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Here are the things I liked about Watchmen.

1. It started with a fake episode of The McLaughlin Group only instead of yelling at Eleanor Clift about the flat tax, John McLaughlin was yelling at Eleanor Clift about superheroes. I could seriously watch that all day. "J. JONAH JAMESON'S LATEST EDITORIAL CLAIMS SPIDER-MAN IS RESPONSIBLE FOR NEW YORK'S GROWING GRAFFITI PROBLEM. COMMENTS JACK GER-MAAAAAAAHND?"

2. The opening credit sequence was clearly made by someone who, whatever his other faults as a filmmaker, has an impressive visual sensibility. A few of the scenes looked really good, as did some of the costumes and effects.

3. I finally got to see someone murder Lee Iacocca.

Here is the one mitigatory thing I will say about Watchmen, without meaning it as praise or damnation:

1. There was clearly a huge amount of studio meddling.

As for the things I didn't like about it, well, that would be exactly everything else. It would be far too long to list them out, and tons of better critics and writers have beat me to the punch, but in brief: Snyder has absolutely no sensibility for subtlety, and he's incredibly blind to emotional affect, psychological motivation, and philosophical intent. He's an atrocious handler of actors; Malin Akerman is getting roundly criticized for her weak performance, but I don't think it's any worse than any of the other acting jobs in this thing, because no one had a director who cared about acting in a traditional sense. The scenes that were the most faithful to the book were the ones that were the least consequential, and the ones that were eliminated were the ones that gave the book its depth and resonance. Fidelity is given to the visuals at the expense of everything else. The pacing is an utter mess, because Snyder doesn't understand that what works lingeringly on the page drags on the screen. The scenes of violence and 'heroism' are totally overblown to the degree that you wonder if the director even understood what he was communicating to the audience. The places where the script deviates from the original aren't an improvement. And the only scenes that really work are the ones that are more or less impossible to fuck up.

And what's maybe even worst of all is, I can't hate it. Snyder clearly did his best with material he really, really liked, and there's nothing about it that's malicious or even necessarily incompetent -- just incredibly tone-deaf and flat, good in all the wrong ways. It's sort of like meeting someone at a party, and you find out you both like the same books and movies and art and music, and then he regales you for four hours about all the things he likes about them, and none of them are the same things you like about them. And you leave the party wondering, how did we have so much in common, and yet I left feeling like I hope I never see him again? And then he follows you out to your car and makes you listen to a really bad cover of "Desolation Row".

ETA: OH MY GOD WHICH REMINDS ME THE WHOLE FUCKING SOUNDTRACK WAS SO AWFUL. Even if the whole rest of the movie had been amazing, the soundtrack would have killed it. Note: the whole rest of the movie was not amazing.

Comments

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caladri
Mar. 9th, 2009 04:41 am (UTC)
He does to comics what Rob Liefeld does to comics.
conrad_zaar
Mar. 9th, 2009 05:09 am (UTC)
The scenes that were the most faithful to the book were the ones that were the least consequential, and the ones that were eliminated were the ones that gave the book its depth and resonance.

I was disappointed that we get all the gory details from Rorschach's past, except the clear explanation of why he's called Rorschach. And the scene in which Dr. Manhattan explains the miracle of life was curiously roundabout and oblique: in the book he's much more explicit about what is so amazing about random combinations of DNA.
drownedinink
Mar. 9th, 2009 05:24 am (UTC)
This kind of goes against the usual fanboyish complaints, but I really can't expect much from any director from the school of "Being Slavishly Faithful To The Source*." For one thing, as you point out, what makes something work in one medium doesn't always or even often work in another, or at least it demands a different sensibility. For another, it just begs the question of what the entire point of the adaptation in the first place is, if you're just going to film scene-by-scene and let necessity and convenience rather than imagination and personal interpretation dictate what you leave out or alter. And of course all this is even more true for something like Watchmen; the elements that make it a unique and outstanding work are intricately tied to the strengths and qualities of its medium.

I really think a Watchmen film would have worked under a director willing and able to take artistic risks and force his own interpretation on the material, damn the fans, like Terry Gilliam. Sadly we didn't get that, and I'll just keep wondering what it's like to be a director who's completely content in just being a translator of great material rather than a producer in his own right.

