Thursday, March 12, 2009

3/12/09

OK, I have some scattered comments on Watchmen, but I'll first comment on some other things , that way you can skip the rest if you haven't seen the movie yet.

Ten Songs That Could Actually Happen That I Want to See in Rock Band
1. “Point of No Return” Kansas
2. “Life During Wartime” The Talking Heads
3. “Mexican Wine” Fountains of Wayne
4. “Dashboard” Modest Mouse
5. “Accidents Will Happen” Elvis Costello
6. “Mean to Me” Crowded House
7. “Hold On, Hold On” Neko Case
8. “One Girl Revolution” Superchick
9. “Chocolate” Snow Patrol
10. “Sledgehammer” Peter Gabriel

Books
I'm working through M. John Harrison's Viriconium. I'd read some of this back in high school, but I hadn't remembered that much. There's more than a little tinge of the strangest of Moorcock here. He's mentioned heavily in that New Weird anthology I mentioned a few posts back. It is an interesting book, especially since it collects the work over a long span. His style distinctly evolves. Thanks to kaiju for the gift of the book.

I was watching Fringe on Hulu last week which a) establishes some kind of lame internets skillz cred and b) provides a show I enjoy because it actually gets somewhere. I won't say it is the greatest show, and there are a few real clunkers I've seen so far, but overall takes what I liked about the X-Files-- main plots plus an overarching conspiracy, and actually moves the backstory forward as fast as the central one. It is kind of refreshing. Anyway, they're at an antique bookseller and someone is selling a first edition of Jonathan Carroll's Land of Laughs. I thought that was a great meta-joke on one level because there's a scene close to that in the book itself.

That made me go back and reread the book. Land of Laughs is slight, but an interesting take on the American Fantastic. I realized I haven't read anything else by him-- have any of you?

spoilers

Initial Impressions of Watchmen (Spoilers)
It felt like a lovely and carefully constructed simulacra of Watchmen. I'll grant it's ambitiousness and the amount of care that went into set design and production. However, overall it felt incredibly souless and hollow. There's a lack of emotional center or sympathy in the film, except for carefully stage-managed bits intended to tug you in that direction. I don't think that's true in the original comic where the stories of each of the characters feels like it has depth and resonance. I'm not sure how to put that except that I felt distant from everyone on the screen.

Part of that comes from bad acting in parts: Silk Spectre is bad (even though it is good to see Lucy Lawless getting work), her mom is terrible, Ozymandius is terribly miscast. That last one bothered me-- he's so much...lighter...than he needs to be. I thought Night Owl was well-cast, but his performance kept shifting from good to bad. Nite-Owl's probably my favorite character from the original, so I was more worried about him than anyone else. A lot of the secondary parts seemed to be filled by people who knew they were in a comic-book movie and sold their performance that way.

Ironically, the best performance comes from the guys wearing the mask for most of the movie: Rorschach. At first his voice bothered me, but eventually I got used to it. When we finally saw him without his mask, I bought it-- I really believed in his character. (Although my brother did lean over and say that he thought Seth Green looked really bad...). I have a love/hate with the Rorschach character-- in the book he's great because he's ambiguous-- his actions are psychotic and sociopathic-- and Moore deliberately tries to stay above pronouncing judgment on the character. The problem I've seen is too much Fanboy love for that kind of absolutist vigilante character-- and I'd say taking R without any kind of consideration of the moral quandary led a lot of comics writers and fans down the wrong path for a long time. I think Snyder's a little in that camp and R. get's treated a little too heroically. There's a great issue of The Question (who Rorschach is based on) where he reads Watchmen and tries to emulate R's approach and methods and ends up rejecting them-- that always stuck with me.

(Actually here's an interesting take on R from The Hurting)

I laughed and giggled at the music several times-- the last one I actually guffawed in the theater.

-The music track for the Silk Spectre/Nite Owl love scene...which I remember last being used in Shreck. And we had to hear the whole song, with its goofy opening verses?
-The music in the Mars sequence tries to lift from Philip Glass and does it badly. I don't have any problem with composers lifting from others-- Hans Zimmer and Basil P do it. But this was such a hamfisted take on delicate music that I started giggling.
-DEUS IRAE! DEUS IRAE! LOOK UPON OZYMANDIUS AND DESPAIR!

*sigh* On the plus side, the elevator music in the Veidt building was a muzak version of Tears for Fears "Everybody Wants to Rule the World".

I think part of the problem, obviously, comes from the structure of the original book. Those chapters, so carefully constructed, don't hold up to the kinds of squashing and rijiggering that Snyder does. He's trying hard to keep things exactly the same in some places-- where that becomes a straight-jacket and limits him. On the other hand, where he does change things up dramatically, I don't like the results-- the Veidt narrative in his building for example. I thought the Graveyard sequence was a shining moment in managing to translate the comic's structure to the screen and I enjoyed that.

Blue Wang. Yes-- apparently they had orders to keep it in the shot.

Other reactions:
*I liked Silk Spectre's costume-- I thought it worked. However, why did she need to have her thighs exposed like that? Wouldn't you run the costume or the boots all the way up to the hips? Strange.

*Why does Nite Owl have to see Rorschach die? That's a brilliant solitary moment of quiet desperation in the original book. The KHAAAANNNNN! moment that follows feels very fake-- I don't object to changes (like I can see why you'd cut the Black Frieghter, the newstands stuff, the cops investigation etc) but that change didn't add anything and in fact diluted the impact.

