Whether you love him or hate him, one thing is for sure: Zach Snyder sure knows how to sell a movie. Take SUCKER PUNCH as an example, one of the many films the 300 director is currently working on. In this Friday’s issue of Entertainment Weekly, fans got to see the first photo of the film’s femme fatales – say THAT ten times fast – in a picture that features those old action movie tropes: women, guns, and leather.
For those unfamiliar with the plot of SUCKER PUNCH – and lets be honest, the first thing you thought of when seeing that picture was, “I wonder what the plot is…” – here is a quick rundown: Emily Browning (A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS) plays Baby Doll, a typical 1950’s girl who is atypically locked in a mental institution by her evil stepfather. She passes her days imagining an escape to an alternate world until one day she finds that a lobotomy looms in her near future. Now, it seems escape needs to be much more than a day dream.
The film also stars Jamie Chung (DRAGONBALL: EVOLUTION), Vanessa Hudgens (HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL), Carla Gugino (SIN CITY), Jon Hamm (MAD MEN), and Jena Malone (DONNIE DARKO). SUCKER PUNCH is set to be released March 25th, 2011. Discussions are currently underway over whether it will also be converted to a 3D format.
Based on the first three books in the GUARDIANS OF GA’HOOLE series by Kathryn Lasky, LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS follows Soren, a young barn owl who finds himself taken to the orphanage of St. Aggie’s. During his stay, Soren comes to learn the awful truth of his new home – young owls are being brainwashed and trained for recruitment into a new army. Hoping to avoid this fate, Soren and his friends escape and seek the council of the wise owls on the island of Ga’Hoole, hoping to gain insight and lend their strength against the might of the army at their heels.
The all-star cast includes Helen Mirren, Hugo Weaving, Jeffery Rush, Sam Neill, Emily de Ravin, and Jim Sturgess (21, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE) as the voice of Soren. Directed by Zack Snyder.
Release date: September 24th, 2010
SuperHeroHype have been talking to Zack Snyder (300, WATCHMEN) and it seems that he’ll be directing the prequel to 300, entitled XERXES, in the near future. Apparently Frank Miller (SIN CITY, THE SPIRIT) is working on writing the film and once Snyder releases his upcoming LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS and finishes next years SUCKER PUNCH he says, “There’s a really good chance that will be the thing we do [next]”.
Additionally, the original 300 may be re-released in 3D following the decision to convert SUCKER PUNCH to said format. Warner Bros. converted a ten minute portion of 300 into 3D to show him its potential for SUCKER PUNCH and it was enough to make him, and the studio, seriously consider a 3D re-release of 300. The original 300 was visually stunning and a lot of fun so a prequel created by the main two minds behind the original should be something to look forward to. Though the decision to convert 300 into 3D smells a little more like a re-hash for cash than anything else.
Snyder’s LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS is out on the 24th of September later this year and SUCKER PUNCH the 25th of March, 2011. What do you think, does the prospect of a 300 prequel sound exciting and is 300 worth a re-release in 3D?
Mike Fleming at Dealine New York is reporting that David Fincher is reviving HEAVY METAL with the help of James Cameron (AVATAR) and Zack Snyder (WATCHMEN). Based on the famous adult comic book, which previously inspired two films (one in 1981 and a sequel in 2000), HEAVY METAL would be a 3d animated anthology, containing approximately nine segments, with different writers and directors contributing different episodes. Cameron, Snyder, and Fincher would each direct one episode.
Fincher had set the project up at Paramount two years ago, but the studio dropped out. The involvement of Cameron and Snyder could reignite studio interest and hopefully get Fincher a greenlight to proceed. Other directors who have been considered include Gore Verbinski (PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN), Rob Zombie (HALLOWEEN), andLike its predecessors, this new HEAVY METAL would be rated R, in the spirit of the sexy, violent storylines of the magazine.
