Continued from yesterday’s post, including the spoiler alert. The spoilers are getting more major here, as I will be discussing the end of the film.
The emotional climax of the movie, THE WATCHMEN, takes place on Mars. Laurie discovers who her daddy is, and breaks down into tears.
This prompts the closed-to-humanity Dr. Manhattan to realize that he is vested after all, that he does care.
Okay, show of hands: how many of you found yourselves holding back tears at that point? What, no one?
Okay, let me ask this: how many of you thought before this moment in the film that Laurie even cared about her dad? Ah, same hands.
The biggest glitch with this film, the thing that makes it an okay film while keeping it from being a DARK KNIGHT, is this:
The filmmakers failed to make us connect emotionally to the characters or story.
The problem (in my opinion, as if this whole blog were anything but merely my opinion) isn’t in lack of character depth or complexity; and it isn’t in performance.
Sure, part of it is in Snyder’s wrongly-hyped action against his glossed-over character.
And part of it is in condensing the whole thing down to a single serving. (This should have been an HBO mini-series, twelve episodes long.)
But the big problem is in structure.
Three mistakes are made by Snyder and company dealing with structure, and those errors undercut the heart of the film.
(Hey, I’m going deep into spoiler territory here, so read on at your own risk.)
PAYOFFS WITHOUT SETUPS (Janet - the filmmakers should read your blog!)
Laurie being case-in-point. In order to feel the importance of the revelation that Blake is her father, we must know emotionally what her relationship to him is.
We know it intellectually – Blake is a major [insert foul word here], so we can assume that she wouldn’t want him as a daddy.
But to be grounded, we need a scene, a set-up. We need to see (preferably in the first act) Laurie and Blake together AFTER Laurie finds out what he did to her mom. If we know what their relationship was, then we would know the cost of the revelation.
Another example: I am a New Yorker. The city is destroyed in Watchmen. It didn’t bother me. Why?
Because I wasn’t set up to care. Only one person that I even met (the psychiatrist) died, and I didn’t know him well enough to be vested.
The book took a lot of time building relationships with tertiary characters in NYC, so when the newsstand owner and the kid that never pays for comic books hug right before the big bang – I’m actually getting emotional just thinking about it now.
[Side thought: How do you do that in a movie with so much else going on? Make it Hollis. Give him two more scenes with Dan throughout, and show the boom from his point of view. Just a suggestion – one of a hundred ways to make this work.]
USING THE WRONG STRUCTURE FOR A MOVIE
The film is faithful to the book.
The book is twelve stories, with twelve separate sets of balances, unbalances, quests, crisis and new balances.
The film is one story, with a balance, unbalance, quest, unbalance, balance, balance, unbalance, quest, crisis, quest, unbalance, unbalance, balance, quest, crisis, unbalance….
The film doesn’t move to a satisfying finish because it keeps stopping momentum to go back and re-give different act one beats far into act two and even act three.
FORGETTING THAT THIS IS FILM NOT LITERATURE
The strength of lit: words which build details to create ideas.
The strength of film: images which build action to create story.
Moore/Gibbons were all about detail, creating a novel masterpiece of ideas.
Snyder didn’t have time to dwell on details, nor should he.
Yet he didn’t change the structure of his story to play to his media’s strength.
I’ve mentioned the emotional climax of the film; let’s talk about the action (or plot) climax as one example of this problem.
The final showdown is against Ozmandias in his frozen lair – Nite Owl and Rorschach racing to prevent the end of the world as we know it.
Oh, I should mention that this takes place (as Ozzy so smugly points out) AFTER the end of the world as we know it.
The physical climax is a pointless exercise, as all the physical world answers are in – the villain has already won.
The climax doesn’t work for this kind of film – it deflates, rather than inflates the impact of the action.
This ending does work for a literature piece, where the ideas are still fighting against one another through to the real climax – Dr. Manhattan versus Rorschach in the frigid void that can not sustain life.
But, alas, film is not literature.
And rather than making a great film, what got made was a visual aid for a book already written in visuals.
Just my thoughts,
PS I was discussing with a friend whether we would have noticed these flaws in the script stage; his thought was that a multitude of such errors would have been covered by the hand of a director whose heart was on the characters, rather than just the action. I agree.