You know when you get your girlfriend to dress up in expensive fetish gear and act out your private erotic fantasies in elaborate detail, and the next morning you can’t quite look each other in the eye?
Neither do I, but watching Zack Snyder’s Watchmen is sorta like that.
Which is to say, seeing it filled me with both a deep, addiction-like craving to see it again, and with the shuddering sick sense of violation that comes from seeing your dreams rendered into frail human flesh in the cold light of morning. Like some insane feat of circus gymnastics, the movie bends over backwards to insert as much of the original into its 2 hours and 43 minutes. It reproduces the comic beat by beat, every favorite bit of action, dialogue and flashback is recreated painstakingly and vividly in lush detail and packed tightly in. But all over, the tiny compromises prick me, and the small bruises and stretch marks where you can tell that this is a Hollywood big budget movie beneath all the makeup and latex vex my purist heart.
Zack Snyder’s reverence for the source is palpable, perhaps much greater than Peter Jackson’s devotion to Lord of the Rings. Like in those films, there are several things which will probably only make real sense in the extended DVD, or which can only be puzzled out by navigating the extended text spread out across the Internet (for example, only because I watched a panel with the director and cast from last year’s San Diego comic-con on YouTube do I understand why Matthew Goode’s Adrian Veidt talks with such an odd German accent in some scenes). This reverence also reflects itself in how the movie deviates from the comic, in the way it makes changes (the removal of the giant squid and the addition of a new power to Dr. Manhattan, that of granting other people flashbacks) but uses them to keep as much of the original material as possible. I’m reminded of Andrew Rilstone’s review of Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring:
My second quibble, perhaps surprisingly, is that the film sticks rather too closely to the structure of the book. Once we get out of the Shire, every set piece episode is intact; …. However, over and over again, the scenes are either deflated, or even made redundant, by structural changes that Jackson has already committed himself to. One felt scriptwriters saying ‘Given that we have changed such-and-such as a result of translating a book into a movie, this scene is no longer necessary: however, since it is in the book, we must leave it intact and create a new purpose for it.’
For example, Veidt gives a last toast to his employees in Karnak, dressed in full Ozymandias regalia, even though the (welcome, in my book) changes the script makes to his master plan make his choice of dress appear bizarre, because he’s now talking to scientists and technicians at what is presented as a Veidt research center rather than to personal servants at his secret superhero retreat.
My other complaint, expressed above in metaphoric terms, is how the pervasive and pernicious influence of Hollywood big budget movie culture crops up. My biggest issue is with how the character of Laurie (Silk Spectre) has been changed – starting from her first scene, where Dr. Manhattan has been given more lines at her expense, so he can provide important exposition. This is a consistent pattern in the movie. While Snyder takes care to preserve the plot elements of Laurie’s character arc, her emotional reactions – the anger and pity she feels to her mother, her hatred of the Comedian, her disgust with Rorschach and her alienation from John – all these are strongly muted or absent completely. Even her most notable character tick – her constant fidgeting with her cigarettes – has been excised, along with the emotional fuel that drives it. The comic book Laurie was much more forceful in conversation, far angrier, more flawed and human and interesting. The movie has gotten rid of all of Laurie’s comic-book bitchiness, leaving Malin Akerman to play a much nicer, more palatable and demure character. She still kicks ass, but you won’t find the anger behind those kicks – it’s just something fun and adventurous for her, spice to add to her appeal as Dan’s fantasy girlfriend.
I feel like a bit of a gender-traitor pointing that out as a flaw in the movie, although it annoyed me. Consider, the part of the superhero costume kept on during sex for its fetish appeal – in the comic, Nite-Owl’s googles; in the movie, Silk Spectre’s latex boots. The comic book Laurie smokes – the movie Laurie is just smoking hot. Because, apparently, you need to be a murderer and a rapist in movies these days before they let you close to tobacco.