Monday, March 16, 2009

Watchmen, meh

The New York Times review said "[Watchmen's] ideal viewer ... would probably be a mid-’80s college sophomore with a smattering of Nietzsche, an extensive record collection and a comic-book nerd for a roommate." They got it mostly right. While perpetual adolescents (i.e. most guys) will enjoy the movie, the only viewer who will actually find it groundbreaking is the Times's "hypothetical young man."

My overall feelings about the movie are almost identical to those about the graphic novel. The themes are there:
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes,deconstructing and rationalizing the idea of superheroes, does the end justify the means, etc. but there's not much else. The story becomes too mired in plot to transcend geek lore and become literature. Provoking thought is commendable, but providing insight, something Watchmen is short on, is artistic. While just the idea of putting these themes in a comic book may have been unique when Watchmen was originally published, it's just not enough.

The film also misses out on one of the novel's most impressive and intellectual facets. At the end of each installment the story is supplemented with some "fake" literature. This includes a chapter from the superhero tell-all Under the Hood, as well as a psychiatric profile of Rorschach. These do a great deal to bring the reader into the alternate reality of the novel, and were probably a major factor in making Watchmen the only comic named to Time Magazine's 100 best English language novels since 1923. Regretfully, they cannot be translated to the silver screen.

As for the movie, it's probably as good as it could have been without pissing off the loyal fan base. It follows the comic like a storyboard, often going shot for shot, line for line. The visuals are impressive and not nearly as self-indulgent as 300, director Zach Snyder's previous work, and the soundtrack, though distracting at times, is appropriate. The altered ending is actually an improvement from the novel, which was a little on the silly side.

There is some fat that could have been trimmed. The movie is too long, and certain elements, like the Dr. Seussed white tiger, make no sense without their counterparts, which were not included. The movie is also plagued by some terrible CGI. Dr. Manhattan looks increbile, but he clods around like that soccer playing robot from Honda
, and said tiger looks and moves like shit, plain and simple.

Watchmen boils down to a novel and movie made by people who are smart - but not too smart, artistic - but not too artistic. They're both fun too look at and may provoke some thought. Don't expect anything more, and you'll have a good time.

3 out of 5 stars

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