Kenneth Turan on ‘Watchmen’: ‘It’s not a great film’

March 05, 2009 | 2:30 a.m.


Kenneth Turan, the movie critic from the Los Angeles Times, says the Zack Snyder film is faithful to a fault and, ultimately, hollow — unless you happen to be a passionate fan of the source material.

I’ve read an awful lot of reviews of "Watchmen" but none better than Turan’s. Here’s an excerpt:

For one thing, Snyder has been unable to create a satisfying tone for the proceedings. While the graphic novel played everything as realistically as it could, the film feels artificially stylized and inappropriately cartoonish. That, in turn, undercuts the film’s key point that these superheroes have very human flaws and limitations. With only "Dawn of the Dead" and "300" in his feature background, Snyder does not have a lot of experience with emotional reality and, except for Haley’s bravura performance as the lunatic Rorschach, that hurts everyone.

Unlike "300," which was visually striking (albeit moronic dramatically), "Watchmen" plays it safe cinematically. Despite being prematurely canonized by the film’s publicity apparatus, Snyder stands revealed here as more of a beginner than a visionary in his uncertain approach to making an on-screen world come alive. His decision to up the novel’s violence quotient to at times grotesque levels doesn’t help.

Ultimately, however, it’s hard to fault anyone for this "Watchmen’s" disappointments. It’s not a wasted opportunity; it never should have been turned into a film in the first place. But when hundreds of millions of fan-boy dollars are at stake, that is not going to happen. Maybe in an alternative reality, but not in ours.

You can read Turan’s full review right here.



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3 Responses to Kenneth Turan on ‘Watchmen’: ‘It’s not a great film’

  1. Graciela Guardado says:

    I’ve just returned from the special screening at the ArcLight by the LA Times (thanks!)
    I read Watchmen as a trade paperback and in the months leading up to the movie’s release I’ve been watching the Motion Comics and re-examining the trade.
    I’m having mix feelings about the film and I’d agree that there is a great deal of hollowness involved. In fact, I think that if you do love the source material it becomes even more hollow. Part of what Watchmen the comic is, is the complex nature of humanity and our increasing role in destroying ourselves and our connections to each other. It speaks of the extreme justification of destruction and death in the name of peace, but only after the fact, knowing that nothing ends and the body count in the name of peace is only a band aid for our bigger problem. The soul of Watchmen is its humanity. It’s not about masks or superhuman powers or superheroes. That’s just window dressing for a much more interesting story that is a deconstruction of the superhero archetype and a mirror of a dark world during the Cold War.
    So what Watchmen the comic book is, is not what Watchmen the movie is. The movie IS the window dressing. Any attempt to capture the soul is only interrupted by loud punching, excessive violence, and dumbing all the material down for a general audience. Perhaps if better care was put into making all the pieces fit then things wouldn’t have to be spelled out as to call attention to themselves. A perfect example in the movie of making the source work without having to dumb it down, is chapter 4, where Dr. Manhattan is on Mars. That is my favorite chapter of the GN and it translated so beautifully to the screen because it stuck to what makes the chapter truly memorable and special. Why couldn’t the rest of the film play it like this? Are they too afraid that a general audience would find a “superhero” movie boring if it focused on baring the soul than baring the blood? I really wish Hollywood would trust us a little more because what kept so many people loving Watchmen after all these years and making it as successful as it is, wasn’t the blood or the superhero aspects. So who is to say that what kept it commercially viable couldn’t keep it profitable for film? I guess Hollywood made that decision for us. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it!!!!
    I know I’ve focused mostly on what the film didn’t have but I admit that the Dr. Manhattan scene along with the characterization of Rorschach and Laurie translated well to film. Everything else, which is the bulk, makes me think that perhaps the crew didn’t understand Watchmen to begin with and so it was adapted poorly. So with that, it’s probably best to watch the film knowing that it’s an overly stylized version of the “stuff that happens”. But it’s not Watchmen.

  2. Kate Bush says:

    The movie was almost painful to watch at times- it went from old school, to spoof to sci-fi with little character development or explanation. It went no where, did nothing and left me wondering whether I missed something. But I don't think I did. I don't think you need to be a fan of the original text or source material to enjoy an on-sceen adaptation; that is a cop out for the fact the movie was lacking. I've heard it compared to sin city – no way. Are we quite sure Baz Lurhman didn't have a hand in this? It felt as tacky as moulin rouge.

  3. Prizemaker says:

    Trust me, the negative reviews are WRONG!. This is a huge film which can only be fairly judged upon numerous viewings. The second time I saw it I enjoyed even more than the first time. It is a great film. How Snyder managed to keep all the flashbacks, back stories etc and still maintain an overall cohesive narrative is a stunning achievement. Mark my words this film will do better on DVD, and as time goes on, the critics will do an about face on this movie like they did years later on Blade Runner for instance. When that time comes youll be hearing the words "classic" thrown around in online and in printed reviews. This is a film which is too big to totally take in, the first time around, and which is intended for multiple viewings. I cant wait to see the directors cut. I didnt think Hollywood had the balls to make films like this anymore.

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