Movie Review: Watchmen

Starring: Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson
Directed By: Zack Snyder
Written By: David Hayter & Alex Tse
Warner Brothers, 2009
R; 162 minutes
2 stars (out of 5)


Fans of the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons graphic novel (or comic books, if you picked them up before they were collected) will pretty much recognize what they're seeing as an almost exact visual interpretation of what they've read, down to some shots being framed exactly as they appear in the comic. Even though large parts of the original material have been omitted or, in some cases (mostly the ending) changed entirely, in some ways watching Watchmen is like reading the graphic novel--only not as much fun and without a break, so that viewers are almost forced to ingest the entirety of it in one sitting, as if strapped to their chairs during a 12-course meal.

One can commend Snyder on his being faithful to the source, but there are some drawbacks as well. For one, if you're going to make a movie based on a book or comic, there should be a relevancy to the film that distinguishes it from its original material. That isn't evident in Watchmen, which as I've said is rather like reading the graphic novel, if a slightly abridged version. If that's the case, then one has to ask oneself, Why did I bother to watch this? I could have enjoyed the experience equally on the page (and saved ticket money besides). It's the same feeling I get when I go to a concert and the band plays all the songs the same way they sound on the album--why? I could have stayed home and listened to the CD. Give me a show.

Additionally, if anything is/was ripe for an update Watchmen is on that list. Now before the hardcore fans start spitting venom, let's be honest: a film can be visually faithful to its source (if the source is a comic or a Dr. Seuss story or anything illustrated, really) without being true to the essence of the original material. I felt like Watchmen lacked the spirit of the Moore/Gibbons work. Sort of like how some of the American Idol singers can be technically perfect but lack the soul and passion that music requires--Snyder's work, while clearly lovingly cinemagraphed, was missing the core needed to really make viewers invest themselves.

There were a couple cosmetic problems as well: the makeup on Robert Wisden, acting as Richard Nixon, was atrocious, and the effects used to turn Billy Crudup into Dr. Manhattan were sub-par in my estimation, about the quality of a video game maybe. It was his lips in particular, his mouth movements.

The acting was, overall, uneven. Haley as Rorschach was spot on, Jeffrey Dean Morgan did all right with his smaller part (though I still can't help but think "Denny!" every time I see him), Wilson's Dan Dreiburg had all the right facial expressions even if his delivery was somewhat stilted at moments. Meanwhile, Matthew Goode was difficult to digest, and Malin Akerman seemed to be coming from the Xena school of poses during her action scenes. Maybe that was just the hair, though.

Despite all the seeming ranting, I didn't hate the film. It simply didn't kindle any real emotion in me, and unlike the graphic novel, which I'd found difficult to put down when I first read it (and I've read it several times since that first), I could take or leave this movie. Characters that were interesting on the vividly colored pages of a comic paled in comparison here, in the chiaroscuro lighting of grainy celluloid.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You said it so much better than I could. I've been trying to explain this to people. I really liked the movie, but not as much as I loved the graphic novel. I felt it lacked something and you're right, it's the spirit of it. There were moments where I looked down at the book in my hands (since we brought our books to read as we waited the 40 minutes for it to start) and thought I could be reading through this scene while still capturing what's going on by listening to it.