Why Watch The Watchmen?

26 03 2009

Honestly, I don’t care if you’re a dyed in the wool fanboy or if you wonder if they still make those Batman comics. Watchmen was a baaaaad film. And I don’t mean that in the early nineties skater way. There’s just no getting around it. The acting was mediocre and frequently poor, and the directing of the actors was even worse. To be sure, Zack Snyder frequently provided staggering images lifted directly from the comics page and brought dramatically to life. But his directing of every scene and shot in between those taken from the comics panels was clearly labored and inarticulate. And even within those comic panel shots, his pacing of the movie as a whole seemed to give no sense of understanding of the pacing of the comic itself. Even the art direction, while phenomenally detailed, rich, and consistent, was basically flawed from the outset- I never once felt the movie was set distinctly in the world of 1985, alternate reality notwithstanding. It felt more like a dated late nineties superhero movie, complete with rubber suits and black eye-makeup. (Seriously, I understand the concept behind the black eye makeup under the superhero masks- to appear more like the graphical representation in the comic of pure white eyes peering out from the mask- but it’s never worked for me. When Batman rushes to the Batcave to go don his costume and kick some ass, surely he doesn’t stop at a well lit mirror and apply black cake makeup around his eyes, along with a little powder. Oh, and then carefully paint on some spirit gum, wait 30 seconds for it to get tacky, then carefully hold the mask to his face for one minute while the glue dries. It’s a lame idea and I wish Hollywood would forego it.) Snyder was far too slavish to the graphic novel, treating it as a storyboard and overlooking the fact that film is not just images in (too frequently slow-)motion; it’s a different medium from comics entirely! He suffered very similar flaws in 300 as did Robert Rodriguez in Sin City. There’s no question that Hollywood can do comic book films right: Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight, Brian Singer’s X-Men 2, and Richard Donner’s Superman are all fine proof of that. But they are the exception to the rule and even they still have some things to learn. We are surely going to be treated to more and more comic adaptations over the coming years and I believe that Hollywood is generally learning how to do them well. I just hope they stop asking Snyder to be a part of it.

And as a postscript, I should point out that the one bit of inspired creative artistry I noticed in the film was in Jackie Earle Haley’s Rorscharch. While not a stellar performance, surely dragged down by incompetent direction, it was clearly quite good and occasionally inspired. Haley’s vocalization of Rorscharch’s inscrutable “hurm” and his whimpering second to last line “Do it” were particularly standout moments. As much as possible, it appeared Haley brought his own take to the role and clearly worked hard to surmount the challenge of creating a character who’s face is covered for most of the film.

Next: Why worry about comic book films when there’s so many awesome comic books available! I can’t wait to share with you the FIVE comics I loved reading this month.


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5 responses

14 04 2009
David Morneau

since we’ve talked about this in person, you already know that i didn’t like this movie either, and for a lot of the same reasons (though the thing that annoyed me most while in the theater was the cheap melodramatic use of the music).

i’m curious about your comment that movies and comics are different mediums. i caught myself saying this in one conversation too, but realizing later that i couldn’t have defended that comment because the intricacies of that difference elude me. can you provide some thoughts/analysis/examples?

19 04 2009
Who likes awesome comics? I do! I do! « The Dog’s Ear

[…] likes awesome comics? I do! I do! 19 04 2009 After seeing Watchmen this week I was pretty depressed regarding comics place in this world, but then I made a trip to my […]

19 04 2009
Kris

Thanks David. That’s an interesting point you make about struggling to make clear the distinction between film and comics, because they do share MANY of the same traits. Scott McCloud’s book, Understanding Comics, definitely is a good place to start, but nevertheless there’s a lot of material there to discuss. I’ll add it to my to-do list, for sure.

19 04 2009
emp

Just off the top of my head, I would say start with the basic elements of how the two forms reach an audience, through what senses and overall experience. In film, you (usually) share your immediate experience of the work with others. In comics, you only do that in the post-reading discussion or socializing. Film visuals are structured transiently within a frame and often linked to sound as part of the seeing experience. In comics, obviously the images in a frame are “fixed” and only move through the viewer’s interaction with them, as opposed to being moved “for her” as in film, and any auditory experience (save the occasional enthusiastic whoop!) is imagined – a personal soundtrack tailored to each viewer/reader.

Those two (and I’ll stop there b/c I don’t really have time to get into this too deeply) seem pretty obvious to me as facts, but what’s perhaps not obvious is just how critical are these basic elements to the form –to how it is created so that the experience of an audience belongs to that medium. Of course, here we run again into David’s conundrum of how to justify to disbelievers that a comic book is not a flim storyboard (which, even if it were, is also NOT like film). Yes, the two forms share elements in common, but so do literature and music. One can always identify similarities through the likeness of one’s own experience as readily as through the “facts,” but therein also lies the capacity for the differences that we lovers of form so dearly cherish.

21 04 2009
jellykean

You know I actually turned down a date the other day because the dude said that Watchmen was one of his fav films all year.
I haven’t even seen it – but I trust you that much.

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