13 March 2009

There’s Something About Zack Snyder

Yes, this is a thoughtful post on Hollywood’s current Great Divider, the visionary/overrated hack known to the world as Zack Snyder.

And I’m afraid that I err towards the former – the man simply hasn’t made a movie that I don’t like. Let’s start at the start.

The Dawn of the Dead remake. Now, I know what the purists are thinking: the '…of the Dead’ franchise is hallowed ground for horror fans. Stepping there is simply a bad idea, by any stretch of the imagination. But Snyder – a music video rookie at this point – in what can be considered either a move of sheer courage or sheer arrogance, takes on the project.

And what is produced is still yet to be surpassed in terms of horror remakes. Taking the core concepts of the film and streamlining the crap out of it, making a lean, mean action horror that actually both scares and exhilarates. Yes, a lot of the subtext is lost; yes, it does swing more towards the action than the horror, but it is a stylish, well played-out piece of entertainment with plenty to like about it. The choice to make the zombies ‘fast’, as well as the expanded cast and the shortened time-frame fit perfectly with Snyder’s kinetic style, and the special effects, whilst indeed far less comic-book than the original, grounded the film and franchise in a visceral, frightening reality.

It took 3 years for Snyder to come back to the big screen, but boy, did he dive into the deep-end, controversy-wise. 300 has been lauded from both assaulted critically from both angles –equally claimed to be a blood-drenched piece of chest-thumping entertainment, or a juvenile, racist wish-fulfilment fantasy.

Which ever way you look at it, you simply cannot put down the technical achievement of the piece – it exactly evoked the graphic novel, almost down to the precise blood spurt. The live action comic truly gained its legs with 300 – though whether or not this is a good thing is endlessly debatable. But then again, it must’ve had a lasting effect – shout ‘This is Spartaaaaaaa!’ in an English-speaking country, and chance are that people will know what you’re talking about.

This brings us to his most recent – and arguable, his finest – achievement: bringing Watchmen to the silver screen. Proclaimed unfilmable by both its creator Alan Moore and its legions of die-hard fans – due to a rather odd assertion that it does things that cinema cannot, but I’ll get to that later – and yet somehow still managing to become one of the most anticipated films of the decade.

I’ll get it out there – the Watchmen film is a rousing success. Not just good, not just great, but early contender for my film of the year. Visceral, exciting, entertaining and engaging, with a tweaked story that makes it relevant without updating the 80’s setting of the graphic novel, there is honestly very little wrong with it bar it being a weight 160 minutes long.

Yes, it looses a lot of the graphic novel’s subplots and intricacies, but this was always going to happen when adapting a comic into a film – keeping audiences engaged is a challenging proposition, considering that the average cinema junkie has perhaps half the attention span of the average graphic novel connoisseur. But what is here has been refined and polished to a mirror shine, stream-lining a sprawling conspiracy plot with nearly hundreds of story threads into a something vaguely bearable in movie form.

Everything in it is absolutely stellar, from the performances – Jackie Earle Healey deserves particular mention, nothing but stunningly sociopathic as Rorschach, as does Patrick Wilson as the emasculated Dan Dreiberg a.k.a Nite Owl II. The visuals are verging on perfect, Snyder know exactly when to replicate the comic and when to interpret. In fact, the only real criticism I can think of is that Silk Sceptre II is poorly cast…competent though her performance is, she just feels a little awkward in the role. Can’t really figure out why…

That’s all I can say, really. Apologies this is in a lieu of a proper Watchmen review, however I honestly don’t think I can do it any justice. It is superlative film-making in every respect…maybe one day I’ll possess the critical chops to give it its due. Either that or attempt it and fail miserable.


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