October 3, 2009

Up Next: The Phantom Menace On Broadway

Aesop wrote:
A Wolf found great difficulty in getting at the sheep owing to the vigilance of the shepherd and his dogs. But one day it found the skin of a sheep that had been flayed and thrown aside, so it put it on over its own pelt and strolled down among the sheep. The Lamb that belonged to the sheep, whose skin the Wolf was wearing, began to follow the Wolf in the Sheep's clothing; so, leading the Lamb a little apart, he soon made a meal off her, and for some time he succeeded in deceiving the sheep, and enjoying hearty meals.
Appearances are deceptive.
I was reminded of that story during a recent viewing of Watchmen. Appearances are indeed deceptive.

On the surface, Watchmen was everything fanboys and comic geeks could have hoped for. After the triple disasters of previous Alan Moore related projects (V for Vendetta, From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), it was widely feared the movie version of Watchmen would bastardize the story. As it turns out however, Zack Snyder goes out of his way to faithfully reproduce the source material. Visually, they are virtually identical. Certainly, parts of the story had to be trimmed, even at three hours, but he still managed to keep nearly all the major story lines, maintain the same narration and pacing, and even exactly match many of the comic's scene compositions.

Yet, for all that, I was strangely disturbed as I watched. Something just felt wrong.

You remember watching The Phantom Menace for the first time? In pretty much every quantifiable way, it was a Star Wars movie. The opening music. The crawl. The swipes. The sound effects and John Williams score. Yet the further in you got, the more your heart sank.

It was a Star Wars movie, yes, but slowly there was the horrible realization that this movie just was not very good. In fact, the prequels are not really movies at all, but elaborate video games. What else to call them? The pod racing or R2-D2 and C-3PO on the assembly line are not really cinema. George Lucas grafted together some of his old characters and some potential new toy lines onto a two hour X-Box session.

And it is the same feeling I get watching the string of musical biopics that have appeared recently. Movies like Ray and Walk The Line feature fantastic performances and classic music, but they fail as movies. Rather than tell a great story, they get stuck trying to cram in all the important events in a person's life. Real life does not in general make a great movie. Contrast them with I'm Not There, a biography that uses a person's life as a starting point and crafts an interesting, groundbreaking movie.

Watchmen, for all its visual glory, has made the same mistake. The first hour of the movie lacks any real tension, because they are too busy using the comic book as a story board. Rather than try to make a trailblazing movie to match the original's legacy, the filmmakers just regurgitated the graphic novel. That story is meant to be read, it does not work as well as a movie without some serious refashioning.

It does not help that the performances are almost universally atrocious. But even if the casting director had done a better job, it would not have prevented Watchmen from being unmasked as a wolf in sheep's clothing.

1 comment:

kimberly kyan said...

you forgot the music.