Who watches the WATCHMEN? Not nearly enough, if you ask Warner Bros or production partner Paramount. With just over $100 million in domestic grosses (a number that stopped being impressive ever since THE GOLDEN CHILD), the studio bean counters had to pour over the less than impressive foreign grosses and home video before they could begin to claim a profit. What this means is that hardcore fans – those who could recite the story chapter and verse – all went once or twice, but the marketing (and word of mouth) failed to convince the uninitiated to turn out. The March theatrical release was greeted by wildly mixed reviews, with even the book’s loyal fanbase split on the film’s virtues; director Zack Snyder used Dave Gibbons artwork as ultra-detailed storyboards that were followed with an unfailing devotion, and even though writer Alan Moore famously had nothing to do with this – or any other – film adaptation of his work, his labyrinthine plot machinations were left 90% intact (more on that infamous 10% later.) Some fans complained that the exercise felt like Snyder was simply holding out a copy of the comic in front of the audience, simply turning pages and transposing images by rote, while others less familiar with the story were shocked by some of the violent, sexually explicit imagery and left in the dark by the cross-decade, multiple generations-spanning storyline.
When WATCHMEN worked, it often did so thrillingly; after we’re gracefully introduced to the alternate reality of the 20th Century during the opening credits (memorably set to Bob Dylan’s “The Times they are a-Changin’”) with an original-to-the-film montage, we get to know the core group of heroes that still remain in 1985, as they react to the murder of one of their own, The Comedian. Jeffrey Dean Morgan makes a note-perfect Comedian (he’s dead but we get to know him through flashbacks), and is only outdone by the truly breathtaking work of former child star Jackie Earle Haley (go Cutters!) as Rorschach.
In the comic, both characters push the concept of an anti-hero right to the shatter point; neither have qualms about killing, though The Comedian kills with cold calculation (working at one point as a hitman for the government) while Rorschach’s sense of right and wrong is purely black and white, and typically views punishment along ‘an eye for an eye’ lines. The fact that WATCHMEN was able to bring these memorable characters to the screen without softening their hardest edges is remarkable.
Billy Crudup is also quite good as Dr. Manhattan, the only “Watchman” with actual superpowers; Crudup has a few brief scenes in human form before getting caught in a particle chamber that recombines his atoms into a bright blue image of perfect masculinity. Armed with only his voice and movements generated by a motion capture suit worn during production, Crudup sells the difficult concept and brings empathy to a supernatural being who no longer feels connected to the human race.
Not all actors fared as well, however. Matthew Goode never quite summons the physicality and movie star magnetism of Ozymandias/Adrian Veidt. Goode’s fey, distracted delivery is doubtlessly meant to suggest the world weariness of a man who is stronger and smarter than anyone else on the planet, but it’s transparent as an actor’s choice. Goode (and Snyder) also have trouble bringing the requisite charisma to Veidt, something that Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise (both of whom were approached before budget considerations came into play) would have been able to do in their sleep.
Other pivotal Watchmen, like Patrick Wilson’s Nite Owl and Malin Akerman’s Silk Spectre (each, to make it more confusing, representing the second permutation of the character) are less interesting, partly because they’re painted with narrower brush strokes, but also because Snyder’s mind appears to be geared solely to the visual. There are a few excellent supporting performances, including Matt Frewer’s Moloch, a golden age criminal mastermind now living out his cancer-ridden final days in a tenement, and a terrific performance from always underused Carla Gugino (who fights her character’s old age prosthetics valiantly) as the aging, alcoholic Silk Spectre (mother of the current incarnation of the hero), who sadly get lost in the shuffle.
This wouldn’t have been as tragic if Snyder didn’t feel compelled to emphasize the presence of 4th-term President Nixon (featuring some poor actor under enough prosthetics to stop a bullet) in numerous scenes – including several that take place in a replica of the DR. STRANGELOVE war room, seemingly for no better reason than for Snyder to remind all of us that he’s seen it – when he should have remained in the background.
