I finally (finally!) got around to checking out Watchmen this week. Now, let’s get something straight from the start. This film was always going to disappoint. It was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Except in this case, the ‘rock’ is a seething mass of rabid fans, and the ‘hard place’ is another seething mass of rabid fans. There was almost no way that the filmmakers could pull this off without angering someone. If they stuck too closely to the book, they’d make a dull, unsurprising film. If they changed it too much, the fans would accuse them of blasphemy and the filmmakers would be stoned to death.
So, they went with the lesser of two evils and stuck very close to the book. If you’ve read Watchmen, then you’ve essentially seen the film, and there’s very little to draw you in. Which isn’t the worst thing you could say about a film, but when it’s something you’ve been looking forward to, it’s just a little disappointing.
This got me talking about some of the other things that have disappointed me recently. Like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. That wasn’t necessarily a bad film. It definitely had some really terrible moments. Like the infamous ‘nuking the fridge’ sequence. Even as a massive Indiana Jones/George Lucas/Steven Spielberg apologist, I can’t defend this. It was stupid and unnecessary. But they followed this scene with a shot of Indiana Jones standing on a ridge, silhouetted by a mushroom cloud. This was a beautiful, iconic image – Indiana Jones had entered the atomic age. Just ignore the fact that he got there in a fridge.
Part of what I didn’t like about the new Indiana Jones movie is that it spent so much time trying to pander to its fans. Yes, it was giving them something new, but it was like it was so insecure about its independence that it grounded almost everything in references to the past movies. For example, they couldn’t just have any old warehouse, they had to have the warehouse from Raiders of the Lost Ark. And, for that matter, they couldn’t leave the warehouse without a quick glimpse of the Ark, in its broken crate which, in no way, benefited the story. They even dug up Karen Allen again (the film’s actual maguffin, not the skull). There were dozens of these references scattered throughout the movie and none of them helped push the story along at all. They were just there to remind us that, yes, we were watching an Indiana Jones film. Like the filmmakers were saying “it’s been so long that we’re afraid we’ve forgotten how to make an Indiana Jones film, so we’ll toss in all these throwbacks, just in case.”
You know what the end result reminded me of? Fan fiction. Actually, worse than that: badly-written fan fiction.
On a slightly related note, Telltale Games launched their episodic reboot of the Monkey Island franchise yesterday, called Tales of Monkey Island. Check out the gameplay trailer. Fans of the series will probably recognise most of the jokes in the trailer because they’re almost all references to jokes in previous games. Piranha poodles, “You fight like a…”, the root beer. There’s very little in the trailer that’s actually new, and that’s why I’m not particularly keen to check out the new game. If I wanted to hear those same old jokes, I’d just play the old games (and that’s why I’m currently playing Curse of Monkey Island.)
It understand that it’s daunting when you’re dealing with an established story or franchise. You want to develop it while remaining true to the original ideas, and that can be a difficult thing to pull off. It’s a lot easier if you have a crutch to lean on, like established jokes and tropes. At the same time, though, anyone who comes along and doesn’t really bring anything new to the table shouldn’t really be surprised when they get such mediocre reviews.