Zack Snyder whined to the Huffington Post about how he made his version of Watchmen “to save it from the Terry Gilliams of this world.” Now I’m stuck with the awful image of Zack Snyding down the Zackpole to the Zack-cave, donning a grittily textured body suit contoured to his every abdominal muscle, then swooping out to punch people much more interesting than himself. (But they’ll be fine, because a single cinematic Zack-punch can take up to five minutes to arrive.)
Snyder had good reason to turn his own surname into an agent noun. Joel Silver had recently opined how much better Terry Gilliam’s ending for Watchmen would have been, which was unprofessional. But not incorrect. Not being as original as a Python isn’t an insult, it’s the normal state of being for about seven billion minus six (minus one) people. It’s still put Zack-Man in an awkward position: reprimand Joel? Stay above it all? Or swoop down to shit on the work of someone who wasn’t even part of the problem? Zack unbuckled his pants.
In Gilliam’s ending the hyperintelligent Ozymandias convinces Doctor Manhattan that his own omnipotence is the pressure pushing Earth to destruction. Which is the core premise of the original comic. Manhattan erases himself from existence to save the world, a changing which undoes undoes every superhero, returning them to the printed page, and our “heroes” facing nuclear annihilation are suddenly cosplayers unaware of what they’ve lost and gained. It’s an innovative ending for a movie about the role of superheroes in society, it matches Manhattan’s motivations perfectly — he removed himself from circulation in the comic too, but now he’s gone in time instead of space — and most importantly, it was interesting.
Snyder said “it’s completely insane“. He explained how no-one should ever change anything, ever. Because god knows no-one would want to be surprised by the ending of Watchmen. Watchmen, world-famous for its absolutely predictable plot, rigid adherence to all tropes and conventions, and its absolutely unsurprising ending! And then he changed his ending too. But where Gilliam re-interpreted it to add another layer (because that’s what making a movie about a comic about comics does), Snyder just broke it.
Snydamandias framed Manhattan for a massive terror attack on the planet, because a massive simultaneous nuclear-level strike on every nation on Earth is exactly how a genius would pull the world back from the brink of nuclear war. It’s not like the US were infamous for plausible deniability and “rogue” forces during the Cold War. Even assuming the Russians didn’t instantly launch their entire arsenal — which they were seconds away from doing even without a genocidal attack by the world’s most famous American — he’s created a world where everyone knows intrinsic field experiments can give you absolute power. And is desperate to defend themselves from the intrinsically empowered. from them.
Instead of uniting the globe against a deliberately unknowable interdimensional alien menace (Ozymandias understood that only a shared enemy could unify the combative human race), Snydamandias has pushed the Cold War to absolute zero, an end to any scientific endeavor except the development of divine weapons much more destructive than the merely nuclear. Sure, no-one else has survived the intrinsic field accident which created Manhattan, but now that he’s (apparently) holding the world under his giant blue thumb, militaries around the world will be shoveling people into those intrinsically disintegrating chambers like lumps of coal.
Snydamandias’s only “success” was ridding the world of Manhattan, the only good god. So when those militaries succeed we’ll have an omnipotent “volunteer” meta-murdered by militaries instead of a lovestruck scientist spurred only by curiosity. The world is even more doomed than it was before, because at least the cockroaches might have survived nuclear war, but the entire planet will be undone by a traumatized god-soldier.
But it still ends in a big explosion, so that’s close enough to the source material, right? Helpfully, Snyder adds “Well, maybe it’s supposed to look like a video game.” Video games, comics, movies, what’s the difference? They all make money, right?
This wasn’t his only change. Remember when he thought 300 had too many men, so he added a woman specifically to submit to sexual assault by her most hated enemy? Or Man of Steel, where he had Superman purposefully kill his enemy, and accidentally kill thousands of innocents through sheer carelessness? Snyder respects important characters in the same way pigeons respect statues. The same way he respected Terry Gilliam, a writer he could only dream of calling a peer.
He has talent. He’s an amazing visual transducer between the printed page and the silver screen. But maybe he should let other people take provide the words. Including his own.
Enjoy more Snydeness with Screw Man of Steel, Here’s The Real Superman.
For me, the key change Snyder made in the Watchmen film, the one that best reveals his immaturity and essential inability to deal with Alan Moore, is the scene where Nite-Owl and Silk Spectre murder the muggers in the alley.
In the original comic, Rorschach is the only superhero who kills anybody, and he does it gruesomely. When no one has superpowers, humans killing humans is just plain murder, and Rorschach is an insane murderer. Nite-Owl broke up their partnership because Nite-Owl is basically a harmless, doughy nerd with a good heart and couldn’s stomach Rorschach’s unforgivable brutality.
In Snyder’s film, though, Nite-Owl and Silk Spectre both slaughter a bunch of petty thugs with glee, complete with Snyder Slow-Mo and technicolor blood. Then they get so worked up doing it that they have sex. This essentially makes both characters even crazier than Rorschach, who at least doesn’t get off sexually when he murders people, and, thus, negates the entire point of Rorschach as a character. Portraying such wanton killing as cool and sexy is a trademark of Snyder’s, but, in Watchmen, it asks the audience to be complicit with Rorschach’s lunacy and to ignore the value of common human life, which contradicts the entire spirit of the comic.
@leewsabo agreed re:alley fight. I was absolutely horrified when that seen came up in theaters and the friends who went with me just couldn’t understand why even when I tried to explain it because they hadn’t read the comic. It wasn’t the GORINESS, it was the fact that that simple change completely altered the atmosphere and dynamic between Rorschach and the other heroes, and the heroes and the public, and people who hadn’t read the comic didn’t realize that anything was horribly amiss.
Much as I love the Gill, his ending honestly didn’t sound a whole lot better. That said, your takedown of Snyder’s was typically brillaint, and more than just given the sheer audacity of his using a phrase like “the Terry Gilliam’s of the world”.
When he talked about the criticism of a movie looking like a video game, I think he was referring to SuckerPunch, not Watchmen. It’s the only one I’ve heard criticised like that. I don’t really understand the problem you have with the ending of Watchmen, though. It’s more appropriately cinematic than the graphic novel version, and it accomplishes the exact same tasks of scaring the shit out of everybody and banishing Dr. Manhattan.
I do agree that he should have kept his mouth shut about Gilliam. That was unprofessional and completely disrespectful. I will say that Gilliam’s ending would have pissed me off because I can’t stand time travel paradoxes in movies, and alternate timelines can suck me off until my balls turn blue.
I just wish Snyder would stop with the goddam slo-mo bullshit. Once was enough.
I wouldn’t have been happy if Doc wiped himself from existence (pretty much Straczynski’s idea in the prequel, btw). It would alter what the whole story’s about in a huge way.
That change would have completely negated the point of the original ending. Ozymandias wasn’t saving the world from superheroes or supervillains, he was saving it from humanity – thus making him the only hero or villain to ever actually *do* anything for the world.