Ironically, the biggest change to the source material works extremely well: omitting the comic’s giant squid (a visual that would likely have been laughable on the screen) as the villain’s agent of destruction and replacing it with something more practical that also manages to work on an entirely different level – and so well that I’m surprised that Moore didn’t think of it first.
It may sound like we liked WATCHMEN less than we did; on the whole we really enjoyed it, but also felt as if there were quite a few missed opportunities – opportunities that another filmmaker like Paul Greengrass (whose own version was deep into pre-production several years ago before Warner Bros pulled the plug) may have been better equipped to explore.
With a 162-minute theatrical length, it was common knowledge that Snyder had filmed numerous scenes that were cut for time and pacing purposes, including the beloved “Tales of the Black Freighter,” a comic within the original Watchmen that we see being read by a teenager at a newsstand throughout the story, and a bit of between-chapter filler called “Under the Hood,” featuring excerpts from the autobiography of Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl. Many fans seemed to be crushed by their deletion, but much like Peter Jackson’s decision to cut Tom Bombadil, a peripheral character from the film version of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, these missing bits have become the perfect embodiment of geek shorthand – a way of distancing oneself from mere laymen than didn’t spend their high school years learning to transcribe in perfect Elvish. In all honestly, neither “Black Freighter” nor “Under the Hood” are essential to the Watchmen story, and Snyder’s decision to film both but only make them available on separate video releases made good sense. People awaiting their inclusion will have to bide their time until Warner’s massive 5-disc set due out for Christmas – when the sequences will be (ill-advisedly, we think) edited back into the feature.
Over 20 minutes have been restored for Warner’s current director’s cut of WATCHMEN, bringing the running time up to 186min. Much of this amounts to minor scene extensions:
We now see The Comedian get struck by a can and yelled at during the 1970s street riot sequence; there are a few extra beats in The Comedian’s apartment when Rorschach takes out the cops left to guard it (plus an extra moment during the conversation with the current and former Nite Owls where this is referred to.)
We get another glimpse of an unmasked Rorschach walking by the Comedian’s funeral (a recurring image from the comics that was sorely missed in the theatrical cut.)
We get more mayhem during the Vietnam section with Comedian shooting at the Vietcong from a helicopter and an extra glimpse of the guy that Comedian cooks with the flame thrower revealing that his legs had been blown off.
We get additional cleaver hits when Rorschach kills the child murderer in flashback, along with a funny moment when he witnesses an attempted rape in an alley and is cheered at the thought of intervening.
We’re glad to have all the extensions back, as they do add some needed character beats, but have mixed feelings on the two major restored sequences. The first occurs just after Dr. Manhattan leaves the protective custody of the feds and goes to Mars, when the agents are questioning Silk Spectre about the disappearance. Like the war room, this set is a near duplicate of a room in The Man Who Fell to Earth where David Bowie’s alien is kept under surveillance by government agents. The information presented is redundant, and we certainly didn’t need another action beat just to see how Silk Spectre escapes deferral custody. We sense that its inclusion is solely to show the viewer that Snyder and co have seen the Nicolas Roeg film.
The second major sequence is another important moment from the graphic novel that fans were rightly apoplectic to see excised from the theatrical cut. In that version, we only get to meet Hollis Mason (the first Nite Owl) through his chat with Dan, while those that read the Alan Moore original knew the dark fate that awaited the kindly old man. The director’s cut restores the sequence when the Knothead gang, enraged at the re-emergence of the Watchmen, barge into Hollis’ apartment and beat him to death. As originally drawn and written, the scene was savage and cruel but necessary to the story, and we couldn’t imagine what Snyder was thinking by cutting that while dreaming up new scenes with the melting candle wax figure of Richard Nixon. Now that we’ve finally seen it, we’re even more surprised that it was deleted, as it’s one of Snyder’s best moments as a filmmaker; beautifully intercutting Mason defending himself with sepia-drenched images of fighting villains from the golden era (including gas mask-wearing Nazis, bubble-helmeted spacemen with ray guns, and gangsters out of a Dick Tracy strip.)
