Sunday, March 08, 2009

WATCHMEN

You've read enough essays on this by now. Here's my take (seen twice) in semi-bullet list form.

SPOILERS FOLLOW. BIG ONES. I'M NOT KIDDING.

- I don't know if it's better than "Dark Knight." I FEEL that it is, but that could be shock-of-the-new. I DO know that it's "part of the problem" that the first thing to compare this to is another superhero movie instead of filmmaking in general, but that's another discussion. I CAN say with certainty that it's a more exciting, vital, interesting, "alive" film than "Knight" by leaps and bounds. Don't get me wrong, TDK still ought've been nominated for an Oscar and still ought've won in that case, but next to this it looks (even moreso) almost overly safe and - at worst - terrified of it's own shadow. It goes to dark-"ish" places for a "genre" film, but only after a methodical removal of as many 'Batman' elements as can possibly be removed while still having it BE Batman... an understandable reaction to the excesses of the Schumacher era that, none the less, can sometimes create the feeling that the film is trying to gently lead a frightened non-geek audience (and critics) safely through the darks woods ("Shh! Shh! It's okay, it's okay. You're soooo brave. See? It barely looks like a Bat costume at all. S'ok. S'ok. See? It's a crime-thriller. You're not really watching one of those awful superhero movies. That's my brave, brave boy.") "Watchmen," on the other hand, is proud as HELL of it's otherworldliness and has it's colors flying right off the damn bat: "FUCK YEAH! THAT GUY IS BLUE, NAKED AND FIFTY FEET TALL, AND WE'RE NOT EVEN GONNA TELL YOU WHY FOR ANOTHER HOUR! CAN'T WRAP YOUR HEAD AROUND THAT? TOO FUCKIN' BAD! "JONAS BROTHERS" IS PLAYIN' ACROSS THE HALL, PROBABLY MORE YOUR SPEED. THE REST OF US HAVE A MOVIE TO WATCH!" And I ADORE it for that.

- The "new-ish" ending works. Period. Not only does it fit better in a practical sense into a singular film that can't functionally follow an entire "other" whodunnit that doesn't directly involve any of the main cast, but it strengthens the characters involved by adding an extra dimension of personal betrayal - Ozy doesn't just use and hurt his former teammates in his scheme, he uses the public's already-established fear and hatred of superheroes to his advantage. It's a textbook-perfect lesson in proper adaptation: You don't fabricate from thin air, you use what's already there in a different way.

- Also regarding the ending and adaptation - it's interesting to see the way a different medium imposes different needs and expectations. It's one thing for the book's Nite Owl to simpy, give up, "sell out" and let us down by surrendering to Ozy's victory; as a drawing-and-text open to wider interpretation it's possible to view him as a pathetic, vaugely-amusing schlub for whom this final flaccid innaction is just another addition to the MOUNTAIN of evidence that he never had any real business trying to be superhero... for THAT Nite Owl to get in a cathartic "screw you!" whack at Ozy would be a betrayal. BUT as a flesh and blood (onscreen) human who's actual voice and expressions TELL US that he's a decent guy, and let us see the real pain he has trying to relate to Laurie outside of his costume? Yes. It's right and proper that THIS Nite Owl would take a shot and want to have SOME semblance of a final say.

- This is NOT an inaccessible film for non-fans or even non-geeks. Not by a longshot. You don't need to have read this comic or ANY comic to "get into" this movie. All you need is an open mind free of genre-bias and a willingness to let a film explain itself slowly and not all-at-once. It doesn't require any more familiarity with the source than any decent historical film or biography. If you could follow "Milk" without ever having been to Casto Street, you can follow this.

- It's funny, though... For all the talk of it "confusing" non-fans the only two things that I can imagine would give the uninitiated pause don't seem to bother many people, particularly the critics who're otherwise soooo sure this is for-fans-only: The film never bothers to explain how or why Rorscharch's mask works like it does, nor where the hell Ozymandias got Bubastis (the big purple kitty,) but it doesn't seem to "bug" anyone but me. I think this might be where Zack Snyder's over-criticized stylization helps out: It's a realistic film, but he bathes it in a gloss of comic book hyperrealism that I imagine innoculates it against a lot of "wait... the hell did he get THAT!?" that might be present in a more "verite" approach.

