Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Trades Watch the Watchmen

well, this is curious and curiouser. the trades have weighed in on a movie opening next weekend called "watchmen," and they don't seem to be particularly fond of it. the curious part about this is not that someone doesn't like a zack snyder movie, but that these reviews actually have me MORE excited to see the film than i was before. the maelstrom of opinions that has resulted from this first round of critic screenings has not only confused me into somewhat suppressing any pre-conceived notions i may (ha) have brought to the table, but also convinced me that the conversation around the film will be a particularly lively one, which - given that the film will be a completely needless (if not very entertaining) entity unless snyder has somehow used the tools at his disposal to elevate, subvert, or otherwise explore the watchmen saga in ways in which it hasn't been already - is about as much as you can hope for from an adaptation like this.

kirk honeycutt over at the hollywood reporter is a gentleman whose opinion i tend to entirely disregard, as it is often, how you say... inane. he refers to watchemn as the "first real flop of 2009" - as he predicts a tremendous opening frame (there i go with that variety-speak) followed by a precipitous drop in box office returns. had i been unfamiliar with watchmen, i would have been pretty bummed out by honeycutt's remark that "the fight scenes don't hold a candle to asian action," but if i were in charge of the adaptation that would have been somewhat deliberate... yet methinks that snyder wasn't able to resist the temptation to go all out in the few action beats the story provides, and if he fails to make them kinetically interesting, well... consider me entirely unsurprised, as 300 wasn't one of the decade's worst films because of dialogue, alone. all that being said, having not seen the film i can only think the remark is simply exhibit B of honeycutt not getting it... an ominous harbinger of non-fan reaction.

(i coudln't find a picture of mr. honeycutt, so here's another picture of annie clark!)

his comment that "armageddon never looked so cheesy," on the other hand... doesn't sit well with me, as armageddon in watchmen should aesthetically be as vile, sickening, and ultimately cleansing a spectacle as possible.

it's justin chang's review over at variety that really echoes my initial impressions of the project, and the one i must hope the finished film embarrasses. his opening salvo that although watchmen " cries out for equally audacious cinematic treatment, the novel has instead been timidly and efficiently streamlined by David Hayter (X-Men, X2: X-Men United) and Alex Tse, who struggle to cram as many visual and narrative details as possible into the film's 161 minutes," is - to my mind - the most damning critique i've yet encountered. he says that watchmen is a "fanboy's (ed: or girl!) delight... that is ultimately undone by its own reverence; there's simply no room for these characters and stories to breathe of their own accord, and even the most fastidiously replicated scenes can feel glib and truncated."

chang, who seems a bit more in touch with the material, ices the proverbial cake by saying, "Wavering in tone between seriousness and camp, and absent the cerebral tone that gave weight to some of the book's headier ideas, the film seems to yield to the very superhero cliches it purports to subvert." yikes.

now, i've read a lot of early fan reactions, from the bright and geeky likes of devin faraci over at chud and drew mcweeny over at.... wherever he's at right now, and they've both had only slightly reserved raves. harry knowles - whom LQ proclaimed the ultimate geek - also loved it for the most part, though his opinion is not exactly... well, you know... and now his wife is posting a needless and particularly banal music column that's capped off with that nauseatingly juvenile avatar they've created for her which makes me cringe every time... and to think, that site used to be my home page... anyhoo, where was i?

right, so the fans seem to be loving it (SERIOUSLY, LQ POSTED A VIDEO "REVIEW" FROM SOMEONE WEARING A WATCHMEN T-SHIRT. that shit is NOT a review. A REACTION that's interestingly germane to the conversation on this site? ABSOLUTELY. But... oy... fighting a losing battle much, david?) , which is great, but this returns the dialogue to my greatest reservation about fandom in general... that fanboys / fangirls / fanchildren seldom seem to want what's best for them. early word suggests that snyder made this film explicitly and exclusively for the fans, who apparently just want to see their favorite iconic images pop off the page... and, if i determine that this approach is reflected in the final product, i will be convinced that the project was doomed from the outset. in this convention culture, where respect for audiences or source material is too often supplanted by fan-service, things are played too safe... toes are seldom stepped on, and the most insignificant of changes (i'm looking at you, squiddy) ignite an apocalypse of fan outrage that would make tetsuo blush. kanedaaaa!!!! the more beloved the franchise, the more slavishly faithful the resulting film... and you don't need me to tell you that watchmen is the radiohead of the graphic novel community. the radiohead? yeah, whatever, it may be a contrived analogy but this site could do with a few more radiohead shout-outs.

and my concerns about this movie have always stemmed from the fact that - out of all the graphic novels i can think of - watchmen has the most potential as a film... there are so many ideas brewing about, so many directions in which one could take them... jettisoning certain elements in favor of digging deeper into others... or understanding that the story could not be improved upon in its current incarnation, and using the copyright as an excuse to transpose alan moore's ideas into a new paradigm... sure, as far as financial feasibility is concerned, a studio is hampered, and the rights didn't come cheap (or easy), but if there can only be one watchmen movie... if there's only one shot at it, i'd rather - purely as a matter of principle - have it be an artistic swing for the fences and a big sweaty failure than an easy pop fly... boo on these analogies.

george lucas is the only person that can be blamed for the origin trilogy. but if watchmen is bad - or worse, a bore - i blame the fans. kind of. mostly the creative team and the studio and nancy grace (cause why not?), but also kinda the fans. oh no. but i don't think it's going to be bad... at worst, it will be... poor. i've said time and again that i will be shocked if i'm not thoroughly entertained... but despite my doubts, i'm more excited to see it now than i've ever been, because thanks to the trade reviews i'm all but guaranteed that the dialogue about adaptations in the world of green screen - and the relationship between film and graphic novels that has been sublimating on this here blog and elsewhere around the net - is only going to be become louder and more involved after watchmen actually hits... and that could be the greatest achievement of zack snyder's career.