Saturday, March 07, 2009

Compromising In The Face Of Armaggeddon Or I Watched The Watchmen

Yesterday I finally went to the Chiropractor’s, got adjusted, and pre-paid for a bunch of visits, with standing appointments on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday for the foreseeable future.
Oh, and I also went to see a little movie that you may recall me occasionally referring to here: Watchmen.
Despite the fact that I went decades believing that a Watchmen movie couldn’t – and shouldn’t – be made, there was never really any question that, if it happened, I would see it, if for no other reason than to torture myself.
Even in the days when they were talking about painting Arnold Schwarzenegger blue and shaving his head in order for him to play Dr. Manhattan – think about how terrible it was when they did exactly that in Batman and Robin for his role as Mr. Freeze – I probably would have gone to see it.
And I would have bitched. If this had happened back in the late 80s/early 90s as planned, I’d probably still be bitching now.
However, up until I saw the first trailer for this movie last summer, I never thought there would come a day when I’d actually want to see a Watchmen movie.
I could go on for months writing daily essays about how much I love the Watchmen comic book.
As an aside, let me say this: yes, it’s a comic book. People who don’t want to admit that they read or enjoy comic books throw around the term “graphic novel” because it sounds better. But within the world of comics, “graphic novel” has a specific meaning; it’s not a generic, “safe” term for comic book. It’s a specific kind of comic book.
And Watchmen? Before it was ever collected into a single volume that could arguably fit that specific definition, it was sold in the form of twelve individual saddle-stitched, four-color publications known as comic books.
Get over your prejudices and pre-conceived notions, and drop the pretentiousness. The Hugo award-winning story that was also one of Time Magazine’s 100 Greatest Novels is a comic book. In your face, snobs!
But in any case, I won’t go on about my love for this particular comic. Just understand that I do love it, revere it, cherish it, and hold it as close to my heart – maybe even closer – as anything you might love, revere, cherish, and hold close to your hearts. I read it – for the first of dozens of times – when I was 15, and it had a transformative effect on my life.
There were many reasons over the years that I was opposed to seeing it adapted to film – Hello? Did you see the part where I mentioned that they considered painting Arnold Schwarzenegger blue and shaving his head to have him play Dr. Manhattan? – and even now that I’ve seen the movie and actually enjoyed it, I still hold many of those reservations.
Let’s get that out of the way first. I did actually enjoy the movie. It ranks up there as one of the best comic to film adaptations I’ve ever seen. It was visually stunning, mostly well-paced, and there was a clear reverence for the source material. Most of the performances were solid – Jackie Earl Haley in particular did an excellent job – and even the ones that were only so-so were still decent.
There’s so much that I have to say about the movie, but like the movie itself in attempting to tell the story, there are far too many constraints in terms of time, format, and audience to engage in too deep of an exploration.
So, regrettably, I’ll just have to hit some of the high – and low – points and then just get on with the business of my usual pointless blathering.
Seriously, I could easily pull a Slacktivist and devote years to examining the movie and the comic on which it was based in order to present a complete comparison and evaluation.
Anyway, I’ll start off with some of the minor nitpicks that are specific to the movie.
The thing that bothered me the most was the terrible job done in terms of casting people to play real-life people. The movie’s Nixon was absolutely terrible. Ted Koppel? Atrocious. Lee Iacocca…what the hell was he doing in there anyway? I will say that the person playing Kissinger was decent, though.
The costume design was also bothersome. It was, in many cases, far too generically “super hero movie” costume design. I have no complaints whatsoever about seeing hot women in skintight latex, but Malin Akerman was playing the Silk Specter.
Rorschach’s costume was mostly spot-on, and the changing inkblots on his mask were great – and generally used to great effect - but that was an instance in which the material actually should have been latex. I’m not really sure what the material in the movie was supposed to be. It looked like cotton.
I did like the re-design of the original Silk Specter’s costume, though.
