Friday, March 13, 2009

I think I'm ready to review the Watchmen now.

The sheer length of the film and depth of the story make it hard to process all at once, though many of my contemporaries already had something to say by Monday after watching the movie this weekend.
Granted, the majority of what they had to say was "I liked what they did with it. They didn't screw it up."
Much beyond that wasn't really to be found even though I tried to engage a few folks in an at-length discussion on the topic. The only truly satisfying dissection to be found was, per usual, at the hands of Bob and his Wonderous Other Side of the Coin mentality that he brings to the table, that fantastic viewpoint outside my own that pretty much puts a lightbulb over my head every day whether I admit it or not. Living with him is like having a living, huggable Greek philosopher that also really likes video games.
Per usual, I digress. The man loved the movie much the way I did, and shared with me many of his own "zomg!" moments from when he first read the graphic novel. We bandied about ideas, about how they translated the sheer wall of visual input in written form in to the sometimes thin media of the moving picture. He expounded on how things translated well, how they didn't (this was rare) and how they just plain rocked. Having him to bounce things off of made the whole experience far richer and more valuable than had I gone on my own. In fact... I probably would not have gone on my own. It was the type of generational thing that needed to be shared. This was like our geeky Forrest Gump.
Before proceeding much further, you can most likely already tell that the movie was enjoyed, because I've decided trying to keep my bias secret would be retarded. The words I write are automatically tinged with the emotion of my thoughts, and my thoughts say THIS MOVIE WAS FUCKING AWESOME at their core. It's just going to translate through.
It was not awesome in the way that Iron Man presented itself up to us to be enjoyed and loved as a retranslation of a beloved childhood icon. It was not, thank god, a "reimagining". In 10 years we can have that and it will be lauded as its own particular creative bent, probably at a time when we go to the theater just to plug the screen in to our social net-jacks in the back of our skulls and experience media as a rare physical social grouping while it's piped in. But anything before that will not give this story enough breathing room or time to mature. Hopefully someone's listening to this and takes it to heart. About the movie, not the skull-jacks. I imagine that might cause severe headaches in the early adopters of that technology.
The story is already dated at its outset. It is an alternate 1985 where we won Vietnam. As one of the characters boldly points out, had they not won it, America would have gone a little crazy. You can't help but feel that the truth hurts in this.
Nixon is putting in for a 3rd term and trying to get the constitution amended to allow him. That alone raises unease in the American psyche, who is used to being protected from dictators and kings by the laws on that pale peace of parchment. It was a good and subtle pinch to a nerve most of us don't pay attention to most days. It was enough to alienate us from this time, but also to bring up the familiar so that we recognized the world as our own...just not as our history. We were visitors in a giant What Could Have Been, and I am relatively confident that the impression was made on others in the packed audience as well.
I spent the first half hour of the movie crying. The montage of all the things that came before, all the major moments in history that we clasp with pride were displayed, hit me like a fist to the gut. There was an unspoken acknowledgment that without those things, the world we were sitting in to watch that movie would not exist. Everything that came before compounded itself on to that screen to the strains of Bob Dylan.
And of course, the towers... Oh, the twin towers. In '85 they still existed. In fact, I set foot in them for the first and only time in my life in '87 on a trip with my family. That New York didn't know what was coming yet, and left me with a sinking in the pit of my stomach. Brace yourselves, I found myself thinking each time it loomed up on the screen. And honestly, I have to complain with how often it loomed up on the screen. Even in the face of their discovery when Dr. Manhattan and the Silk Specter returned to earth, they were VERY careful to put the towers in the background. It felt very tacked on, as if to throw in our faces the most obvious landmark they had that would tug at us. And in that particular instance, it seemed they displayed it to show that they had NOT blown the towers up, a quick CYA to our national psyches.
On the other hand, one has to wonder if we would have noticed them in the background had they not been leveled. I am almost disappointed at this cheap grab at attaching us to the time period, when it could be done more subtly. The fact that the background shot was nearly always centered on them, as well, seemed to cheapen their usage even more. There were many, many other things that could've been utilized to describe a 1980's America, but they went for that.
This repeated itself in other places. The music used was jenga-ed in to fit where it could, but at times it just seemed to be there to hit you in the face that the film took place 15 years ago. When Laurie entered the cafe to meet with Dan and they threw "99 Red Balloons" in our faces, it seemed entirely out of place in tempo, key, etc... the only thing matching was the theme of nuclear war which, lets be honest, most of the audience does not realize. I feel the irony was lost, and the pacing of the song was just too upbeat for that moment. It was almost jarring, really.
When Ozymandias has the wall of TVs in front of him and every single screen is sporting an easily recognized iconic ad or TV show from that time period... I felt that they were just stretching far too hard to scream THIS HAPPENED IN THE EIGHTIES. LOOK. REMEMBER THE MAC COMMERCIAL? DOESN'T THAT BRING NOSTALGIA? The same could have been done with clips of news reports, with the clothing shown on screen, with a number of smaller more finely detailed moments. I would have to go back to look at the comic, because on this point Bob points out that many of those that were seen were literally on the TV wall in the comic. (I don't remember, to be honest) If they recreated it exactly, then this fault may lie with the comic's writers. Either way, it felt like they didn't trust the audience to follow along in the use of subtle zeitgeist and simple handed it to them.
