March 11, 2009

Thoughts on Watchmen

<---Here there be spoilers--->

<---Consider yourself warned--->

I had a punnish title for this (I watched the Watchmen) but went the route of Kyle and avoided the obvious puns. I'm also going to go the route of Kyle and post some thoughts rather than a full and formal review of any kind.
  • The movie was either too full or too slimmed-down. The removal of many of the subplots - the Hooded Justice disappearance, the psychic space squid, the Black Freighter, the psychiatrists sinking to Rorschach's depths - was understandable and necessary to fit the movie in under three hours. That removal, however, still left far too many plotlines to do justice to in that time frame. We are left with a movie that is both art film (the Mars scenes, the dream sequence with Specter and Nite-Owl), action film (all the fight scenes, the horrific blood), love story (Specter and Nite-Owl), and murder mystery (the mask killer) while still trying to be social commentary on the role of honesty vs safety / what it means to be a hero / what effects a god walking among us would really have.

    This movie is the Brat of the multiplex. It isn't enough of any type of movie to satisfy anyone. The Girl didn't think it was a very good action movie - not enough action for that, she said - and I can't imagine anyone else being happy with Watchmen the film as any genre.

  • The fight scenes suggested that the heroes - Nite-Owl, Ozymandias, Silk Specter II, Comedian - had some sort of superpowers. The Girl said she just accepted things as being "like Batman", but these are supposed to be the less-than-super humans who occupy the world where Dr Manhattan is the one true god among us. These are the people who are made impotent because of their helplessness in the world, helplessness in the face of pending nuclear holocaust, helplessness in the face of an America rotting from the inside - partially because of our dependence on our blue god, helplessness at the Keane Act's and the American people's willingness to throw them to the trash pile in spite of the good that the masked heroes have done.

    These are people who have chosen to fight on because it's what they do, it's what they did - in some cases, even, it's how they get their kicks. When Dan and Lauri discuss the villain who dressed up just so he could get beaten up, there's supposed to be a note of sadness and irony because they recognize that they share a bit of that within themselves, something made more obvious when - in the novel - Lauri surprises Dan with her costume aboard Archie and asks if the costumes made things better.

    These are people who find themselves being thrown by the winds of forces far greater then themselves and continue to do what they do partially because of a sense of duty but also partially because of inertia. When Nite-Owl says to Rorschach that "we'll try it your way" and heads into the bars to break a few arms in search of leads, he isn't saying it because he necessarily expects things to work. Nite-Owl knows that the world is going to end soon - that nothing he does will stop the pending nuclear annihilation of the entire world and his world has just come crashing down because the blue god has just stolen his girl.

    They aren't supposed to have any superpowers at all.

    So when they kick bad guys and send the bad guys flying twenty feet through the air, grab and throw each other like rag dolls, break countertops with their fists - it's wrong and undermines the importance of their powerlessness to the story.

  • The two couples who brought their six- or eight-year olds to this movie should be severely reprimanded.

    Cleavers were swung in anger. Skulls were shattered. Arms were sawed entirely off. People were exploded - with all the attendant gore.

    Blue penises were all over the place, and Nite-Owl and Silk Specter II were clearly doing that thing that mommies and daddies do when they're in love - right in front of us on screen.

    Kids should not be in screenings of this movie. It's a hard R rating.

  • Lauri Jupiter's name is - in the movie - never referred to as Juspeczyk, a minor point in the book as it allowed her to show some defiance from her mother.

    I was also surprised as to why Lauri's smoking was entirely excised from the film. It's not as though the smoking was in any way a significant part of the story, but it's absence was noticeable to me - particularly when she first finds her way into Archie and sets the basement aflame.

  • I was glad not to find myself hunting down smiley faces throughout the film. I think Snyder made his couple of nods to this Easter egg (as the police investigate the Comedian's death, a curved artifact and the reflections from the lights made one - and the Mars smiley couldn't even qualify as an Easter egg) but left most of these out of the film, and I was thankful for that choice as I think I would have found it distracting.

  • The feeling I got from this film is similar to that I got from the first two Harry Potter films. Yes, they are faithful adaptations, but everything that I enjoyed about the books was missing from the movies. Not every storyline - those were mostly there - but every bit of joy and magic.

  • The interesting things that Moore and Gibbons did with the artwork of the novel were missed - at least by me. The nine-panel page very rarely broken up...the mirror effect and motif of the entire "Fearful Symmetry" issue...the repeated use of the skulls and smiley faces...

  • The acting was good enough with Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach far and away the standout.

  • Dr Manhattan flirted fairly strongly with the uncanny valley as the motion capture/special effects/freakish blue glow/eye thing that was going on took Billy Crudup into a very weird place on the screen.

  • The music mostly drove me nuts. At times - "All Along the Watchtower" comes to mind - the songs played very well, supporting their original uses in the novel. For the most part, however, I simply found them a distraction as they were far too forward in the mix, and I felt like Snyder was whomping me over the head with his music choices.