- Incidentally, i.e. Zack Snyder: It's settled. He's a genuine talent. A REAL visionary with the kind of eye for pop-art-AS-ART that we haven't seen emerge since the early films of Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson. I NEED to see him tackle an original film now - one that isn't an adaptation or remake. His vaunted skill at fidelity still betrays a real artist with a clear vision of his own - I want to see it unleashed. He's proved his mettel. That said, let's be clear: "Watchmen" is his FIRST genuinely excellent film. "Dawn of The Dead" and "300" are both fun but ultimately empty exercises - no deeper meaning, no real humanity, just money shoots and mood (especially "Dawn," the prettiest NOTHING THERE zombie movie outside of Resident Evil.)

- Also on Snyder: Guy is a diabolical GENIUS at subconscious audience-manipulation. Watch how the leering, objectifying, dehumanizing cheesecake closeups on Carla Gugino's breasts and ass give way to the leering, objectifying, dehumanizing gaze of The Comedian, who seems to be "thinkin' what we're thinkin', eh boys?"... right up until he beats her up and sexually assaults her; thus implicating the whole audience (or at least 90% of the men and 60-70% of the women) in her objectification and near-rape. That's ballsy, evil and effective. See also: EVERY shot of the NYC skyline has the (still-standing since it's 1985) WTC towers unmistakably visible - an image almost no one can see without thinking of 9-11 on some level. This happens almost a dozen times, a dozen nudging whispers of "remember that?" to the audience, all to make sure it's right up near the front of the brain for the 3rd act's "9-11 times inifinity" money-shot. Yikes. The man has chops.

- Regarding Jackie Earl Haley, aka "Rorscharch" - I FUCKIN' TOLD YOU SO. Could he have BEEN more perfect in this? At my second showing - the "regular audience" screening, NOT the fan-filled midnight show - the crowd burst into applause at "You're locked in here with ME!!!" They'll be throwing cash and "charismatic scary dude" roles at him like no actor since Anthony Hopkins post-"Silence," and he deserves it.

- Regarding Dr. Manhattan's penis: Grow up.

14 comments:

YetUnnamed said...

I COMPLETELY agree with everything you said. In fact I think that looking back on my viewing, your review made me enjoy my experience with it even MORE. Thank you for that.

Also, Rorschach's "You're locked in here with me" line? The single biggest nerdgasm I've EVERY gotten.

tyra menendez said...

my only problem with dr. manhattan's penis was, since everyone was talking about it, i kept looking for it. the subconscious shot counter effect.

and i'm surely one of the ones leering at carla gugino. especially in that outfit.

i ran around yesterday telling everyone: it's truncated, but it has to be, not to be six hours, but it's pretty faithful and it's good. wait for the ultimate edition dvd, which promises the return of the black freighter and the bernies.

Ghostmayhem said...

Wow.
Way to go BOB!
Seriously though, this is Easily the Best overview of this marvelous film I've yet seen.

You Really should be payed for this, dude.
Couldn't agree more about Snyder, Earle Haley, the small, little insights in the film, the ending, Manhattan's wang (though, quite honestly, it's okay to be a bit taken aback and even grossed out, but the non-fanboys crying foul need to shut the hell up), etc.
I'm kinda surprised you didn't mention any NEgatives, though.
This was in no way a perfect film (marvelous, nonetheless).
A few of the actors were pretty dry and wooden, and there Were some scenes which made me roll my eyes (the sex scene being the obvious, then the opening fight with Ozy and Comedian which lasted about 15 minutes).
Anyway, fantastic review, hopefully we'll see some kind of video on YT (not Everyone reads the Blog...though lord knows they SHOULD).

DOOLEY said...

There were A LOT of things that I really liked about this movie, but a couple of things about this movie that I didn't really like.

One of the things that I found difficult to understand was how these 'super-heroes' found their abilities/trained themselves, or whatever they needed to do to be able to fucking incapacitate 30 dudes in a matter of 2 minutes. I mean i can extend my disbelief far enough that allows this being to teleport to mars, but i have difficulty believing that some gorgeous chick can knock a hardened criminal out with a fucking hip-toss. It'd be nice to see how the heroes got so strong/skilled/whatever.

and here's my biggest gripe about the film, and it almost goes hand-in-hand with my biggest gripe about 300. (Yes, I know there's tons of people who will tell me that "I just don't get it.") But correct me if I'm wrong here. Watchmen was one of the most beloved comics of it's time because of how Gritty and Real it was? right? And the most intriguing aspect of the battle of Thermoplyle was that IT ACTUALLY HAPPENED. and here, we have the director taking these Gritty, Grimey, REALISTIC things, and turning them into super slo-mo cgi computer love fests with pixels and all sorts of bull shit i don't care about.

don't get me wrong, i thought some of the slo-mo stuff in watchmen was ridiculously cool, but it made me feel like i was watching some super fabricated fluffy video game where anythings possible, which ultimately lead me to question how big of a pussy dr. manhattan was, and in turn, get mad at the entire film.

dr. manhattan was a fucking pussy.

also, the movie didn't explain why it was so important that it was a "dr. manhattan attack" to unite them, and/or why it was so important to kill so many people.

if ozy really was the "smartest man in the world" he would've found the least harmful way to do reach his ultimate goal.

man if pissing me off was the ending it was going for 'watchmen' was great.

meloNarius said...

