47 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    “their intentions were working nowhere near the level that Watchmen required”

    You knew nothing about their intentions, Scott. And again, it says nothing of Snyder’s “talent” that the film missed. It says everything of his slavish commitment to fans who don’t know any better, however.

    I really wish certain folks could get a handle on nuance. This site isn’t about black and white, right and wrong. There are many hues.

  • 5 3-13-2009 at 10:39 am

    THE Diego Ortiz said...

    I enjoyed this movie a lot, but the first thing I told my cousin after the end of the film was:

    He’s the hero the world deserves…
    but not the one it needs right now.
    So we’ll hunt him, because he can
    take it. Because he’s not our
    He’s a silent guardian, a watchful
    protector… a blue knight.

  • 6 4-11-2009 at 6:45 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    “I really just don’t understand the desire of some to create this other dimension when it comes to another guy’s criticism.”

    Right, because you didn’t try to pull the EXACT same crap with people who disliked Slumdog Millionaire and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. You devoted whole threads last year to ridiculous, childish accusations and pop psychology theories about why someone would give a bad review to those “masterpieces”, yet when someone has the audacity to suggest that your disappointment with Watchmen not meeting your expectations MIGHT be clouding your review in slobbering exaggerations, you throw a hissy fit like a baby and a hypocrite.