  • Couldn't stand the reworked final scene - effectively the epilogue - with Laurie, Dan, and Momma Jupiter. The novel ending was much more effective to me.

  • Worst part of the film for me - Dan's scream at the destruction of Rorschach in the snow. Instead, the novel allowed this to happen with only Rorschach screaming at Dr Manhattan, no witnesses, no observers. Manhattan and his new-found humanity (or at least respect for humanity) has to take a life to save the billions that he has allowed to be saved. Nite-Owl and Silk Specter are off on the fur rug in Ozymandias's hideaway, holding each other and searching for any feelings other than what they currently had.

    The screaming of Nite-Owl just rings false to me. He may not have come to the conclusion as quickly as Dr Manhattan and Ozymandias - that Rorschach has to die because he is the only person who simply cannot be trusted to stay silent - but his scream seemed wildly out of character for a man who seems to recognize his place in the world. Placing him at the scene of the final crime lessens his reaction to it, making him an actor, screaming and then beating Veidt rather than taking in his final - and ironic - act of impotence in the face of a plan that has turned out to be immensely larger than he, that he has been unable to affect in any way, and that saw him as such a small part that Ozymandias didn't even plan for a way to neutralize Nite-Owl or Silk Specter.

    In the end, they simply didn't matter even one whit to Adrian Veidt or to Dr Manhattan. The gods stood over both Specter and Nite-Owl and planned the fate of the world.
The movie was a fine adaptation. The impossible novel was filmed, the impossible movie made.

And I have no idea if we are, in any way at all, the better for it.

If this turns a few people to the original novel, that might be worthwhile, maybe...but the movie held, in the end, absolutely none of the gravitas or revolution of the novel for me.

If anybody does end up reading the novel because of an interest in the movie, please take the novel once through on your own. Allow yourself to discover the interweavings of the plots at Moore's pace. Eventually, however, come back to the book with the annotations at hand because there is far more in the pages than most of us would ever find without a few pointers.


andrew said...

It got me to start reading the book, at any rate.

Katydid said...

I agree with all of those points, although I do think it's a better film than the first two Harry Potters.

And bringing the kiddies, wow. I saw some inappropriate stuff young, but not because my parents took me to see it on purpose. I feel that they may be scarred for life.

joey said...

agree on all counts. i hated telling my parents (or anyone else for that matter, they just come to mind) how i liked the movie because a.) I'm a fairly vocal fan of the book and b.) I thought from immediately after reading it for the first time that it could never be made into an effective movie. It's just too big, physically, emotionally, metaphorically, and every other -ically to be crammed into a 2 or 3 hour movie

That being said, I think that Snyder did it about as good as if not better than I could have imagined.

But it's still not a classic IMDB top-100 caliber, in my opinion. The book is an IBDB (fake, but you get the point) top 10.

DanEcht said...

I agree with most everything. I thought (and the guys I saw it with) that it probably deserved an NC-17 rating. I also enjoyed the choice of Dylan for the backstory at the beginning, which I thought was well done. The movie as a whole was both overlong and yet cut some parts too short; I'm going to stop talking before I repeat just about everything you said.

Mr. Echt said...

The smoking was removed because of concerns from the studio, not Snyder's decision. Which means that the flame thing makes Laurie look idiotic. There were maybe four kids in the audience when I went, which shocked me a little. The music choices were a kind of slap in the face, but I really like the Simon & Garfunkel song during the funeral. I plan to see the movie again this weekend, because I have friends who want to, but I found myself distracted at points searching the backgrounds of the film for easter eggs. You could look at is this way: The film production allowed for some pretty cool high-quality action figures.

PHSChemGuy said...

Andrew - then that's I said, read through it the first time without worrying about catching everything. I even read through it the first time skipping most of the text pieces. Then, after you've picked your jaw off of the floor, give it another try - eventually with the annotations, because it's amazingly dense.

Katydid - yeah, the kids should clearly not have been in the theater with the adults. This one's far darker than even the Dark Knight, and that was kid-unfriendly enough. The sex scene aboard Archie was uncomfortable enough as an adult.

Joey - I understand the reluctance to tell people that I didn't like the movie all that much because I'm a big proponent of the book, and I don't want to say that I didn't like the movie in case it steers folks away from the book.

I agree that Snyder did about as well as could be managed by any director. It's a hard nut to crack, and he did a respectable job. I still didn't enjoy it very much.

Dan - The opening credits were easily the strongest part of the film. Snyder nailed that - and the choice of Dylan there was also spot on perfect.

Mr Echt - yeah, but the action figures that we get won't be the regular costumes. I read recently that the action figures will be made to match the film, not the comic. So there's that little crime being committed.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the movie, but glad it only cost $5. I thought I'd read the graphic novel afterwards, but the movie really didn't make me interested. I just don't think it's my cup of tea, I like my DC/Marvel superheroes.