United States, 2009
Directed By: Zack Snyder
Written By: David Hayter, Alex Tse
Starring: Billy Crudup, Jackie Earle Haley, Patrick Wilson
Running Time: 162 min minutes
Rated R Strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity and language
Originally posted at Cinexcellence.
Watchmen, Zack Snyder’s adaptation of the much-loved graphic novel of the same name, was released theatrically on Friday. Having not read the graphic novel, all I knew about the film going in was what I saw in the previews.
The opening credits sequence in Watchmen sucked me into the film, and I was hooked for the first thirty minutes. Through the historical montage, complete with living photographs and revisionist events, I felt like I had a decent grasp of the universe that Watchmen took place in. It’s a rare feat to accomplish this with such a sweeping story. That said, there were times when the multiple narratives felt disjointed and episodic. And while the film is largely about The Watchmen themselves, I would have liked to see more in regards to the societal look on things
There was also a lot of pop music that was included in the film, ranging from Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are a Changin’ to Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. The integration of the music with the visuals worked well for a while, but soon became more of a distraction than a complementation of the film.
Watchmen is an ensemble piece at heart, housing a horde of different characters, but the two that interested me the most were Rorschach, played perfectly by Jackie Earle Haley, and Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), who comes across as Clark Kent with Batman’s toys. In some ways I would consider him to be the main character of the film, although there wasn’t much of a resolution for him at the end of the film.
Billy Crudup also made an appearance in the film as Dr. Manhattan, the God-like character in the film. His personal dilemmas and choices were a much-needed intellectual boost in the film, resulting in a cool ending. And while the character of Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) wasn’t in the film nearly enough, what glimpses we saw of him were intriguing to say the least. I would love to read Watchmen if only to learn more about him.
Sadly, however, director Zack Snyder tends to put more emphasis on “graphic” than “novel”. Starting out as a serious, gritty epic, I was surprised at the change in tone partway through the film and Snyder’s self-referential winks and personal fetishes. (At least there weren’t any drugs in the film.)
I’m certainly not opposed to violence in film if the story calls for it and is used well. But to quote Alfred Hitchcock, “There is no terror in a bang, only in the anticipation of it.” And on a similar note, Roger Ebert wrote in his review of The Winslow Boy that, “Sixty seconds of wondering if someone is about to kiss you is more entertaining than 60 minutes of kissing.” Whatever happened to suspense, subtlety, and the imagination? There are better ways to show violence in a film. And in the case of Rorschach’s back-story, some well-placed shadows would have been far more effective, stylistically and emotionally, and would have fit with his film noir presence.
As an extra tidbit, I noticed a similarity between 300 (Also directed by Snyder) and Watchmen. The former ends with Dilios telling the story of the 300 Spartans in the oral tradition of story telling, while Watchmen ends in a similar way, but with the written tradition. Perhaps Snyder’s next film will end with a typewriter…or maybe I’ve just been a communications major too long.
In any case, Watchmen, while having some interesting characters, cool visuals, and a promising story, fails to tell that story well. Instead of getting a developed character-driven epic about humanity, we’re left with an adolescent storyteller infatuated with gratuitous sex and violence. And we’re left wanting more.