Shiny Shelf


Watchmen

By Jim Smith on 08 March 2009

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

In the best of all worlds there would be no ”Watchmen” film. It’s as absolutely of its medium as ”Citizen Kane” is. A film of ”Watchmen” is, in theory anyway, about as worthwhile as a comic book of ”Citizen Kane” would be. It is, to invoke that old phrase attributed to everyone from Thelonius Monk to Frank Zappa, like trying to dance to architecture. Or maybe it was ”dance around architecture”. That’s the problem with memes. They get away from you. Me. Us.

Despite, or more likely because of, the above, Zack Snyder’s ”Watchmen” is a thoughtful, uncompromising and sophisticated attempt to take Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ thoughtful, uncompromised and sophisticated ”Watchmen” and put it in on the screen. The casting is perfect. The look is perfect. It is difficult, particularly for the first ninety minutes or so, to spot – by the presence of the hole its absence leaves – anything which is missing. In fact, the first ninety minutes are themselves pretty much 100% perfect. Which is startling, to be honest.

They’re not the book exactly replicated onscreen, of course; but the things which are conflated are conflated well. Everything which needs to be there – in terms of character, atmosphere and worldbuidling as well as plot – is there. One astounding sequence vividly portrays incidents from this alternative history (all from the book though some are merely alluded to on the page) backed by the song from Bob Dylan.

The use of music here is interesting. Snyder mostly using songs – as opposed to a score – to smother over scenes which, on the page, were intensely visual and light on dialogue. It works and conveys what it needs to convey on every occasion it’s used; although those of us in Britain who suffered a winter of a ghastly TV talent show version of Leonard Cohen’s ”Hallelujah” might be unable to resist an involuntary smirk at its inclusion, even when it’s the recording made by the song’s author.

The second hour of the film is less satisfactory. This is mostly, though not entirely, because of the absence of certain elements – mostly notably the ”Tales of the Black Freighter” sequences and certain scenes involving Kovac’s shrink – that are apparently being restored for a longer cut of the movie to be released later in the year. Once they’re in (or back in) the movie of ”Watchmen” will be, somehow, and I can’t quite believe I’m typing this, about 98% perfect. Or thereabouts.

But, about that 2%.

The changes made to the plot of ”Watchmen”, when they come, come like those in ”V for Vendetta” did. They arrive at unexpected moments and accompanied by the creeping realisation that the adapter has, for reasons known only to themselves, decided to substitute their own creative judgement for Moore’s. Again, as in ”V for Vendetta” the changes are for the worse, because whatever Snyder and his writers achieve here – and it’s a massive, massive achievement don’t get me wrong – their creative judgement is not equal to Moore’s. He was right and they are wrong and their changes weaken the film.

However, unlike in ”V for Vendetta”, the changes are not enough to capsize this enterprise. They barely even rock the boat. Escaping this extended metaphor before I mix it, I think it’s fair to say that the changes made would pass by all but those with the most thorough and obsessive knowledge of the minutiae of the book. Even someone who had read it once, years ago, would probably not notice the fundamental shift that the subtle differences in Veidt’s plan make.

For that, and for losing some of the subtlety of the epilogue scenes in the process, Snyder’s ”Watchmen” loses some points. But not many.

In the best of all possible world’s there would be no ”Watchmen” movie, but if there absolutely has to be a movie of ”Watchmen” then this careful, beautifully judged and tremendously played concoction is the one that there should be.


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