And let me just say that the lovely and talented Carla Gugino was, as always, lovely and talented, filled out her costume nicely, still looked great even when made up to look like she was 67, and was just generally painfully hot.
(As an aside, my birthday is coming up. Number one gift on my wish list? Carla Gugino. As Dave Campbell would say, “Give to me: Carla Gugino.”)
Anyway, at this point I should say that my primary feeling about the movie is one of relief, given just how bad it could have been. I’m thankful to Zack Snyder for staying firmly committed to providing a largely uncompromised vision of the original story.
That being said, some of the compromises that were made did rankle me more than a little, but that’s just me, and for those who have either not read the comic, or who don’t revere it in the same way that I do, they’re unlikely to diminish your enjoyment of the movie.
Still, every time I did see some element of compromise designed to appease studio executives and to appeal to mass movie-going audiences, in my mind I kept hearing the words, “Not even in the face of Armageddon. Never compromise.”
While what was left out of the movie could actually serve as sufficient material for several movies – one of the many reasons I always viewed the comic as unfilmable – the essential elements were included, but there were some cuts that I found rather baffling. Mostly bits of dialogue that would not have added anything to the runtime, given the many scenes in which people were standing around silent – when they should have been speaking the missing dialogue – but which would have added much to the narrative.
The other thing that was lacking – and again, I understand that this was done for the benefit of movie-going audiences – was some of the subtlety of the comic. There were scenes of expository dialogue –much of it shifted around from the sequence in which it appeared in the comics – that positively screamed “Pay attention to this! It’s important!”
There were also scenes that might as well have had a big sign appear on screen saying “Foreshadowing.”
To get rather spoilery, one particular scene lost a lot of its power and significance due to the lack of subtlety. In the comic there is a sequence in which Rorschach recalls a kidnapping case he’d worked on years earlier. His inquiries – which mostly involved going around to dive bars and breaking limbs and other extremities until he got the information he needed – yielded a name and an address.
Rorschach goes to the house – the owner/kidnapper is not home when Rorschach arrives – and in a mostly “silent” series of panels, Rorschach puts together the pieces of a horrifying puzzle, and the reader, at the same time as Rorschach, realizes what has happened.
The same sequence in the movie does not provide the slowly unfolding horror, but instead hits you over the head with it. It couldn’t have been any less subtle if Zack Snyder had walked onscreen and yelled “The kidnapper chopped the girl up and fed her to his dogs!”
(The condensed nature of the part of the story in which we are presented with this scene is another drawback of the running time constraints. Also, I was annoyed by the blatant pandering to pet lovers in the form of removing the scenes of Rorschach going out and slaughtering said dogs. Sure, we see them dead after the fact, but apparently it would have been too horrible to actually see him go out and split open the heads of the fuzzy little kid-eating darlings. Of course, this wasn’t a problem with the human who fed the kid to the fuzzy-wuzzy widdle doggies, who were just soooo cute while they fought over the girl’s leg bone.)
Okay, there’s so much more I could say, but this is already way long, so I’ll wrap things up by saying that the movie is stunningly violent and has copious amounts of gore (and glowing blue wang), so it definitely earned its R rating.
I’ll also point out, again, that the problems with the movie were largely unavoidable. More than anything else, Watchmen the comic book is about its own structure, and what makes it such a crowning achievement of the art form is that it was designed to do things that can only be done in that specific medium. What makes Watchmen so powerful and compelling is exactly what makes it impossible to fully translate to another medium.
I’m still uncertain that there was a real need to try making the translation, but I’m ultimately relieved by and appreciative of the fact that since the attempt was being made it was done so reverently.
So, short version: go see the movie if you want to have an idea of what Watchmen is about in terms of the basic plot. But if you want to have the full experience, and to get a better understanding of what it’s about in a larger sense, read the comic.
Oh, and IMAX for the win.

1 comment:

Merlin T Wizard said...

This is the reason I didn't post a review for Watchmen. I knew you'd do it much more betterer.