Fans of the film might want to wait for the deluxe edition coming out at year’s end, but based on what we’ve seen of the “Tales of the Black Freighter,” we feel that the 186min cut will be our preferred length. Warner’s Blu-Ray is predictably reference quality; even with all the filters and digital chicanery it is noticeably cleaner and sharper than its standard def cousin, and the picture-in-picture track hosted by Snyder makes up for the lack of a commentary track (though the upcoming version will have that as well).
According to Entertainment Weekly’s Hollywood Insider, actress Emily Browning (most recently sceen in the ghost story THE UNINVITED) will takeover the role SUCKER PUNCH, which was vacated by Amanda Seyfried, who had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts with her HBO series BIG LOVE:
Seyfried had received the offer and was very interested in the starring role as an insane asylum inmate who loses herself in a fantasy world where she dreams about escaping with her fellow inmates. But she had to decline due to scheduling conflicts with the fourth season of Big Love. (HBO wouldn’t release Seyfried from her shooting schedule.) Shooting on Sucker Punchis set for the fall. Evan Rachel Wood, Vanessa Hudgens, Abbie Cornish, and Emma Stone are all still in talks to costar.
The film is being directed by Zach Snyder, who was recently named Showest Director of the Year. Since making the transition from music videos to feature films with 2004’s DAWN OF THE DEAD, Snyder has directed two graphic-novel adaptations, 300 and WATCHMEN, and he seems content to continue working in the realm of cinefantastique.
For now, Snyder is working on the director’s cut of [WATCHMEN], due out in July, which he says will be a bit more inside for fans of the comic and clearer to nonfans. His next projects remain genre-based — the fantasy adventure “Sucker Punch,” an animated film called “The Guardians of Ga’Hoole” and Ray Bradbury‘s “The Illustrated Man”— but he says he’d do another comicbook adaptation if the right one came along.
“There are millions of genius pieces of work out there, but nothing’s keeping me up at night,” he says. “Nothing since ‘Watchmen.'”
Ponderous and dull, this filmic adaptation of the famous graphic novel proves that great source material, a healthy budget, and technical competence are not enough to make a good movie. Some kind of cinematic vision is necessary; unfortunately, what passes for vision in the WATCHMEN film is a superficial sheen of special effects, production design, and photography put in the service of bone-crunching, bloody violence that totally fails to engage the audience in the plot or characters on an intellectual or even an emotional level. Consequently, instead of a sophisticated deconstruction of superhero mythology, we end up with a movie about things that go splat.
The screenplay by David Hayter and Alex Tse admirably retains big chunks of Alan Moore’s story, but that is less a blessing than a curse, and Moore is no doubt happy that his name appears nowhere on the credits (the film is officially based on the graphic novel “co-created by Dave Gibbons,” who provided the book’s art work). Moore’s tale was deliberately fragmented in a way that does not translate well to the screen. The plot thread of solving the murder of the Comedian served mostly as a excuse to tie together a series of flashbacks and character scenes that provided a sort of meditation on the superhero genre. In essence, Watchmen asked: What would happen if, instead of taking the genre conventions for granted, you took them seriously?
Unfortunately for the WATCHMEN movie, THE DARK KNIGHT has already flown through this territory and claimed it thoroughly. There is little left to do in terms of grounding the story in reality or adopting an adult tone toward the material; instead WATCHMEN comes across like a hyped-up teen’s idea of adult entertainment – which is to say, it’s loaded with sex and violence, sometimes together, but it’s movie sex and violence, without any kind of emotional resonance. There is some attempt to tie the plot together more tightly (the ticking clock toward nuclear confrontation between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. is pushed into the foreground early and often), but the script still meanders down tangential roads for so long that the murder-mystery becomes almost forgotten.
