Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Watchmen:

A Review

A Rant, Actually


Right, so I saw Watchmen Saturday. After hearing so many reviews that dinged it for being too similar to the graphic novel, I did have reservations, but I actually enjoyed it for what it was; a kick-ass comic book geek fest movie, complete with state-of-the-art fight sequences, some T & A, and loads of CGI special effects.

I really didn’t mind the tableaus that were lifted directly from frames in the graphic novel. I rarely noticed them at all, so I really didn’t get where people were coming from when they complained it was too much like the novel. What I would complain about are instances where the movie departed from the novel namely in the theme and the mood of the whole thing.

A lot of what made Watchmen what it was as a graphic novel were the sub-plots and actions that happen on the periphery, and a lot of the “supplementary material” that outlined a lot of the backgrounds of the characters.

Obviously, excerpts from books, scrapbooks, and personnel folders just would not work in the video format, so how does a director fill in such gaps that simply won’t transfer? The answer is the director doesn’t, but sadly tries to make up for the lack of character(s) with the pop devices of the day: glum lighting, washed-out color, grimy scene designs, and violent acts calculated to shock the audience (if indeed that’s possible in today’s entertainment market).

Snyder does pretty well at showing the heroes’ origins, and conveying them in at-a-glance flashbacks, but he seems more concerned with reproducing the kick-ass artwork than re-creating the story, themes, and the tone. I’ll be frank. I’ve read the novel something like five or six times, referenced specific sections countless more times, and nearly every time I’ve read it, I’ve come this close to just up and killing myself it was so beautifully bleak and depressing. I really didn’t get that from the movie.

I know, I know. People don’t plunk down good money to sit and get depressed beyond the help of a Zoloft overdose, but then, Watchmen wasn’t written to be the “feel good movie of the year.”

The novel was about largely ordinary people dressing up in weird costumes and fighting criminals. The only really super heroes are “Dr. Manhattan,” and (rather) possibly Ozymandias.

What we got from this movie is essentially that ALL the characters are somehow “super,” mostly from Snyder’s over-reliance on the special effects to carry the scenes. It might be, as the author of samuraifrog.blogspot.com suggested, that these fight scenes with all their ludicrous hyper-(non)realism were used to underline these heroes’ separation from the rest of humanity. Deep thought, but these are current conventions in today’s action movies, which only served to downgrade the movie further from a literary adaptation to “Not Another 21st Century Action Movie.”

Don’t get me started on the now-cliché “bullet-time” photography and the repeated slow-mo/quick-time/back to slow-mo fight sequences. Look, we see it daily in luxury car commercials, why not try something novel and just portray the action of the scene without having to try to jack it up another three or four notches with this tired contrivance?

Speaking of the fight sequences, this rather got to me. Apparently being a costumed avenger causes one’s muscle and bone density to skyrocket so that when one’s face is slammed into a granite countertop, it doesn’t crush one’s skull (even assuming Blake’s assassin was that strong), but it does crush the granite into dust.

Same goes for Rorschach’s ability to leap several yards to get to a fire escape ladder, as well as Blake taking out the corner of a brick fireplace with his fist. I mean, come on, already!

On the whole, the characters weren’t all that deep, either. Some have blamed the actors, but Hell, there’s only so much an actor can do with the material (and direction?) given. Malin Ackerman as Silk Specter II? Her job was to look good in latex, and she did that very well. Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach? Just do your best Clint Eastwood impersonation, and let the CGI do the rest. For Matthew Goode’s turn as Veidt/Ozymandias, could we possibly broadcast “I am the real villain in this movie” any more without hanging a (CGI, of course) neon sign over his head saying, “I am the real (creepy) villain in this movie?”

As for the ending… well, they kept the final gambit intact, but for what purpose? It ended up, after all that mezzabob with the revised evil… uh, morally ambiguous, rather… plan being just another “The End… or is it?” ending.

(Here be a big spoiler) As for the change in Veidt’s plan… oh, really? Ye Gods, what was that about? Create the equivalent of a nuclear first strike on the major cities of the world, and then blame Dr. Manhattan for it? And then con the world into thinking the good Doc is watching them to be sure they play nice?

Veidt’s plan in the novel, of course, was to convince people of an other-worldly threat, forcing humanity to take responsibility for itself.

Dear God. Pardon the irony of the interjection, but this is the part where I did actually take offense as Hannibal Lector would at being served a McDonald’s Happy Meal. I don’t know letter for letter what Alan Moore’s cosmological views are, but I am reasonably certain after reading V for Vendetta with its theme of throwing off the oppressive yokes of religion and government, he most certainly would not have approved of a “happy ending” where humanity finds salvation from nuclear war in an all-powerful God-figure.

Well, what was I looking for, anyway?

I understand that in order to fully incorporate the peripheral plots, and the information contained in the previously mentioned supplementary material, the movie would probably have to be something to the tune of a full 24-hour, 12-part “mini-series,” and it would probably lose a good half the audience by about episode 3. I do. I totally understand, but damn, it sure lost a lot, being distilled to this almost three-hour movie. The movie only portrayed the tip of the iceberg, but there was nearly nothing that lies beneath. Nothing “under the hood,” as it were.

Maybe then that’s what Alan Moore keeps going on about, why he keeps removing his name from any credits of movie adaptations of his stories. Shit, he’s so serious about it, he won’t even accept royalties for them. It’s a bit like buying a top-end car like a Ferrari, and replacing the engine with a GM four-banger, and keeping the shell just for the looks. Okay, yeah, I do understand Ferraris are hard to maintain, and you can’t drive it at full speed in America anyway, but damn.

Same here: they take Moore’s stories, keep the imagery, but chuck the reason people read graphic novels by Moore because the widest possible audience just wouldn’t get them, anyway. They’re just too damned deep for the Summer Blockbuster Season.

It might be a consolation to him then that I really do not see movies like Watchmen being very long remembered, but will slip into history much the same as V for Vendetta and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, forgotten except as a relic of a time when Hollywood took to mining comic books (in earnest) for ideas.

The problem I see with this whole movie is that while Alan Moore (and others) have inspired huge strides in how comics (or more, graphic novels) are perceived, Hollywood hasn’t gotten this message. Graphic novels are now considered literature, yet Hollywood still seems to see them as juvenile dumb-shows, and adapts them to eye-candy, wait, I mean, film accordingly.

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