Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Watchmen: Director's Cut

Zack Snyder's long trumpeted Watchmen: Director's Cut arrives. Little indication if this is Snyder's preferred edit, or a just a cash-in roll out to keep the property fresh. It doesn't help there's another longer edit on the horizon. That said, away from inflated, possessive, expectation, Snyder's film fares a little better.

Director's Cuts always threaten a transformative quality. An incomplete thesis made whole by the addition of discarded mutant material. Great examples include the identity crisis dreamscape of Blade Runner, and the maternal angst added to Aliens. Both a digression too far for cinema screening. Unfortunately, the term is massively devalued now, bandied about for every other teen-bait head wringer desperate to court extra sell-through sales with a ratings hike. Knowing that Watchmen's alien invasion ending wasn't even filmed does take the shine off proceedings - despite early reports indicating that Cloverfield monster man Neville Page was on the case. In that sense the film will always be 'imperfect'.

The earliest additions to Watchmen are witless violence inflections that stall flow, and further paint these street avengers as X-types. Nuance begins to creep in though. Rorschach's fevered narration is finally allowed to digress bigoted, a crucial character trait that coasted on the big screen. Laurie's father recollections prickle earlier, and Nite Owl II loses it with a (relative) innocent. Best of all is Hollis Mason's bow-out, a straining Queensbury box against otaku thugs intercut with brief recollections of the enemies he vanquished in his heyday. Unfortunately, Snyder can't help cuing up Mascagni's Intermezzo from Cavalleria rusticana, famous for scoring Scorsese's Raging Bull.

I'm still not sure if these music choices are designed to stress archetypes, or a desire to position Watchmen: The Movie as a work built out of the scraps of a Hollywood auteurism that likely wouldn't have existed in this timeline. No Vietnam loss, no introspective 70s. Either way, it's still rather flawed in execution. Recognisable music attributed to an incongruous image creates a hurdle. Are we supposed to be patting ourselves on the back for recognising the reference? Or chuckling at the co-opt? Regardless, isn't that breaking scene?

Most disappointing of all is the lack of an origin for Ozymandias. On second view, Watchmen's fragmented narrative displays a talent for immersive digression. Veidt's journey into intellectual hubris would have made for a thrilling counterpoint to Osterman's brushes with infinity. In both versions of the film Veidt is a rootless twist enabler, haunting the fringes. Maybe the Black Freighter bleed-in will bolster this angle? The tale informing Viedt's predicament?

Watchmen becomes easier to admire on subsequent rolls. There's less inclination to call foul on the many deletions and alterations. In particular, the exaggerated hyper-violence becomes recognisable as a counter-point to contemporary super-fiction films. It's a shade rougher, mirroring the position the original comic took. Snyder's film is a faithful, graceless adaptation of material designed to be anti-translation. It hasn't been beaten and tweaked to resemble a knives n' knickers blockbuster. Despite many vulgar choices, Snyder's Watchmen is still a rambling digression on thrill-seeking thugs, and the people who watch them.

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