Equally unfortunately, director Zach Snyder uses the material merely as an excuse to stage extended fight scenes featuring broken bones, slow-motion bullet hits, severed limbs, split skulls, and some bloody disintegrations just for spice. His interest in the drama is perfunctory at best, resulting in a ridiculously uneven pace: long, dull stretches of nothing interesting punctuated by sudden outbursts of action that no one cares about; the slam-bang-pow may jerk your eyelids open for a minute or two, but that’s not long enough to register why we should care which particular masked neurotic is winning/losing a fight with another masked neurotic.
This approach reaches its nadir near the end, when a series of nuclear blasts take out several major cities, and the film proves itself perfectly incapable of registering these events as a massive human tragedy; the explosions are merely another excuse for special effects spectacle of the most empty-headed variety.
Thematically, WATCHMEN is muddled. Set in an alternate reality where the U.S. won the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon is still president in 1985, it seems to be a satire on conservative nationalism, but the satire is mostly de-fanged as the film merely pokes fun at easy targets from the past. (The graphic novel, published as a series in 1986-87, was essentially contemporary.) One might charitably attempt to interpret the film’s presentation of 1985 as a mirror of our own contemporary world in general and the recently ended Bush presidency in particular, but the film does little to support this, apparently afraid of offending real-life conservative gasbags whose philosophy is – or at least was – mouthed by the characters.
In the graphic novel, some of the Watchmen expressed McCarthyesque and/or Nixonian sentiments, blaming America’s problems on homosexuals, liberals, promiscuity, drugs, and campus unrest. In the film, although the Comedian remains an irredeemably brutish thug, little of the ultra-patriotic paranoia remains, except for some disparaging remarks about liberals from Rorschach. Moore at least wanted his readers to question whether they really would want masked vigilantes patrolling the streets, unfettered by concerns for due process; Snyder, Hater, and Tse are more than happy to absolve the Watchmen for any trespasses, apparently working on the theory that, when things get really bad, you just have to turn the mad dogs loose.
This involves presenting a view of the world that is cynical, bordering on hopeless. Superheroes make sense only in a universe where conventional law and order have failed to turn back the tide of criminality. At least in THE DARK KNIGHT, Batman hopes to bring Gotham to a point where the official lawmen can resume control; in WATCHMEN, you get the feeling that the filmmakers embrace the concept of Hell on Earth because it justifies the existence of the characters.
The problem is that, from the vantage point of 2009, it is hard to take seriously the idea that human nature is so fundamentally self-destructive that – if not for the intervention of some costumed adventurers – the world would inevitably ignite in a nuclear confrontation between the US. and the U.S.S.R. And outside of the nuclear threat, there is little in the world of WATCHMEN that can be taken to justify the Travis Bickle-like attitude that society is nothing but a giant human cesspool.
Without a proper context, the Watchmen really don’t belong in this world – which could have been an interesting point to make if the film had dared to go there, but it doesn’t. Instead, it lumbers on, oblivious, indulging in the now de rigeur (and somewhat passe) post-9/11 get-tough attitude (e.g., if you want information from a reluctant witness, torture it out of them, because we all know that people tell the truth when they’re being tortured).
Revealingly, one of the few portions of the film that actually works occurs when Rorshach is framed for murder and sent to prison. Trapped in a world of cut-throat murderers eager to kill him (many of whom he sent to prison), Rorschach is at last in an environment that totally justifies his brutal methods, allowing the audience to identify with and root for him in a way they otherwise cannot.
The prison sequence also contains a nicely staged fight scene with Nite Owl and Silk Spectre battling rioting inmates. For once, Snyder resists the urge to focus on brutality, opting instead of a balletic approach that seeks to recreate the impressive feel of Bruce Lee battle with the guards in ENTER THE DRAGON.
The film also deserves some credit for faithfully translating Dave Gibbons artwork into three-dimensions: the realization of Dr. Manhattan is particularly impressive, and you have to admire the nerve it took to stick to the concept in the comic books, which often and unapologetically presented the character in the nude. (We have often heard complaints about the ratio of male-to-female nudity on screen; this is one film that seeks to set the balance straight.)
