Watchmen was never going to be an easy project for the person who was brave enough to finally adapt it to the screen. For years it had been tackled by director after director, each time ultimately shelved. How would you adapt the bible, in all its entirety, and succeed? It’s impossible. How then would you adapt what is revered as the greatest piece of graphic fiction ever published? The Citizen Kane of comics? Something so glued to its medium that no one would have faulted the notion it could never be done at all.
A story that is essentially a murder mystery while also serving as social commentary. A deconstruction of the super-hero genre. A parable of the human condition. Not just what it is to be a super-human. But what it is to be simply human.
How would you adapt the story of a team of superheroes who were shut down by a government act? Decommissioned by the country and the laws they served. Who shed retirement to reveal the truth behind the death of one of their own and to save a world that doesn’t want to be saved along the way?
Zack Snyder gave it his best shot.
Zack Snyder cast this movie almost perfectly. From the principal cast, it’s too hard to pick a stand out between them. Billy Crudup’s tragically human portrayal of an omnipotent being who has lost his faith in humanity and his actual humanity along with it. Patrick Wilson as the idealist crime-fighter whose life is an empty shell, without a sense of self or purpose. Jackie Earle Haley’s unhinged vigilante who may be the only sane person in a world gone insane. Even Matthew Goode who seems unconvincing as the world’s smartest man, the perennial overachiever, peels back that layer to reveal his removal from a realistic portrayal is necessary for a character who is ten steps ahead of the rest of the film.
Zack Snyder picked the perfect soundtrack to carry this film through time. From the ingenious opening credits that move thematically to Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-changing” to the hollow echo of “The Sounds of Silence” to “All Along the Watchtower”. This soundtrack is on the cutting edge of relevance. Think of the great compilation soundtracks at the forefront of movies that are identified by them. From Easy Rider to Saturday Night Fever, to Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction to Trainspotting. This soundtrack belongs rightfully among them.
Zack Snyder captured the look and feel of the comic perfectly. He gets the balance right with the costume design. That perfect point in between ridiculous and realistic. Functional and silly. He gets the tones and colours spot on, grim when it needs to be, bright when it has to be. Initially, you’ll think this is a dark film, and you can’t argue, given the subject matter, it is. But the colours, the costumes, the settings of this film are all perfectly placed. Even the black and white in this movie has a visual flair.
So why hasn’t Zack Snyder made a perfect film?
Was it written too “in its time”, that the cultural events that lay the framework for the plot points have been done to death?
Was it not what an audience, that is ever growing attached to its big screen comic book movie adaptations, want from its comic book films?
Is it too smart for its own good? Is the subject matter too dense? Are there too many stories happening at once?
Surely it isn’t the one glaring difference that Zack Snyder made in the story from book to film… That change was a necessary one.
Why didn’t Watchmen succeed when there is so much to enjoy and appreciate in this film?
It all goes back to the question of how do you do it?
How do you adapt watchmen for the screen?
The answer’s simple.
You’re not supposed to.