It was very wise of Warner Brothers to tie the debut of the Watchmen trailer into the release of The Dark Knight, melding the two together in the minds of audiences as straight faced peas in the pod. Anyone who enjoys The Dark Knight will certainly be looking for more of the same, and I’m sure Zack Snyder won’t be too angry at his film being positioned as such. These are both movies trying desperately to say, for better or worse, “It may look a little silly, but this is serious business!”
People who have read the Watchmen story, either during the big hubbub about in the 80s or long after from its reputation, know that it’s a startlingly excellent exploration of a medium that is usually reserved for absolute rubbish. They would know the skewed history the story takes place in, and the reasons behind some of the more fantastic elements. But audiences in cinemas to see The Dark Knight are in danger of just seeing a giant blue man and someone who looks like a rip off of the character they have just paid to watch.
So one of the reasons I think the trailer is quite successful is that it tries to give some context to the big blue, Dr. Manhattan. The filmmakers obviously realised that he was probably their toughest sell, and astutely set about structuring the trailer around him. We open with Jon being vaporised, and the science fiction surrounding him keeps getting dropped in, literally larger each time. Also his iridescent skin is quite a pretty effect.
As for the slow-fast motion, like Devin in his preview, I’m not surprised to see it and perhaps a little glad. There’s no way to totally keep the pace of the original or the style of (very scanty) action told there. This is Zack Snyder’s shtick from 300 at work, it was only to be expected he should want to do it a little bit here. I trust he won’t go hog wild with it, judging by some of the other clips. In the shot where Ozymandias hits an assassin with an ashtray, they’ve wisely kept the speed up.
In a film packed with a number of curious looking characters, they did a good job of sticking many of them in for the fans. General audiences are going to be a bit baffled when they watch this, hopefully curiously so, but there really isn’t much hint as to what the hell it’s all about. That approach isn’t wrong either. This film is not going to be released for another 8 months, it’s probably better to cut together a trailer that doesn’t give it all away quite yet. That said, the ad doesn’t baffle by cutting the whole thing into a hyperactive split second mess. You can apprehend every shot, you just can’t form it together into a narrative on your own, unlike the trailer for, say, Iron Man. Rorschach, one of the most memorable characters, barely gets a look in compared to Daniel or Jon, hopefully because they don’t want to blow it all too early.
That’s not to say there are no disappointments with this ad. None of the characters look very old, which is a bit of a shame. Part of the plot regards (or did regard) the fact that some of these characters are a bit pudgy and middle aged. Most of the cast looks like they are from The Hills, never mind over the hill. When the younger actors were cast, I assumed there would be some kind of make up aging being done and some Raging Bull style weight put on, but there doesn’t appear to be so or not so much as you’d notice.* Laurie and in particular Ozymandias look a little ridiculous, although Ozymandias’ get up doesn’t help. I still haven’t come around on that design, they’d have been better just putting him in a Savile Row suit and having some kind of costume in a display case in his office.
I’m still a suspect of the project in general, the advert hasn’t removed all my doubts. The running time of film seems like such a crippling factor, the length of the material seemed like it would better fit a 12 episode TV series, perhaps a co-production between HBO and the BBC, like Band of Brothers. It seems once you become a prohibitively expensive movie subject to a single studio, there are certain demands on you that can’t be ignored. And of course the material is best suited to the medium it was already in, one of the points of Alan Moore’s exercise in the first places, but the draw of trying to film it is understandable.
Indeed over the years, that draw has brought in a number of interesting directors to the project, all of whom have failed. Darren Aronofsky, Terry Gilliam and most recently Paul Greengrass have all got within a few steps of pulling it off, only to trip up right at the end and for the whole thing to come crashing down, particularly hard with Greengrass. So Snyder deserves some respect for managing what the others found so difficult. While I’d love to have seen what Aronofsky might have made out of it, Snyder still seems to have kept some of the feel, and it was no doubt his commercial sensibilities that allowed him to negotiate this project to the finish line, whilst doing it in such a way that probably won’t see him torn limb to limb at the next convention.
The trailer for Watchmen was first broken on the website of Empire (three stars) Magazine. You can see it everywhere tomorrow before prints of The Dark Knight.
*What’s happened with this stuff by the way? Sixty seven years ago when Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten put on make up to look 50 years older, the effect was amazing. Now all this time later, when Eddie Murphy does it, it looks terrible. The decline of Eddie Murphy aside, why is this effect so bad now?