Other than that, WATCHMEN is a dreary, lifeless affair. It falls prey to the worst strain of fascism underlying superhero mythology: the idea of the public at large as a great unwashed mass of looters, rioters, and criminals who need to be kept in line by their superiors – by superheroes who resent that their efforts are not appreciated by the people they bully. These characters think of themselves as moral guardians and righteous crusaders, but some of them are clearly no better – in fact, may be much worse – than the criminals they hunt.
That some of these superheroes are bitter, violent thugs is presented with an admirably brutal honesty – but to no real point. Their less extreme colleagues, elevating esprit de corps over other considerations, will overlook their excesses; ultimately, their failings will be swept under the cape, as if raping a colleague and murdering a woman pregnant with your child is nothing but a minor indiscretion of youth, something to be vaguely regretted or more likely forgotten. In a way, it seems sadly appropriate that WATCHMEN would come out two days after Republican lawyer David Rifkin testified before the senate regarding the Bush administration’s conduct of the War on Terror:
“Yes, mistakes were made. Yes, some bad things happened. But compared with the historical baseline of past wars, the conduct of the United States in the past eight years…has been exemplary.”
Let’s hope this is cinema’s last gasp apology for a discredited political philosophy in which moral relativism masquerades as moral absolutism, in which the moral standards vary according to who is on our side, and in which loyalty to your tribe supersedes equality under the law. Do we really need films to tell us that certain people are better than the rest and that, therefore, they deserve preferential consideration of their actions?
Political undertones aside, WATCHMEN fails because it loses the battle in its effort to present superheroes in a unique, original way. Attempting to render its characters in human terms, it gives us superheroes who are not particularly super or heroic, neither believably human nor enjoyably larger than life. Consequently, WATCHMEN is neither entertaining escapism nor moving drama, neither a successful genre piece nor a clever revisionist take. It truly is the worst of all possible worlds.
WATCHMEN (2009). Directed by Zach Snyder. Screenplay by David Hayter and Alex Tse, based on the graphic novel byAlan Moore (uncredited) and Dave Gibbons. Cast: Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson, Carla Guigino, Matt Frewer, Stephen McHattie, Laura Mennel.
“Each illustration is a little story. If you watch them, in a few minutes, they tell you a tale. In three hours of looking you could see eighteen or twenty stories acted out right on my body, you could hear voices and think thoughts. It’s all here, just waiting for you to look.” – from The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury
Zack Snyder, hot off the success of 300 and currently prepping a big-screen version of WATCHMEN, has signed on to produce and direct a remake of THE ILLUSTRATED MAN. Alex Tse, who scripted WATCHMEN for Snyder, will adapt the screenplay, based on Ray Bradbury’s celebrated collection of short stories. The previous film version was made in 1969, with Rod Steiger in the title role.
Like Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man is an attempt to present an anthology of short stories as if they were a novel; in this case, the linking device is the title character. An unnamed narrator, while on a walking tour of Wisconsin, encounters the Illustrated Man, who is covered with tattoos that seem to come to life at night, telling stories that predict the future. The book contains eighteen tales (not counting the linking segments); the 1969 film adapted only three of these, spending more time on the interaction between the narrator and the Illustrated Man. Although interesting, the film lacked the sort of visual poetry necessary to capture the feeling of Bradbury’s writing; hopefully, the new version will have the magic spark that the original missed.
Zack Snyder’s film version of the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley may look like the greatest music video ever made; whether or not it is a decent feature film is another question altogether. Snyder makes wonderful use of computer-generated imagery, combined with beautiful live-action photography, to create a unique sepia-toned looked that presumably stands in for the images from the source material. But as a director, Snyder is so enamored of the imagery that he lets it drag the film to a deadly standstill, time after time. For all its calls to glory and brutal bloodshed, 300 never works up a head of steam that comes close to matching GLADIATOR or BRAVEHEART. For a film so desperate to prove its manly muscle, it ends up feeling flaccid and weak, unable to sustain itself, erupting in small spurts here and there until it finally just sputters to a halt. Continue reading “300 – Borderland Film Review”→