Sunday, March 8, 2009

Watchmen: the review

I am really reluctant to review Watchmen. For starters, I don't like the book; I worship it. It is one of my favorite novels of all time, which makes any adaptation struggle against a very, very high standard. The only movie that had to climb a mountain this big to convince me before was The Lord of The Rings, in fact; and as much as I appreciate Tolkien's work, I don't know if I have obsessed as much with the themes of his novel.

It is not that LOTR is a "shallow" novel, by any means (and any victim of catholic school will probably be able to point out how deeply religious and theological the book is), but Middle Earth was for a long time a place were I slayed Orcs and Trolls with my buddies on a RPG setting. Watchmen, I read it later, and I was already a uptight, snobbish intellectual when I got a hold of the book. My worship is equally strong, but it is far brainier. Not a good thing.

Anyway, back to the movie. The test for Watchmen was if it would get the same overwhelming feeling that I got in LOTR when I realized that Peter Jackson had been on my brain and made the movie I always have dreamt about. The Fellowship of the Ring was pitch-perfect in looks and tone; it was exactly what I had in mind when reading the book. It made the book hard to read after the fact, as the images are so fully realized on the screen. With Watchmen... not so much.

Before watching the movie I would have said that it was impossible to cram the comic into a 2h 40 min script; it just had too much detail. Visually, however, I believed that making a good movie was a given, as you had the mother of all storyboards as starting point, and a pretty clearly defined tone and grittiness in the plot and visuals. Something like Blade Runner-meets-Dick Tracy; a Fifth Element without flying cars and crazy camera movements.

Well, Watchmen does the hard part right, with an excellent, brooding, layered script with all the right cuts and changes, but totally, utterly, massively fucks up the easy side, with Zack Snyder fucking up the visual style something fierce. We got what could be described as Michael Bay-meets-Batman; a garish, overshot, wildly exaggerated style that overuses slow mo and the glossy, plastic-fab look of blatant CGI "upgrading" to highly distracting levels. To top things of, the movie has what is probably the worst sex scene seen in a Hollywood movie since Showgirls and the fierce swimming pool of hair splashing; a scene that has ruined one of the best songs ever for future generations.

We end up with a really odd movie. The themes are there. The script is wonderful, and noting the reactions of many critics that have read the book (Roger Ebert, giving it four stars), it really gets the point accross. In addition, you get the feeling that the extended edition of the movie will be even better, as some of the things cut out (Roscharch's backstory, for instance) would get back in. The overall "feel" of the movie, however, is completely off, in part of the annoying visual flourish, in part because it should not really be sold as an action movie at all. Watchmen, the book, essentially has only three very, very short "action" sequences.

In terms of nitpicking, there is plenty; most of it having to do with minor changes to characters that have some influence in how to interpret the themes of the movie and book. For instance, Rorschach is much more of a blatant fascist in the book than it is in the movie; he is not really a bad ass, but a maniac. Veidt is not such an asshole in the book, either; he is more suave and subtle. Sally / Silk Specter is much more of a mess in the book. Nite Owl, the Comedian and Manhattan, however, are all spot on.

To tell the truth, I could be riffing on the whole intellectual-philosophical thing behind the book and movie for hours, so I will spare you of that... for now. I do answer questions and requests. If someone is really masochistic, please go read my upcoming post in my other blog (in Spanish) for all the PolSci nerdiness.

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