Zack Snyder Didn't Ruin Watchmen: He just sapped it of its superpower.
By J. Hoberman
The most eagerly anticipated (as well as the most beleaguered) movie of the year (if not the century), Watchmen is neither desecratory disaster nor total triumph. In filming David Hayter and Alex Tse's adaptation of the most ambitious superhero comic book ever written, director Zack Snyder has managed to address the cult while pandering to the masses.
Warner Bros., which battled Fox for possession of the property—from which author Alan Moore has, typically, removed his name—is marketing Snyder, who remade George Romero's Dawn of the Dead in 2004 and had a surprise mega-hit two years later with his adaptation of Frank Miller's comic book Thermopylae, 300, as a "visionary." That's a grateful studio's code word for "competent hack." The master of the vid-game aesthetic has successfully streamlined Moore's 12-part graphic novel and, even at a running time that tops two hours and 40 minutes, made it commercially viable.
Although the ending has been somewhat modified from the novel's, let it be said that Watchmen doesn't lack for self-confidence or even entertainment value. Its failure is one of imagination—although faithfully approximating Dave Gibbons's original drawings, the filmmakers are unable to teleport themselves to the level of the original concept. Perhaps no one could have, but it would have been fun to see what sort of mess Terry Gilliam (who hoped to make a movie version back in the '80s) or Richard Kelly (who surely took inspiration from Watchmen in conceptualizing his no less convoluted comic book saga Southland Tales) would have made of Moore's magnum opus. Snyder's movie is too literal and too linear. Social satire is pummeled into submission by the amplified pow-kick-thud of the sub-Matrix action sequences; not just metaphysics and narrative are simplified, but even character is ultimately eclipsed by the presumed need for violent spectacle.
The philosopher Iain Thomson (who valiantly brought Heidegger's Being and Time to bear on his reading of Watchmen) maintained that Moore not only deconstructed the idea of comic book super-heroism but pulverized the very notion of the hero—and the hero-worship that comics traditionally sell. For all its superficial fidelity, Snyder's movie stands Moore's novel on its head, trying to reconstruct a conventional blockbuster out of those empty capes and scattered shards.
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