Saturday, March 07, 2009

Some brief thoughts on the Watchmen movie

It was pretty good.

It's very much like reading the book (but takes 10 fewer hours). I've not liked any of the other Zach Snyder films I've seen, but this one has grown on me over night.

It made me think of L.A. Confidential in that it is a very literal adaptation (except for the violence, which has been ramped up considerably), but also effectively streamlined; I didn't miss any of the stuff missing. While it's never boring, it did not move or involve me a whole lot; I might have liked it if they had taken more liberties for the sake of engaging the real world. Like, I don't necessarily consider The Dark Knight a rigorous allegory for the United State's War on Terror but I appreciate the allusions and undertones, or that it bears some passing resemblance to the world outside the theatre.

Snyder probably did not have a lot of latitude for infidelity, though. One of aspects of the book (and its cult) that annoys me is how seriously it's taken (nothing against Moore and Gibbons; I'm not convinced that the book aspires to be anything other than a clever, subversive satire of the superhero genre). For instance, aside from raising its profile I'm not sure how significant it was for the book to be included on the oft-cited Time Magazine's list of the best English language books of the the century. As much as I enjoy list-reading, does anyone rely seriously on Time Magazine for their literary criticism? At least nobody touts it's placement in Entertainment Weekly's list of the greatest novels of the last 25 years. Claiming canonization by Entertainment Weekly is a bridge too far.

I'll repeat since I'm about to sound harsh: I enjoyed the film and I really do think the novel was great. But so much of both is predicated on a straw-man argument that the world is grim and fucked-up that it's hard for me to see the profundity: Nixon has been elected to five terms, the government uses costumed adventurers as mercenaries and assassins, there are riots in the streets, roving gangs brutally beat old men to death, etc. Of course that version of the world is a hopeless, fucked up place. The New York Times' review of the movie summed it up well:
And Snyder's commitment to violence brings into relief the shallow nihilism that has always lurked beneath the intellectual pretensions of “Watchmen.” The only action that makes sense in this world — the only sure basis for ethics or politics, the only expression of love or loyalty or conviction — is killing...
This idea is sickening but also, finally, unpersuasive, because it is rooted in a view of human behavior that is fundamentally immature, self-pitying and sentimental. Perhaps there is some pleasure to be found in regressing into this belligerent, adolescent state of mind. But maybe it’s better to grow up.
I might add to this that the movie also has a lot of slow-motion and a lot of cliched period pop music. I mean, how impressive is it to get the rights to 99 Luftballons or All Along the Watch Tower, anyway?

As for the cast, Jackie Earle Haley is great. Everyone else is fine but not exactly distinguished. The CGI gore looks stupid.

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