Sunday, 27 March 2016
Why Is Zack Snyder's Watchmen Seen As A Failure, Anyway?
As many have been expecting for months now, Dawn of Justice has rolled into theaters to some very conflicted response. While hardly negative all across the board, even reviews defending the film tend to be tinged with disappointment, and some have questioned just how well director Zack Snyder truly understands the source material. While he's clearly a man who loves these comics (and I would personally argue that the bulk of any blame for this film's faults lies squarely upon Warner Bros' shoulders), there's always been the odd moment or twist to his adaptations which have made people question just how well he comprehended the meaning behind them. This has been argued time and time again, but never more so than when Watchmen hit theaters.
No doubt already there's a few of you angrily typing in to defend Snyder's efforts and the quality of this production. To those people, please be aware of this fact - I actually love this film. It's one of the most loyal adaptations made to screen, and one of the few which truly strove to be worthy of the original comics. This is evident in every scene of the film, from beginning to end, as Snyder himself repeatedly used the comic as a storyboard for his sets a-la Sin City. While there was certainly the odd change here and there, these tended to be slightly thematic at best or very minor visual alterations and some were just updates with the time. Sure Nite Owl might not look quite like his original self, but Archie, his style, story and personality are more or less spot on so far as the comics are concerned. What's more, the push to keep the film very much of its era was ultimately extremely successful. From the visuals to the politics and even the soundtrack, everything reflected the late Cold War themes and attitudes as well as it could.
Now, to many, the subject of the giant squid monster being switched out for Dr. Manhattan is a point of contention. Many tend to turn up their noses at it while a few have supported it and, admittedly, it does actually work well. For a film adaptation, it more closely links the characters into the core of the central plot, and works to more closely streamline the event as a whole. After all, to the main story the addition of a random bonus artificial alien is something oddly clunky, standing out as a tumorous bloated mass in what's otherwise a very focused character driven piece. However, it needs to be made clear that this only worked for the film adaptation, and that's a big part of where this all went wrong: Its medium.
When people talk about Watchmen being a deconstruction of comics from that era, many who read and follow it aren't merely talking about its characters and themes. While such elements are a core part of the story, it's more truthful to say that it was a broader deconstruction of the medium of comics themselves. When you first read through Watchmen, your first reaction will likely be one of ultimate confusion. The story seems almost surreal in its presentation, jumping from one environment to the next, differing massively in terms of internal subtext, thoughts, direction and the established setting itself. Many aspects, on the first read-through, can seem to come out of practically nowhere, and the very inclusion of elements like the Black Freighter can seem out of place. This is in part because it was written with repetition in mind, but also the idea of a reader repeatedly going back and forth through its pages.
More so than any other medium, comics are one which allow readers to flick back quickly to prior moments in the plot or exact scenes. Even now this remains true, as it's easier to track down an individual panel in a comic than an exact paragraph of a novel or shot from a film. As readers did this, attempting to pick out certain details, new facts started to emerge, ideas which had either been overlooked or completely missed first time around. The squid in particular is a great example of this. While at first glance it seems to simply jump into the story out of nowhere, looking over again allows people to pick out details, new hints or ideas. The brief sketch of it in one panel, the discussion alluding to its existence among certain people, or the seemingly disconnected death of the geniuses who helped to create it all tied to this.
The very universe present was built upon past comments, suggestions and asides rather than truly established in a direct way. This could be seen as a link to the more continuity heavy nature of comics in general, and how many seek to link into or follow on from prior events in some way. This means that certain ideas might be lost or forgotten at first, and only by re-reading or checking events over again that new ideas are picked out, and the picture becomes more clear. The fate of several older heroes is a notable point which should be brought up in favour of this apparent style, as should certain historical points behind Nite Owl and Rorschach. More eloquent and better informed people than I have made points covering this, and whole essays have been constructed about these points, but the simple face is that it's one of the comic's most defining elements. It's also something Snyder himself should have picked up on when attempting any adaptation, or even considering such an act. As such, it honestly seems that he's definitely a fan of such universes to the core, but much like his directorial style he seems to only pick up on the more overt or stylised elements over subtleties.