Adapting the unadaptable.
For the longest time Watchmen, the undeniable landmark of Comic storytelling was deemed unadaptable. It is a massive tome sized comic, that tackles the ideas of superheroes, government, humanity, society, and it’s all wrapped with the ticking time bomb of nuclear devastation of an alternate reality of a cold war between the United States and Russia. So, in 2009 this adaptation released. WB choice to adapt it was none other than Zack Snyder…
*cue* “The Times They Are A-Changin” – Bob Dylan.
Love it or hate it in many ways this film would establish Zack Snyder as a force in the DC universe, though the Watchmen are unrelated and disconnected from the DCEU. This film would be, but a small taste of what Snyder would be able to do in that space. Of course, there is a whole piece to be written about Snyder and his history with WB, but we will save that for another time.
Let’s begin with how it deals with adapting the source material which I am fortunate to finally say that I’ve read (Yes it really is a masterpiece). Snyder does a great job adapting ‘most’ of the original text. During this time, he used the original panels as his storyboard (ex: 300) and it is as times marvelous to see panels brought to life on screen. Now, the art style and vibe are all but lost as Snyder has a particular eye, but in my opinion his eye isn’t to far from the dreaded landscape of the comic. The drab washed out colors of Snyder’s palette plays well with the source material as it is a dark story with depressing outcomes. Costumes and art design is changed and most times for the worst, but in other situations like Dr. Manhattans glowing blue skin, and Rorschach’s brooding physicality and voice are near perfect visualizations of the original. A few costume changes are lesser and some shots though exact replicas of the panels, lack the pop that the original art had. The ending here is also completely different and lacks the heavy emotional impact the source had. and many introspective moments with key characters are cut short or lacking, Dr. Manhattan / Rorschach specifically.
But let’s move on from comparing the two to evaluating this on its own.
I think this is a good movie. I like, and sometimes love Snyder’s visual voice. I know he has a lot of detractors and haters, and a raging fan-base. I don’t think I fall in any camp. As I like to judge work as work. Some of my favorite creators put out stinkers and even though I love their taste’s they are still stinkers. With Snyder, I think he is a brilliant visualist at times and this film shows a lot of that off. His imagery is grainy and filmic, melodramatic, and cinematic. The way he edits action is exciting to me, the way he needle drops though at times obvious or cliché, it always works, like mini-music videos spliced into film. Without a doubt I believe Snyder is an Auteur in his own right. He has a voice and it’s undeniable to me. So regardless of quality he is unique in his own right. I also at times enjoy his melodrama the way he handles emotions and pumps it up. For this film in particular it helps bolster a few key moments by actually adding emotional depth to certain characters. Specially the outcome of one character towards the end. Where in the comic it is rushed and as unemotional as it gets.
The score is lacking in any real style or voice, it feels like the generic late 2000’s superhero scores. The real standout music wise in the film is of course the soundtrack. Again some obvious selections but damn some songs hit hard. The intro montage with Bob Dylan’s “The Times Are A-Changin” is pure visual and sonic bliss. The slow-motion and alternate reality showcasing this versions world of events and outcomes because of that. And more importantly the absolute masterpiece of a song that is Philip Glass’s Pruitt Igoe & Prophecies that captures the emotional disaster that is Dr. Manhattans origin and his moments of questioning humanity. Honestly if I were to change anything about this film is I would’ve just used Philip Glass for the entire score as his sonic landscape just feels like Watchmen, a beautiful diseased dystopia. There are of course many, many fantastic songs he selected to use in the film.
The other thing I want to mention is the performances from Billy Crudup and Jackie Earle Haley. Crudup as Dr. Manhattan is pitch perfect, the way he manages to extract such a restrained and minimal performance is exactly what I imagined from the comic and the way his eyes flicker when the tinge humanity and pain hits him. And Haley with his performance of Rorschach is again exactly what I envisioned for his role. The Way Haley speaks, and his tone and physicality are exciting to see brought to life and it’s so crazy that he even looks identical to the character from the comic.
The visuals from Snyder and his Cinematographer Larry Fong are always nice to see. I like the way they light these moments and the camera movements and even the composition work. A few CGI elements are lacking now that they have aged out, but they are minor, but like I mentioned above Dr. Manhattan still looks brilliant.
The final thing I want to bring up is of course the flaws. Which the film has many. Having read the comic this film is missing a lot of the weight of the comic. I think a lot of that has to do with just cutting one too many things. Specifically, the ending change. The middle of this film really picks up speed in a not-so-great way and the pacing gets jumbled. The film also lacked the sensation of mystery that the comic had which I think could’ve added a huge element here. And the film also cuts out some of the more disgusting and off-putting things from the comic as well. So, I guess that brings us to the final question…
So, In Ending.
7/10 – Good
Zack Snyder does his best to wrestle the behemoth that is the unadaptable Watchmen into a comprehensible and digestible adaptation. The result is a good film. The visuals at times are stunning, with his signature stamp of filmmaking, the song selection and drops are at times exciting, the score meh, and faithful character portrayals from actors and the general theme and emotion of the story though lesser (by a lot) still amount to a good film and a as good of an adaption we will ever have. Now if someone could re-list the Director’s Cut so I can see that as it is currently de-listed everywhere.
Unless someone else has the money or the power to tackle it again in a 3hr – 4hr masterpiece?