Completely agree with you on all points, particularly Jon's wang. It's not like it was shoved in your face every two seconds, it was just there.

Bob said...

DOOLEY:
"One of the things that I found difficult to understand was how these 'super-heroes' found their abilities/trained themselves, or whatever they needed to do to be able to fucking incapacitate 30 dudes in a matter of 2 minutes."

FWIW, other than Ozzie (who we're told is considered ultra-dangerous in combat even by the others) very little of what you see these folks doing is anything that, say, a properly-trained Navy SEAL couldn't do in the right circumstance. Also worth keeping in mind that all of the "big" fight scenes involve groups of untrained amateurs: Nite Owl and Silk Spectre easily mop up a bunch of cretins in an alley, and later on a few dozen random felons. Comedian fends off civilian protesters largely because he's trained, wearing body armor and has a SHOTGUN. The only time we see one of the Watchmen go up against enemies who are ALSO equipped and trained (Rorschach vs. the cops) he loses.

"But correct me if I'm wrong here. Watchmen was one of the most beloved comics of it's time because of how Gritty and Real it was? right?"

Actually, no. Upon it's initial release, the "big deal" with Watchmen (aside from the writing quality) was that it WAS still a glossy, pretty, hyperreal, overly-colorful superhero book but where the characters bled, screwed, cussed and failed like real people. The film is actually much LESS "out-there" in certain respects.

"also, the movie didn't explain why it was so important that it was a "dr. manhattan attack" to unite them, and/or why it was so important to kill so many people."

Listen close when Nixon gets on TV for the last time: Ozzie's "idea" (which we first hear from Comedian early on, then Rorschach a few times later) is that humanity is inherently warlike and the only thing that'll make us stop fighting eachother is for a mutual enemy that we can all hate, fear and resist together. So he turns the world against a made-up threat from the (conveniently offworld) Dr. Manhattan.

"if ozy really was the "smartest man in the world" he would've found the least harmful way to do reach his ultimate goal."

The scary thing is, this probably IS the least harmful thing he could think of.

"man if pissing me off was the ending it was going for 'watchmen' was great."

Nah, I'm sure they recreated 9-11 times infinity, had the good guys fail and give up, let a mass-murderer live and blasted the coolest guy on the team into a stain because they wanted you to leave the theatre happy ;)

tyra menendez said...

i have to add that peter travers' (rolling stone) review pissed me off, because what he called "plot points", i call spoilers (including revealing r.r.'s real name.

also, dooley, dr. manhattan is not a pussy. he's a creature of almost pure logic. often times, he behaves the way he does, because that's how he's seen it happen. because past, present, and future are all the same, to him.

Ghostmayhem said...

Also, you're probably the only critic to mention the Silhouette thing.
To be honest, they didn't really mention her and her sexuality in the comic, (except in an "interview" with Silk Spectre I which I, regrettably, skimmed through), so it seemed a BIT random to me. I'm SURE it'll seem more than random to non-comic fans.
And, again, there Were negative things about this movie!
Matthew Goode and Carla Gugino were HUGE disappointments for me, especially when compared to the rest of the astonishing cast.
I mean, come on, who Didn't expect a loud "I DID IT!" at the end?
Come on! That was a pivotal moment (IMHO) and didn't in any way deserve to be cut because of the sub-par actor playing Ozy's limits.
Finally, Snyder took out much of the ambiguity of the film, mainly the fact that THERE AREN'T ANY CRIMEBUSTERS.
Instead, he went with calling them "Watchmen", completele demolishing any symbolism the title might've had on the modern movie-going audience.
I mean, doesn't that completely ruin the quite from Juvenal (the Roman Satirist) at the end?
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Now we'll never know...
:'(

Bob said...

Calling them "Watchmen" literally is something I can more or less get behind: Even if they HAD called them Crimebusters and just put the quote at the end, the audience was going to end up calling them all "The Watchmen" no matter what.

Ghostmayhem said...

