500 Movies #5: Who Watches?

Realizing that although I’d seen many, many movies in my life, I still hadn’t seen enough, I recently created a list of the 500 Best Movies I’ve Never Seen. As I attempt to watch them all, I will write about my experiences seeing classics (and some not-so-classics) for the first time. Warning: these are spoiler-ridden posts, as the films are all past their time in theaters (some, long, long past). If you haven’t seen the film I recommend you first see it and then read. If it’s on the list it’s probably worth seeing. 

5. Watchmen (2009) Zack Snyder 

A few weeks ago I found a copy of Watchmen, the graphic novel, in some old stuff. I decided to read it because, hey, I never had, I was bored, and I was trying to add comic books to my pop culture repertoire. It’s not that I didn’t like them, but as a young girl growing up in the midwest suburbia with no brothers, I never really came across them. I was really wowed by what I found in Watchmen. It had an intriguing story with amazing art. I was engrossed in the world it created. When I finished, I immediately added Zack Snyder’s adaptation to my watch-list, despite my vague recollections from 2009 that it had not been entirely successful.

My initial reaction to the film was that I was underwhelmed. Here was a story that on the unmoving page had lifted me off my feet at its climax and had set my heart pounding in its battles and cliffhangers. On the screen it was just…slow. In nearly every way. And it wasn’t just Snyder’s excessive use of slo-mo, but the pacing and the general feel of the film. Something that had been incredibly exciting in pictures and bubble text was in a lot of ways dull in full visualization.

Sure the movie was loyal. It was incredibly loyal (well except for one key plot point, but more on that later). The panels of the graphic novel seemed to just have been transplanted to film, and I think that was where the central flaw of it lies. Some things work better in one medium than another. One that jumps to mind is the funeral sequence for the Comedian. In the book and in the movie, it is interlaced with flashbacks from the attendees to moments they shared with Eddie Blake. In the graphic novel, this felt natural, as it often moved into the thoughts of the characters. In the movie, it seemed odd, and slowed the pace down to a great extent. It took over ten minutes in an already long film to get out of that graveyard. Yes the flashback sequences were important, but it was the wrong way to convey them.

One thing I did like was the opening credits sequence, an instance where Snyder deviated from the source material, not in content at all, but in delivery. He put the history of masked heros into a single montage, that conveyed the story of the world perfectly. It was slow, but it was meant to be slow. It was backstory that the audience needed to understand right away. And then they were ready for the film to take off, which it never did.

There was already a motion comic of Watchmen, I didn’t really need another, vastly more expensive one. I appreciate loyalty to such a revered text, but adaptation requires the filmmaker to think about the medium more than the material, something I don’t think Snyder did. I’m cautious about his superman adaptation, Man of Steel, out next summer. The first trailer is puzzling, and I don’t have a sense of the film at all. We’ll see.

Watchmen is now 465/716 movies on my flickchart. 

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