[NOTE: This is not a review. If you're looking for a critical opinion on Watchmen, you can check out the excellent review by Screen Rant's own Vic Holtreman by going here.]
This week, many so-called critics around The Net have been lending their opinion on the subject of Watchmen, which officially opens in theaters today, amidst much hype and a bit of legal controversy. As each new critic has logged their opinion of the film, I’ve been watching those who’ve been watching Watchmen, and let’s just say I’ve come away with a few axes in need of some serious grinding.
Time to put the “rant” back into Screen Rant.
Now opinions are opinions. Everyone is entitled to theirs–you won’t find me fighting that uphill battle here, or anywhere else for that matter.
Truth be told, after seeing the movie earlier this week, I agree with what most critics have said about Watchmen. It is NOT perfect; it IS uneven at points; not all the actors step up to their roles; and the debate about Zack Snyder’s stylistic approach to the film will long be argued after I’m around to care anymore.
So let’s be clear: this is not some fanboy rant about why everybody in the world has to get down on their knees and worship Watchmen. Believe me when I tell you: I am not a part of that club.
However, I do have a serious problem with some of the critical responses to Watchmen that I’ve been seeing–the ones that go beyond the film itself, talking about why it’s destined for failure before the first box office receipts have been tallied.
I mean, I know it’s a recession right now, but have people really resorted to smoking crack this quickly?
I’d like to offer this friendly counterpoint: Watchmen is not going to fail. Watchmen is going to be a $uccess. And even after the dust from the film dies down, the public is going to revere Watchmen more than ever. And here, my friends, is why:
THE HYPE MACHINE
It’s never about whether or not you believe the hype. All that matters is that you recognize it. That you’re curious about it. That you talk about it, think about it or simply show the slightest bit of interest in what’s behind the hype. Right now, there are many, many people out there who are curious about Watchmen. I’m talking about the people who don’t already know all about it, or claim the graphic novel as their official religion. I’m talking about my mother, my girlfriend–I’m pretty sure my grandmother, too. The hype team over at Warner Bros.’ marketing dept has done its job well. Watchmen has penetrated the collective consciousness and been diffused into the cultural discourse. Alan Moore, welcome to the mainstream.
THE FAME FACTOR
Marketing isn’t everything. Normally, a successful marketing campaign just means that the bean counters at the studio have a good barometer for opening weekend numbers. But Watchmen is different. This is a graphic novel that was already a cultural phenomenon, long before a film adaptation ever got off the ground. Granted, it was pretty much a geek culture phenomenon, but that’s now a fact of the past. This film, and all the hype surrounding it, have managed to catapult Watchmen to pop culture heights (shallow as they may be) previously thought impossible for a comic book.
The proof is in the sales figures: ever since the first trailer for the movie dropped, the Watchmen graphic novel has been flying off of shelves. A whole new audience has been initiated into the Watchmen-lovers club, and their curiosity doesn’t end with the last panel of the graphic novel: it ends in a movie seat. And though there is definitely a large percentage of the public who still don’t care about the comic, a large percentage of that percentage (people like my mom, my girlfriend, my grandmother) are equally curious about what all the hoopla over “The Watchmen” is about. Their curiosity also ends in a movie seat. (And who knows, maybe after seeing the movie some of those “uninterested” people will want to pick up the graphic novel.)
Zack Snyder and Warner Bros. learned well from the example of 300: they learned that early March can be fertile ground for launching a blockbuster flick. 300 earned $70.9 million in its opening weekend, and that turnout was largely based on the “cool impression” the movie made on moviegoers. Add to that the fact that there was little competition being offered at the box office when 300 hit theaters, and the payoffs become as obvious as a fifth grade lesson on supply and demand.
Well once again we find ourselves in early March–and once again, there’s little being offered at the box office now that another drama-heavy Oscars season has wrapped. The public is ready for a good popcorn blockbuster, and Watchmen has definitely been sold as that, even if it isn’t. Expect the film to cash in heavy on moviegoer’s lack of options. And it won’t be a one weekend flash-in-the pan either: the only movies that have a chance of stealing Watchmen‘s thunder don’t get released for another two weeks. That’s plenty of time to make a box office killing.
A lot of the box office low-ballers are failing to account for what is unique about this particular time in place we’re in. The economy is in the toilet right now; people are suffering all kinds of frugality-inspired boredom, if only to save that extra buck. Compared to the cost of a night out on the town, a trip to the movies is suddenly not looking so expensive. And a trip to the movies to see one of the most highly anticipated, most talked about movies of the year, is a no-brainer. Rated R or not, expect Watchmen to be THE weekend event for just about any group or couple (after all, ladies love a naked blue man) who can get their hands on tickets.
THE FORBIDDEN ALLURE OF THE R RATING
Every time a kick-ass-looking movie gets slapped with an R rating, people swear it means box office death for that movie. 300 was rated R. The Matrix was rated R. The Matrix sequels (gag) were rated R. R RATINGS DO NOT A MOVIE KILL. If the underage crowd wants in, they’ll find a way in. They’ll con unwary parents into going with them, or at least get them to shill out for the tickets. Or maybe they’ll just convince the could-give-a-rat’s-ass box office clerk to sell them the tickets sans ID check. There is no black-ops task force out there keeping kids from getting into violent movies. Expect the PG-13 crowd to be in attendance.
WORD OF MOUTH
Watchmen is good. It is by no means great–but it is by no means terrible, either. The critical reaction is the best reflection of this, averaging out to roughly a 50/50 love/hate ratio, depending on if you’re looking at a site like Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes. For a public that is currently fixated on Watchmen, that means that regardless of whether the overriding verdict is positive or negative, there is still enough opposing opinion to motivate an “undecided” out to the theater to check out the film for themselves, if only to cast their vote on the subject. Curiosity might be hell on cats, but it’s box office heaven for the movie biz.
ADVANCED TICKET SALES
This is one area where I don’t even have to speculate. As of now, sites like Fandango are reporting that Watchmen is outpacing 300 in advance ticket sales. The film has also set a record for the highest theater-count ever for an R-rated movie, debuting in 3,611 theaters. 1,600 theaters will hold midnight showings of the film; those midnight showings sold out so fast here in the New York City area that 12:10, 12:20, 12:30 and 12:40 showings had to be added to the roster. Oh no, sounds like a recipe for disaster! (Sarcasm alert!)
Hurrmm… I look over this point-by-point list and I can see that Watchmen has absolutely NOTHING going in its favor. The film is totally poised to be, as Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter so wisely called it, “the first real flop of 2009.” Good call there, Kirkster. (Double sarcasm alert!)
Seriously though, I’m getting a little fed up with these critics who have their heads so close up to the movie screen they seem to miss what’s going on beyond the screening room, in the theater of the public. Watchmen is our cultural fixation of the moment–but that fascination won’t last long. I realize that. However, the Watchmen craze WILL last long enough for Snyder and Warner Bros. (and Fox) to turn a very pretty profit for all their hard work, distilling Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ great achievement into mass consumptive form.
And when Watchmen is a $uccess–when all the critics and naysayers look up and scream, “How did it happen?” I will look down and whisper, “Dummies.”
OFFICIAL PREDICTION: $70-80 million opening weekend, and that’s a conservative estimate. Slight drop-off in the second week, but nowhere near as drastic as some of these so-called analysts are predicting. High domestic gross; high international gross. Snyder and Co. will definitely be able to mark this film in the “win” column. Poor Alan Moore might never be the same again, now that he’s become a household name.
If you’re going to see Watchmen this weekend, from all of us here at Screen Rant, ENJOY!
Then come back here and tell us what you really thought about it.