Yeah, but at least Then we ("we" being the fans who've read the comic first) can make fun of 'em for it!
Okay, okay, I see your point...But, still, I prefer them being "Crimebusters"...
Or at least something besides "Watchmen".
And I still do think it ruins the quote. Now, when you say "Watchmen" in regards to the story, people will just assume you mean the team. In reality, "Watchmen" means any figure with any kind of authority ("the man", per se) who can be corrupted.
But...Who Watches the Watchmen?
See, THAT's the question.
Not, literally, "Who Watches the GROUP called 'Watchmen'?"
Again, I see your point Bob, but what if they were to have called the book "CRIMEBUSTERS"?
IMO, it wouldnt've been As effective.

(Also: Sorry if I double-posted)

sgl said...

Man, at least someone is focussing on the positives here :)

I also agree; I havn't read the novel and enjoyed the movie immensly. I think I even enjoyed it more because I did NOT know what was going to happen. There are still a lot of people expecting a superficial superhero action flick or who are too young to understand it and talk bad about it, which is a shame, just as much as all the fanboys, for whom it was not faithful enough (or who just obey Moore mindlessly) and all the other critics for whom it was too faithful. A lot of people confuse reviewing with bitching unfortunatly, and it is becoming a high-performance sport.

All my other thoughts are summed up very exactly in Hayter's letter. Especially the PG13/Beyonce part. FFS this is our own movie future that people are ruining with you nagging (bad word of mouth/bad reviews etc)!

Thank you moviebob, for having a mind of your own

Rob Allen said...

Yep , Great Movie, good to see more hero film being taken seriously , I was actually shocked at how good it is.

Love the escapist review as well, more of them please.

Rob

Nick said...

I wish someone had tapped Matthew Goode (Ozymandias) on the shoulder and whispered, "Hey, you know you're not playing a Brosnan-era Bond villain, right? Ozymandias DOESN'T THINK he's a bad guy, so you can tone down the sneering a little!"

JohnnyMneumonicAndYesIKnowItIsn'tSpelledLikeThat said...

Mr. Bob,

or Mr. MovieBob,

well, whatever honorific-name combination is appropriate

I enjoy much of the work that you put out. However, I beg to disagree (with all the courtesy inherent in that statement) as to one issue.

At one point in your written commentary on the film at blogger.com, you mentioned that you did not believe that non-fans would have a problem getting into this movie, as some critics have claimed.

I sadly must disagree with you there.

I came to the Watchman franchise (there is a better word for it, but my dictionary is at the bottom of a dumpster right now) relatively late. I didn't hear about it until the movie was being promoted and trailers started to be released. Those prompted me to watch some of the motion comic clips on Youtube, along with some of the profile pages on Wikipedia. I enjoyed them all extensively, but stayed away from learning the totality of the plot. I did this because I wanted to have the movie be a surprise, and enjoy it to the maximum level possible.

The result? What I saw was incredibly moving and well-done, and I saw the film a second time without reservation (a rarity due to my current status as a college student...for proof of this, see pretentious writing style)...and loved it again.

But...

Despite the knowledge that I had prior to watching the film, I never really felt that I could properly put everything into it's proper place. All the elements were there and none of them were too complex for me to follow, but I never felt that my mind was given enough time to put them all together. I never really got over this sensation until approximately 2/3rds of the way through the movie, or approximately after the prison scene.

My closing thought after seeing it?

"Great movie, but why not make it longer?"

I know, I know, it was pushing it as is in terms of length for major theater showings, but I really do feel that "Watchmen" would have been better for me (not for everyone else, or for the fans) but for ME (because what else really matters in this world? ;-) ) if it was a tad longer. I would have really been able to enjoy everything in it's beauty and almost barbaric poetry without having to work out in my head "How does this fit together with that? How does this work in conjunction to that? Is that what the director is trying to say?".

It is possible this was my own damn fault for looking at some of the plot on YouTube beforehand, but I don't know...I did the same thing to a lesser degree with the Dark Knight, and I still enjoyed the movie immensely.

That was my reaction to it, and though I doubt you will see this in any case, I wanted to add my opinion on the off chance that you would give some kind of response on the issue. I am looking forward to buying the film on DVD this Christmas, and am looking forward to a longer, hopefully more slow-paced version of the film along with the other miscellaneous shards of beauty.

Enjoy your material, and please continue doing what you're doing. If you get a chance to do another GameOverthinker soon, feel free. I for one enjoy them. But if you're busy, or have something better to do, well, do them instead. :)