On The Aisle
by Tony Macklin
Duck, here comes the kitchen sink … from Mars! Author Alan Moore kept the sink secure in his graphic novel “Watchmen;” director Zack Snyder throws it clattering erratically across the screen.
“Watchmen” is an entertaining movie, but it’s more instead of Moore. In fact, the author previously had taken his name off the project. He knew the movie would change the tone, the rhythm and the vision. And it did.
Snyder and writers David Hayter and Alex Tse faced a yeoman’s task in transferring the supremely popular graphic work to the screen. They used movie allusions from classics, such as “Apocalypse Now” and “Dr. Strangelove,” to enhance their film. Production designer Alex McDowell used storefronts from “Taxi Driver.”
But Snyder, like the usual action director, forces his action and violence to become redundant, and therefore of diminishing effect. An example is when the character Rorschach kills the pervert who has murdered a little girl. In the movie, Snyder feels he has to ratchet up the violence, and so he has Rorschach smite the evil one with an ax in the skull multiple times.
Moore lets us use our imagination; Snyder bludgeons our imagination into senselessness. Moore’s vision is also blunted by Snyder. Moore is showing how a world that once pursued the American Dream represented by superheroes has now succumbed to the folly of human nature, leaving its one-time heroes fallible and forlorn.
Much of this is conveyed by Moore in the interchapter essays, written by the original Nite Owl Hollis Mason, interviews and other accounts. These sections in the book provide motivation, clarity and context. But they’re literary and Snyder doesn’t do literary.
Snyder and his writers try to employ context in the opening of the film. But I doubt whether the McLaughlin Group with Pat Buchanan and Eleanor Clift will ring bells with any viewers. Snyder also has snippets of actors portraying Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, et al., but these are too facile and insubstantial to register.
There has been a lot of reservation about Snyder’s use of music, but the singers and songs that accompany the film’s opening are evocative … Nat King Cole, Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel. At least they seem representative of an era. Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin’” is particularly apt.
“Watchmen” is set in 1985 in an alternate world. Nixon is serving his fifth term as president. America has won the Vietnam War, but the world is on the brink of nuclear annihilation as the U.S. and Russia are raising the threat level.
Masked superheroes have been outlawed, but a group of these former celebrated figures come together after one of their number, The Comedian, meets a violent death. Why was he killed? Are the remainder threatened? Will the once-and-future heroes survive? Where has morality gone?
As in “300,” Snyder is best served by his talented male actors and his special effects. In “Watchmen,” Jackie Earle Haley is terrific as the brooding, obsessed Rorschach. Another fine actor, Billy Crudup, has to fight CGI most of the movie as Dr. Manhattan. He’s even given blue CGI genitalia. Crudup’s CGI expression is blank, which erases most of his acting talent.
Patrick Wilson brings uncertain humanity to the character of Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl II.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan, a cross between Ernie Kovacs and a bulky Robert Downey Jr., who plays The Comedian, is perhaps most like the character in Moore’s book.
But as good as he is with men, Snyder is a lousy judge of female talent. Lena Headley as Queen Gorgo in “300,” was awful. One wonders how talented Carla Gugino made the cut. She’s excellent as the aging Silk Spectre. But Malin Akerman falls to Snyder’s usual dismal level; she’s as vapid as they come.
The sex scene between Silk Spectre II and Nite Owl II is Yawn II. What is most appalling is that Snyder accompanies their coupling with Leonard Cohen’s classic “Hallelujah.” It’s like using poetry to accompany plumbing.
“Watchmen” the movie is a Zack attack.