Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Musing Pictures: The Watchmen

It is quite rare that I find myself reacting to a film with exactly the opposite sentiments of Roger Ebert (whose tastes generally parallel my own). Ebert's review focuses on the story behind "Watchmen" (that is to say, on the innovations of the plot, of the characters, and of the way they break certain 'comic book' molds). Unfortunately, those innovations almost certainly did not originate with the film, but rather with its source material, a very popular and groundbreaking graphic novel.

After giving credit where it is due, the film itself lacks almost everything that would make for the outstanding classic that it could have been. It lacks what a good film truly needs (clear narrative, compelling characters, propulsive rhythm, etc.) and showcases a lot of what a good film really doesn't require (high-concept visuals and fancy effects). In many ways, this is much like Zack Snyder's earlier nightmare, "300", which also featured a paper-thin narrative, exceptionally flat characters, and all the evidence of a clear value judgment that opted for flashy visuals over pithy substance. Both films, despite being 'action' films, got rather boring, as there never developed any reason to engage with or worry about the central characters.

Ebert is right about one thing: the innovations and serious issues presented by the "Watchmen" narrative are extraordinary. This makes the film's choice of style over substance all the more befuddling. Why aim for style when the substance is what makes the source material so effective?

This is one of those films which really shouldn't have been released. The intrinsic problems with it are so elementary, so clearly on the surface that they should have been spotted and fixed by the many people who managed the production before it hit the screens.

The Hollywood system has produced many outstanding films over the years. Why was the ball dropped with this one?