It was visually playing tee ball. There, I said it. We were prepared for the major leagues.
Let us talk about something that really WAS in our faces the entire time; Dr. Manhattan's nuclear blue space junk.
In this, wow, props that they stuck with the comic book and showed full frontal male nudity without even a wink or a coy nod about it. It was just there, in the middle of the story, and nobody in the movie even blinked to see it happen. Granted they didn't get to see the finished CG, but the directors could have inserted some oddness to try and cover for it at some point. It flowed smoothly, as if people simply just accepted that was Dr. Manhattan's thing and it was no big deal.
There were 12 year olds in the audience. I must admit between that and the prolonged sex scene inside Archie, I was wincing that they were seeing that. Surprisingly, the huge national outcry against Giant Naked Blue Guys and Sex In Hovercrafts did NOT become quite the controversy I thought it might, and I must say now that I am really, really proud that you've grown up, America. Way to handle your frontal nudity.
They were, for the most part, loyal to the comics in their portrayal of the story line. A great deal of time and money was put in to making the streets, shop fronts and basements all look like they were taken from the pages of the book. They got the look of the young man reading the Black Freighter right, and the newspaper stand man...who, sadly but understandably only had a few short cameos in it. For those of us who had been through the graphic novel, it felt right, which was perhaps even better than just presenting the story as visually interesting. It allowed us to get comfortable and wait for the story to come to us however it had been put together. For that I must thank the director, and for Hollywood to be smart enough to hand it over to someone who loved the story enough to be true to it.
But for one rough spot where the acting was just utterly flat between elder and younger Silk Specter at the very end (made odd by the fact that they had interacted just fine prior to that and had believable chemistry) all of the characters interacted well, and felt as if they'd known one another, though there did seem to be a bit of distance between the other characters and Ozymandias. Understandable, really, in that he came from a world of private jets and high finance, while they lived in row houses. This is aside from the oft-mentioned intellectual divide between them that Ozymandias himself confessed he felt towards the majority of humanity during the story. It was believable. We embraced it and went with it. That is what mattered.
They could have gone far deeper in to Rorschach.
They could have spent more on the trickle of media in to everyday lives feeding the horror of an impending nuclear war.
They could have gone far more in depth in to the dehumanizing nature of Dr. Manhattan's experience and what it does to a formerly mortal psyche.
They didn't. It worked. We not only went with it, but cheered at it. Anything else would've added to length, but not necessarily depth. It seemed to stop just where it needed to. Just short, in fact, in leaving us with a desire to see more of this world where super heroes existed and nuclear men could deconstruct time and space
This was a good film. Good enough that when Bob suggested we go see it again, all two hours and forty minutes of it, I didn't hesitate to think this might actually be a really good idea. I can think of only one other movie I went to see in the theater more than once, and out of embarassment I will not name it. Suffice it to say, in hindsight, it doesn't nearly stack up to the Watchmen.
I'd love to go again, and hope my schedule opens up enough to see it this following weekend. I want the chance to absorb more of the details, maybe catch on to points where they finessed the story and I was too wrapped up in the action to notice it.
I liked this story. I loved the alternate take on history, and a look at what might have been. I liked the strategic use of tachyons, probably the first of its kind. I loved that the man who could see the past and the future was surprised twice in the matter of an hour, and that the same one that proclaimed a live human had the same number of electrons as a dead human and therefore of no consequence was forced to realize that he was, in fact, still one of our species despite the accident that seemingly removed his humanity. In the end He of the Nuclear Blue Junk proved to be the same as everyone else... he didn't actually give a damn about the rest of the world, just those close to him. The only difference was that he was freed from the moral burdens that went along with having to care about the race as a whole when we weren't designed for it. He could talk about life matter of factly, without the overlay of emotion, assumption, supposition, or cultural conditioning. He was, in fact, almost Zen in his existence.
This was a good movie. I really, really liked this movie.


I first came across the Watchmen when trying to research the poem "Ozymandias" by Shelley and Smith on Wikipedia. In the multiple following links I came across The World's Smartest Man, Dr. Manhattan, and the others in the superhero group. At the time, before I'd read the graphic novel, I thought it was a novel but bizarre concept and thought nothing of it...until a month later when then announced the movie was being made. The serendipity of the timing was not lost on me.

In Egypt's sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows:
"I am great OZYMANDIAS," saith the stone,
"The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
"The wonders of my hand." The City's gone,
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.
We wonder, and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro' the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragments huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.
—Horace Smith.[10]

1 comment:

Ben said...

Sorry... TLDR(yet). But from what I gathered reading the first part, Bob got 2 thumbs up from Helen's review!