Monday, March 23, 2009
In the run up to the opening of this film I read the "Watchmen graphic novel"only a week before. I knew i wanted to review the movie, and there was such an enthusiasm for the book
that i felt an unusual obligation to read it first. Perhaps because many of these "directed by the guy who did 300" or "from the people who did Sin City" movies are all about the highly stylized nature of not just adapting the graphic novel to the big screen, but actually making it still feel like you are thumbing through the pages of the graphic novel itself. So i read it. Perhaps a bad idea. An avid comic book nerd (of which I am not) friend of mine told me that i should have read it, but like a year ago or more. Not right before because it only gave me the tools to judge the literal success of the adaptation and not the sense of it. Kind of how Stephen King ragged on Stanley Kubrick's masterful "The Shining" because he swayed so far from the plot points in the book, so when he did his own literal "made-for-TV" adaptation and it blew he went on record saying "ah, i get it. Making a movie is different than writing a book. My bad, Stanley Kubrick actually did know how to direct a film. I'm a dickcheese."
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So I tried my best not to get caught up in that nonsense, although it's hard when you see something that was in the book that was not in the movie that you genuinely believe would have made the movie better. But I actually didn't see that so much. There were things that I found very interesting in the book that were not in the movie, but I understand why they were excised (so that the movie was not nine-hours long), and there were things in the book I was happy to not see in the film (i.e. the internal comic book, "The Black Freighter", storyline). In addition to "that film getting its own DVD release" in the coming days, there will be, of course, "a director's cut" that will combine them both, as well as all the other junk the director "wanted" to put in. No, my problems with the film, which I basically liked incidentally, were mostly with both the book and the film, although I do have one gripe with action directing for today.
The film is beautiful to look at. It actually captures the essence of a comic book without having to add that rotoscoping, film negative, noirish, we-are-only-going-to-show-the-color-red sheen to make it clear that "This is a comic book in action people, isn't that friggin' awesome!" Director "Zack Snyder" who felt he needed said gimmick in "300", matured this go-around to just figure out the best way to tell this already fantastic story. The solutions are bound to be stylistic enough because it ain't real. He is, however, guilty of the the wire-work that apparently some wire-rigging union forced all of the major studios on having in all action films. Perhaps I am to blame the action movie-going public that will think any action film that does not have its protagonist(s) floating up to kick someone in the throat, or doing the splits on a tree is just bullshit lame. But The Watchmen seems like the one action movie that would avoid doing this. All the other effects are cool enough to let us know they've got the budget for it, so for a movie whose central premise is "what if people actually dressed up in costumes and hit the streets pretending to be super heroes" really happened, I would have loved to have seen the fights be more realistic. I just don't believe that someone like Malin Ackerman, without any real rationale as to why she could fight at all, would floor a gang of rapists with a few spinning back kicks. It would be a real struggle. I'll accept that she could win the fight, but I would love it if they based her success on the ways someone like her could actually win that fight: with cunning, speed, grace, flexibility and skill. Not with brute strength. Sorry, but she can't crack a man's arm in half. This goes double for Matthew Goode who, despite being a normal human like every one else, has no trouble dispatching three other Watchmen in a fist fight. Like they were nothin'. Again, I realize as the story goes, Ozymandias wins this fight, but I would have appreciated it more if it represented more of the struggle that it would have been. This is true for all the fights. Make them win, make them heroes, but make them real and I think we would have really bought into the possibility.
I also can't decide whether I have an issue with the character Dr. Manhattan as played by Billy Crudup and a globular piece of hanging blue penis flesh. One of the reasons I have never liked Superman is how nearly invincible he is. I have never liked super heroes that cannot be beat. Sure you can be a douche and beat him with this glowing rock kryptonite, but he is essentially omnipotent. And so is Dr. Manhattan. It just sort of takes the fun out of it. But put into context I see his thematic significance. Aside from being essential to the climax, he is a super-hero whose only weakness is his extraordinary indifference to life and disdain for man. Juxtapose him against everyguys with no inherent powers beyond a zest for punching people in the face; crime-fighting fundamentalists and then you have an interesting dialectic about the helplessness of man and their inability to shape the world with any significant impact. That said, indifference may be a sexy enough worldview in the pages of a book where the poetry lies in words, but comes up somewhat short on celluloid. Meaning, there were times i was thinking, "Oh jesus, not this wet blanket again." However, i was surprised how well his trip to Mars and subsequent haiku-esque re-telling of how he became who he is, played. It was one of many artsy-fartsy moments that I am sure alienated those that just wanted to see some super heroes kick ass and save the day, and are not use to seeing or hearing anything more poetic than the beauty of a truck explosion. The team involved, however, were more interested in remaining as true to the source material as possible and telling it with as much class and dignity one can when one of the lead characters walks around naked with their blue, glowing junk flapping around.
I felt the casting was mostly fine. Although it employed half the cast from "Little Children", I think I am a fan of Patrick Wilson's clean-cut good-guy schtick overall, and for those who are interested, he shows a ton of man-ass. His body looks very similar to my body. But he kind of phones it in here. I felt Malin Ackerman looked like the drag-queen "Lypsinka" for most of the movie but then goes full-frontal and we learn that she is very much a woman, but is still a poor man's Cameron Diaz. Billy Crudup was fine as Dr. Manhattan, but mostly had the thankless job of only providing the voice for the CGI. I thought Robert Downey Jr. was unu - what's that? that wasn't Downey? It was Jeffrey Dean Morgan? oops. Well, The Comedian was always a tricky character because he so incredibly unsympathetic. He's called The Comedian, but you find it hard to figure out why. There are all kinds of metaphysical reasons why like, "he sees the world for the joke that it is", but Downey/ Morgan adds another layer and despite being a complete raping, child killing monster actually finds the humor. I don't know if it is a good thing, or if he is "good" in this movie since he mostly just plays "asshole", but I guess it ain't easy, for some reason, to get laughs out of shooting a pregnant Vietnamese woman in the head because you aren't ready to be a father. Matthew Goode is my least favorite casting because he comes off as a smarmy effete bad guy right from the beginning which always means villain. They project the finale by just casting this guy. The most debatable casting is "Jackie Earle Haley". I think this Bad News Bear is a brilliant actor. He is wonderful in Little Children, he is wonderful in "The Bad News Bears Go To Japan", and he is essentially wonderful here. He is exactly the Rorschach as i imagined him. My only problem is he is like 5'3". And he kicks some incredible ass in this movie. Like, tons of ass. And he is tiny. It would be like Prince kicking your ass. And I was so desperate for some very real fighting involving some very real scenarios. He doesn't fit that bill, but he is very good in all other ways, so I will let it slide.
Overall, I remember finding the ending to the book chilling, but less so in the film. This may be because I already knew it, and it was fresh in my mind. It may also be because Alan Moore, the book's author. was right when he notably said this book was unfilmable. Ultimately, he was wrong. I believe the creative team brought their estimable talents to play and the result is a visually arresting, kinetically directed, solidly acted, somewhat moving art house comic book action flick. And I think that's pretty good.