*I guess you can argue that Snyder wasn't slavish to the original Dawn of the Dead, but in my opinion his own contribution was to simply take out all of Romero's social commentary and replace it with various things stolen from 28 Days Later.
(Deleted comment)
calamityjon
Mar. 9th, 2009 05:48 am (UTC)
BRENDAN ADKINS, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!
(Deleted comment)
quba
Mar. 9th, 2009 05:56 am (UTC)
But Rorschach, right? He was brilliant in voice, acting, everything. I loved Rorschach.
ludickid
Mar. 9th, 2009 11:50 am (UTC)
You know, I realize that I probably just sound like a contrarian dick at this point, but I don't quite get the idea that Haley was "brilliant" as Rorschach. I mean, he was good, and there's no moment I can point to and say, see, he botched it. But he's exactly what I was referring to when I talked about the good parts being the ones that it's impossible to fuck up. How do you give anyone the job of playing an affectless, monotone psycho and have them NOT do it well? It's not that he was bad, it's that he was good in a way that I feel like a million other guys could have been good. I dunno, maybe I am just being a contrarian dick.

I did really like the way he looked. The mask effect was really well-done and compelling to watch.
archaica
Mar. 9th, 2009 01:03 pm (UTC)
Eh, I think it would be quite easy to fuck that up.
archaica
Mar. 9th, 2009 01:02 pm (UTC)
That's pretty much how I felt about it, too. Just, flat and affectless. I certainly didn't loathe it, although I did get depressed when I realized I wasn't going to see anything *new* in the film and I could basically have read it again and saved the $7.75. But neither was I transported to heights of glee as I was by, say, Batman Begins/The Dark Knight. Snyder is to film-making what Gallagher is to comedy. Except Gallagher just shreds watermelons. When exactly did Nite Owl and Silk Spectre get the ability to give compound fractures at will? It was actually that brutal ugliness, implied by Moore but made explicit by Snyder, that put me off the most, actually.

Ozymandias was fucking terrible, though. I think he was much worse than Malin Akerman. Whoever told him to go for "bored Nazi" as his character type was right on.

I also really disliked the dull color palette used in 90% of the film. Don't bore my eyes in a friggin' comic book movie!
solipsiae
Mar. 9th, 2009 03:12 pm (UTC)
The "sex scene" had me giggling and cringing the entire time. At least they had the illusion of decency to not use the Jeff Buckley version. (That was the original Leonard Cohen, was it not? I thought it was but C said no!)
ludickid
Mar. 9th, 2009 03:23 pm (UTC)
Phew, man, that sex scene was fucking AWFUL. So cheesy and overblown. Another perfect example of Snyder get the content right and the tone all wrong.

That was Cohen, yeah.
rjwhite
Mar. 23rd, 2009 02:23 pm (UTC)
Laura just said, during that scene- "Poor Leonard Cohen."
calamityjon
Mar. 9th, 2009 04:00 pm (UTC)
Out of curiosity, which was more toxic: The soundtrack to The Watchmen or the soundtrack to Juno?
ludickid
Mar. 9th, 2009 04:11 pm (UTC)
Oh, man, “Watchmen” by a mile. A hundred miles. A light-year. The songs in “Juno” may have been obnoxious, but at least they weren’t songs that you’d already heard a hundred billion times before, blared at max volume on the soundtrack at the most thuddingly obvious moments imaginable.
merzbunny
Mar. 12th, 2009 10:21 pm (UTC)
I haven't seen it yet- I'll probably go catch it out of duty more than anything else- but I have a question, an important question that will decide whether I see it at matinee price or in the dollar theater a month from now:

Did Snyder at least manage to get "Neighborhood Threat" into the movie? Because that'd at least be a baseline of...oh, I don't know, five percentage points for him to start at. It's not on the (horrible) soundtrack album, but I remain hopeful.
ludickid
Mar. 22nd, 2009 04:45 pm (UTC)
Nope. Not "The Comedians", either.
mckennl
Mar. 22nd, 2009 04:35 pm (UTC)
Leonard -- just saw it and was wondering if I can merely link to your review instead of actually bothering to write my own since I agree with you 100%.

I saw it yesterday and only wish I could remember what-all songs were playing at what points because it was ... disconcerting how wrong but lyrically on-the-nose each musical choice was. Cause each time I heard a song, I was like "Really? Couldn't find anything more obvious?" "All Along the Watchtower? REALLY? Is Ozy watching BSG in there?"

ludickid
Mar. 22nd, 2009 04:44 pm (UTC)
Yes, of course!

Also, man, right? And, I mean, the bits where he didn't lift the music cues directly from Moore -- which it doesn't matter when he did, because Moore just made REFERENCE to them instead of making you actually listen to them -- it was so horribly ploddingly obvious. Like the opening sequence, which I liked, I kept thinking '"The Times They Are a-Changin'", huh? Just went with the very first song you thought of, didn't you?'
rjwhite
Mar. 23rd, 2009 02:25 pm (UTC)
This was one of the first films in some time that I would have felt no difference just sort of leaving. Not because I was annoyed/angered by it sucking, but because I was just sort of indifferent to the whole deal.
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Leonard Pierce is a freelance writer wandering around Texas with no sleep or sense of direction. If you give him money he will write something for you. If you are nice to him he may come to your house and get drunk.

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