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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Is it fair to call ‘Watchmen’ director Zack Snyder “visionary”?

With no big stars with sellable names to splash across posters, Warner Bros. is counting on director Zack Snyder to sell Watchman to those who may not already be familiar with the comic. Warner Bros. isn’t using Snyder’s name, of course — because that isn’t any better known than those of the cast — but the ads and posters are connecting him to 300: “From the visionary director of 300,” almost all of the promo material for the film reminds us.
This is the thing, though: Zack Synder has only three feature films on his resume. Two of them — 300 and now Watchmen — are adaptations from graphic novels that are visually extremely faithful to their sources. The third, Snyder’s first film, is Dawn of the Dead, remake/reboot of one franchise from a genre that has been getting a lot of play overall lately.

If there’s “vision” involved in all these films, it is borrowed — it was handed to Snyder to execute, less so with Dawn than with the other two movies, but still. Now, I’m not saying Snyder’s not talented: it obviously takes talent to transfer someone else’s vision to another medium and do it well, which Snyder has done. But the “vision” involved in these films is not his.

Am I wrong? Is it fair to call ‘Watchmen’ director Zack Snyder “visionary”?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me.)



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  • I’d be willing to concede him as being “visonary” based on the literal definition of the word.
    –adjective
    1. given to or characterized by fanciful, not presently workable, or unpractical ideas, views, or schemes: a visionary enthusiast.
    2. given to or concerned with seeing visions.
    3. belonging to or seen in a vision.
    4. unreal; imaginary: visionary evils.
    5. purely idealistic or speculative; impractical; unrealizable: a visionary scheme.
    6. of, pertaining to, or proper to a vision.
    –noun
    7. a person of unusually keen foresight.
    8. a person who sees visions.
    9. a person who is given to audacious, highly speculative, or impractical ideas or schemes; dreamer.

    In the “popular” definition of someone who excels above other, not so much. But without a doubt he is someone who has taken on projects that others considered unworkable (like working with Frank Miller or adapting Watchmen for the screen). And he has often been the only person who has had the foresight to plan it right.

  • Ryan H

    So what if the movies he directs are adaptations of other work? That means he’s not a visionary writer. As the director, it’s not his job to come up with the material. It’s his job to come up with a unique visual experience that tells the story.

    I think he absolutely qualifies as a visionary director. His movies have been unique and engaging. Yes, 300 was a adapted from another visual medium, but the unique visual style of the movie was all Snyder. He is just as visionary as any other director who didn’t write the script themselves.

  • Rob

    I think the term “visionary” is egregiously overused today. Yes, Snyder captures the comic book visuals faithfully to the screen, but that’s all he’s doing: making an accurate on-screen approximation of comics. To be a true visionary, IMHO, the images have to be original and wed to something more complex and deeper–symbolism, themes, what have you. Julie Taymor fits that description. Snyder, no.

  • MaryAnn

    So what if the movies he directs are adaptations of other work? That means he’s not a visionary writer. As the director, it’s not his job to come up with the material. It’s his job to come up with a unique visual experience that tells the story.

    But the visual experience of *300* and *Watchmen* is that of the artists who drew the original graphic novels — in many instances, Snyder is directly aping every from their colors down to the way they frame a scene. My point is that Snyder did not “come up with a unique visual experience that tells the story.”

  • My point is that Snyder did not “come up with a unique visual experience that tells the story.”

    But by that logic, someone who makes a sculpture of a painting, or someone who paints a portrait from a photo cannot be visionary. By this criteria Steven Speilberg’s jarring opening of Saving Private Ryan is just “telling it like it was” and doesn’t deserve consideration as art.

    I think that 300 and Watchmen are unique “re-tellings” in a new medium. A director isn’t the writer and he isn’t the Director of Photography and he isn’t the camera man or the actor, or any of a number of pieces that make up the mosaic of a film. But he is the one who has the vision of how much (or how little) it is going to ape the reality. He sets the pace and he is directly responsible for bringing the source material to life in the medium of film. And if he’s successful and it makes people take notice I think that qualifies as “visionary.”

  • Muzz

    To answer the question: Nope.
    There’s not a skerrick of vision in any of Snyder’s work so far. I don’t think he should be written off but it’s workmanlike at best.
    I do generally take a filmmaker being called ‘visionary’ to mean having a certain creativity with space, camera, design etc and that being a defining characterstic of their work. The most visionary thing in 300 is the end credits. The rest is flat, dull and at worst gimmicky. It inherits a lot of that from the comic. If he was a visionary he would have risen above it (how do you make Thermopylae so simple and dull Frank Miller? Its story is one of the biggest gimmee’s in all history, you barely have to change a thing).

    Just to send everyone off into mad debates: In the comic-y realm I’d say Ang Lee’s Hulk is visionary, if not entirely successful. Likewise the Matrix series, whatever its shortcomings, at least displays a determination to be inventive visually and in ways of telling the tale. Again, not always successfully.
    Blade Runner, Fight Club; this is visionary filmmaking. 300 just plain isn’t.

  • Der Bruno Stroszek

    No, but I’m sort of resigned to the fact that “From the workmanlike safe pair of hands who directed 300” isn’t going to get many people excited.

    My own definition of which directors should and shouldn’t be called visionaries is: You must be Terry Gilliam or over to enter.

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