Watchmen: Zack Snyder

26Mar09

by The Great White Gypsy

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Who the hell does Zack Snyder think he is?

In 1990, he directed Playground, a short documentary about Michael Jordan.  14 years later, he assumes that gives him the right to remake a horror classic originally done by the iconic George A. Romero.  One feature film, and he jumps into the ring with Frank Miller, imagining he’s gone a mean left-hook.  As if that wasn’t arrogant enough, this year he thinks he can show up to Sharon Tate’s parties just because he knows Alan Moore? (That was tasteless, but Moore looks like Charles Manson, for real.)

Who the hell does Zack Snyder think he is?

A great fucking filmmaker, that’s who.

Anyone who knows me knows that, in film as well as literature, character development is very important to me.  This is why, more than most directors, I respect guys like Snyder, who show incredible maturation, even in three films.

Dawn of the Dead (2004) was campy, ridiculous, everything a horror remake should be.  300 wasn’t quite as cool as Sin City, but it was visually amazing, and made me want to go to the gym and fight Persian people.  Between the two, you could see Snyder honing his skills, focusing his efforts.  Now, with Watchmen, he has shown that, even restricted to the comic book genre, he is a grown-ass man.

Based on Alan Moore’s award winning and lengthy graphic novel, the Watchmen story is complicated, so I’ll give you the cliff notes.  In an alternate history of the U.S., where Richard Nixon is in his fifth presidential term, The Watchmen are a group of costumed heroes similar to minutemen.  In 1985, years after they’ve all been forcibly retired, one of them is murdered.  This prompts the rest of them to dust off the tights and investigate the increasingly intricate evil plan that threatens them, and the world.

Adapting a book is hard enough.  Graphic novels, however, have artwork, narrative, and dialog, cramming a lot more information into a few pages.  Snyder seems to scoff at this, elaborating on the entire “alternate history” in the opening credits with live action still shots (similar to comic panels), from the 1920’s to the late ‘70’s, all set to Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A’Changin’”.  In 60 seconds, you’re caught up and ready to see some action.

And the action, both mental and physical, might not have you on the edge of your seat, but it will have your eyes wide the entire two hours and forty-eight minutes.  The effects are pretty sweet, although one scene seems really borrowed from 300 (maturing, not quite matured).  With Tyler Bates again doing the composing, the score is tense and exciting.  Even the soundtrack is perfect. Featuring Jimi Hendrix, Leonard Cohen, Tears for Fears, and Janis Joplin, it adds realism to the story as well as the time period.

William Hoy, whose editing credits the last 6 years are limited to simple stories and the comic book genre, does a respectable job of juggling character backgrounds, flashbacks, and heroic action sequences.  It’s not the best I’ve seen, but it is on par with the rest of the film.

Finally, casting for this one is hit and miss.  Jackie Earle Haley (Little Children) does a great job as Rorschach, a psychotic masked vigilante, but his face is covered 90% of the time.  Patrick Wilson is generally solid (Hard Candy, Lakeview Terrace, Little Children), but doesn’t add a whole lot to the character (in all fairness, Night Owl II is kind of one dimensional in the novel too).  Malin Akerman (The Heartbreak Kid) is definitely the weak link, bringing neither the acting experience, nor the sexiness to her role as Silk Spectre II (Carla Gugino plays her aged mother…kind of an oversight there).  Billy Crudup arguably does the best job in the film as Dr. Manhattan.  His voice is monotone, he’s calm and introspective, and he’s completely CGI.  But the character is very important to the story, and Crudup does an amazing job of adding believability and detached emotion to the role.

This isn’t the typical superhero movie, it’s not just another summer blockbuster.  It is deep, thought provoking, and most importantly entertaining.  There are slight holes in the filmmaking, but the story as an adaptation is extremely well done, even deviating from the original in ways that actually compliment and improve it.  I hope the director’s cut DVD is four hours long.

Final Grade: B+



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