Others may have summarized Watchmen more eloquently, but my friend and colleague David Medsker struck right at the essence of the year’s first would-be blockbuster with three simple words: “Floppy blue cock!”
This is not to say there’s anything wrong with cock in the movies — floppy, blue, or otherwise — but the genitalia proudly displayed by Doctor Manhattan, Watchmen‘s emotionless, radiation-powered superbeing, are the perfect visual distillation of the film, for three reasons: One, it’s hard not to get distracted looking at it; two, it frequently looks silly; and three — given Manhattan’s propensity for supersizing himself — it’s painfully, unbearably long.
Seriously. Seriously, you guys. If you plunk down the $21.50 it’ll cost you at Amazon to get Zack Snyder’s painstaking recreation of the classic graphic novel on Blu-ray, you will get plenty of bang for your buck, starting with the 186-minute director’s cut, and including sooo much more — a stack of featurettes tracing the book’s impact as well as its journey to the screen, a “maximum movie mode” that will allow you to watch the movie while Snyder raps at you, and the ability to link up the disc’s BD-Live features with Facebook so you can share your Watchmen experience with your friends. The package even includes a digital copy! The merits of the movie aside, this is exactly the kind of stuff that will make or break Blu-ray as a format; instead of pumping cheapo transfers of catalog titles onto store shelves, if the studios put more effort into stuffing their titles with added content with this much interactive coolness, I have to believe that even reissues of dreck like Indecent Proposal would enjoy healthy sales.
The movie itself, on the other hand? While Snyder’s excitement and love for the source material is never less than palpable, it quickly becomes apparent that he focused more energy on replicating the book than actually making a movie. All the details are there, from the sets to the costumes to the numerous shots lifted straight from the panels on the page, but that’s ultimately problematic — if you read the book, it forces you to make direct comparisons, and if you didn’t, it’s likely to make you wonder why in the hell a movie this visually stunning has to be so deeply, deeply silly. And long. Did I mention it’s really fucking long?
And it isn’t that long movies are necessarily bad; heck, I’ve cheerfully taken plenty of lumps for giving Meet Joe Black a positive review. But a movie that never finds its footing, and just stumbles on and on and on and on, is just a miserable experience. For every genuinely thrilling sequence — for instance, the Comedian’s brutal slaying in the film’s opening moments — it serves up moments of unintentional hilarity, like Jackie Earle Haley’s hysterical narration. Snyder just can’t stop himself, and by the time we reach the movie’s big love sequence, he’s lost his shit completely — in the space of 15 minutes, he tosses in a symbolic mushroom cloud, the unsexiest Malin Akerman nudity in the history of Malin Akerman, and what should logically be the final appearance of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” on a movie soundtrack, ever.
It’s undeniably beautiful. And visually speaking, Watchmen is absolutely the most faithful adaptation of a graphic novel we’re likely to see for many years, if not ever. But because Snyder was unable to distinguish between the parts of the book that would have made it a great movie and those that were best left on the page, it’s ultimately a curiously uninvolving film — one that’s such a chore to get through that taking it all in, with the bonus material on top, feels like being crushed to death by oatmeal. I’ve had this Blu-ray for at least a month, and I’m just now starting to clear out my lungs. Buy it for an exciting example of where home entertainment technology might lead us, but don’t expect to actually be entertained.