Consider this one of the most obvious posts ever written on Lifting Fog. While it’s unclear how many people were as excited to see Watchmen this weekend as The Fog’s senior staff, I assume at least a few other people also went to go see it. Everyone has their opinions on how the film most considered un-makeable turned out. This is just one man’s opinion, but perhaps it will offer some reflection not previously blogged or written about in the last few days. (NOTE: My goal was to make this as long-winded as the film, so buckle up and bunker down if you are so inclined as to keep reading. I focused on the negatives here, although I found positives as well which I did not list.)
I was disappointed by Watchmen for many reasons. Maybe this is less a question of my insatiable appetite for adventurous yet accurate geek-inspired cinema and more a question of: could anyone ever tackle a project like Watchmen and succeed with flying colors? If you talk to any fan of the novel, the answer to the second question is undoubtedly, “No.” So how than can we judge a film that was ultimately destined to fail?
To me one of the most glaring shortcomings of the film was its inability to capture the state of horrible, helpless despair present in the lives of the main characters and the inhabitants of their world. So Manhattan is a dirty place… Yeah… no shit. Whereas the novel delved deeply into the vomit-inducing state of disarray felt by an America headed to nuclear war with a no-good, 3rd term President Nixon running the show, the film seemed to gloss over the severity of the situation at hand with the exception of a few overly-poetic voice over spots from Rorschach (which came across as comical, not despairing). After talking to several of my friends after the movie who hadn’t read the book, I got an overwhelming sense of “Why do we care?” – something every film has the challenge of facing and overcoming. But the confusing plot lines and forward and backward narrative style must have left many scratching their heads, wondering who, what, when, where, and why? And I don’t blame them.
Unfortunately, I think the film was marketed incorrectly. In many ways, the most celebrated graphic novel of all time has more to do with Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle than it does with a comic book. Yet the marketing team aggressively pushed the film as the comic book movie to end all comic book movies. And while the production went to great lengths to preserve the feel and framing of the legendary artwork of Dave Gibbons, it almost always felt like a cover-up for the flaws of the narrative structure as opposed to one element contributing to the dissonant harmony of many elements melding together as a whole. Direct quotes and identical framing won’t convince a fanboy that a derivative work is as important and profound as the source material.
The biggest gamble the post production team took was using popular music to underscore the themes and sentiments of the characters and set the tone for the whole experience. And oh, how they faltered with this! The sheer audacity of using ‘Sound of Silence’ in any way other than referencing The Graduate takes balls, and it’s a sad, sorry shame that the end result didn’t pay off. I am a strong proponent of using pop music to convey the tone and emotions of a film (see: Wes Anderson’s films) but every song choice in Watchmen besides the opening credit sequence felt forced and out of place. I saw what they were reaching for and I was silently rooting them on. But that didn’t change the fact that many of the music cues induced an eye-rolling, WTF moment for the audience throughout.
I have nothing personal against Zack Snyder. But even my mildest fanboy-inspired sense of paternity over the book had me questioning why a relatively rookie Hollywood director was entrusted with one of the most sought after film properties in the last two decades. Would the film have been better with less slow-mo to fast-mo action sequences or over-saturated VFX shots? It’s hard to say. But it’s clear that Snyder’s style is part of the reason why it was necessary for Watchmen to be marketed as the next big mind-blowing comic book movie as opposed to the genre altering mind-fuck the novel presented audiences when it was released in the 80s.
And for this reason, the movie has likely already made the bulk of the box office money it will ever make. Most fanboys who saw it this weekend are blogging about it like we are, denouncing Snyder for playing silly with their baby. Likewise, all the casual movie-goers who saw it walked away confused and telling anyone and everyone how bad it was (i.e. my sister). From this perspective it seems as if Warner Brothers made a huge mistake with this movie – they won’t make the money they expected to and they weren’t able to satisfy the demands of the fans (no squid monster?!?).
There is hope for the future, though. Slated to be released this month are the supplemental DVD/Blu-ray discs of Under the Hood and Tales of the Black Freighter, both crucial pieces to the overall Watchmen story. These will be awesome, but they won’t change the film’s fate. I intend to see it again (maybe not until the Blu-ray release) and I expect I will find it much more enjoyable given that the weight of its hype and the failure of its legacy will by then only be vague memories. I’m not saying don’t see this movie, but I am saying that if your expectations are as high as most people’s were, you’ll find yourself wondering why everyone was talking about it beforehand and why no one has talked about it since.