*Ye-gods that was bloody-- and gratuitously so in some cases. I don't mind blood and bone crunch, but wow-- and the electric saw...unnecessary.

*It makes me appreciate the framing-- and especially the coloring-- in the original GN.

*Do we have to see Rorschach menacing Little Figure in the bathroom through the swinging door? Do we have to see all the blood come seeping out? In the comic it is a much more subtle joke that works without going overboard or having to spell it out. That just felt like a horndog love-note to Rorschach fans and people who have to be told everything or they won't get it.

*Not that they could-- I can't imagine coming into that film cold. How could you follow what's going on?

My favorite scene from the book ended up being my favorite scene in the movie-- the exchange between Rorschach and Nite Owl where R says, hesitatingly, "You're a good friend Dan." It is great exchange, really building on everything we've seen so far.

So overall: I didn't hate it, I didn't love it,-- I just felt, well...meh...and neutral...like I was watching a documentary or a museum video. That's despite some pretty interesting action sequences. Here's a director who has clearly watched Oldboy over and over again.

8 comments:

  1. "Part of that comes from bad acting in parts: Silk Spectre is bad (even though it is good to see Lucy Lawless getting work), her mom is terrible, Ozymandius is terribly miscast."

    Wait, did you mean this as a joke? LOL. Silk Spectre was played by Malin Akerman, not Lucy Lawless. Although thinking of it, I wish she had played her. She would of done a much better job.

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  2. Silk Spectre throwing a chakram around would have added to my enthusiasm for the movie.

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  3. "Why does Nite Owl have to see Rorschach die?"

    Because this is one of the plot holes of the original graphic novel. Rorschach leaves Karnak and there is no other mention of him except for Dr. Manhattan's "I strongly doubt Rorschach will reach civilization." One would think that Nite Owl would at least ask after his friend before he presumably takes the Owlship back to America. On the other hand, Dr. Manhattan left Rorschach's bloody mess all over the hoverbikes (which I noticed this week when I re-read the book after seeing the movie), so I guess a detective-type like Nite Owl could put two and two together. I thought the scene in the movie gave Nite Owl a bit of catharsis over Rorschach instead of leaving it unresolved like they did in the graphic novel.

    It's interesting to read your feelings on the hollowness of the movie. I couldn't help put inject the spirit of the graphic novel into my viewing of the movie. People I work with have asked me about it and I have to honestly tell them that I don't know how much they would enjoy the movie without first reading the book. While I was watching the movie, I was mentally filling in missing dialogue as it went along.

    If you think the bone cruch was too much, you should have come with us to the IMAX theater. You could literally feel the impact with the speakers. I've never been bothered by movie violence, but when you can feel it yourself you can't help but develop empathy for the characters on the receiving end.

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  4. I was surprised by some of the violence, too...but then I remembered how violent the comic seemed back when it came out. By the standards then, it was quite graphic and even shocking. With that in mind, I think the graphic nature of some of the violence in the movie is about right, if you scale what was in the comic to modern movie-going sensibilities. And honestly, if you put frustrated, skilled martial artist street-fighters against random thugs, I suspect there'd be some bones popping out here and there. R's cleaver to the skull of the rapist-murderer was the only violent bit that has really stuck with me. It deviates from the comic, and R actually stops and thinks about it. I think it works, though, because it emphasizing a decision made in that moment and part of what R is.
    Generally, though, my review would be much like yours.

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  5. Oh, and I agree with Jim's assessment of Nite Owl seeing R die. That R & Dan moment earlier on is perhaps the most human moment in the film, so I like that NO got to see R's death and react. Hi, Jim!

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  6. My problem with the Nite Owl seeing R's death is that it is handled so over-the-top-ly. Just about every major change that Snyder makes to the text-- and some of them have a good rationale behind them, I'll admit that-- but every change he makes comes off to me like he's screaming in my face. I feel any subtlety is lost on any of those scenes where Snyder has his fingerprints on them.

    And an argument could be made: but he's doing it...going over the top...to make the point and help the audience get what's going on. I don't think that argument necessarily works given how impenetrable the film will be for anyone who hasn't read the comic-- and if they have, then in some cases they don't need that over the top "SAD, BE SAD NOW" stuff-- slo-mo? the Shatner scream...too much for me.

    I should also say that your point is interesting and never actually occurred to me before: that end sequence in the original GN never bothered me, and I never had any question there about what and why. I always read that as the break point between the two of them. So I find it interesting that supposed "plot hole" bothered anyone.

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  7. I just saw the movie. My viewing was tinted by having watched the greatest superhero movie of all time on DVD, The Incredibles. On the commentary track, Brad Bird talks about the need to slow down the pace once in a while, to let the movie breathe. Watchmen never breathes. It had the pacing of a nine panel grid. Tick, tock, like a, gahhr.

    Malin as Silk Spectre II was disappointing, but I could believe her as a young unseasoned woman who's lived her life on stage. Such people lack subtlety. Just as I can believe Keanu Reeves in Bill & Ted, but not anything deeper. I'd hope for more, but it kinda works.

    I was most disappointed by Silk Spectre I. This is the most emotionally complex character in the movie and the comic book, and you needed a serious actor. Carla Gugino failed miserably (can you tell I have IMDB open in another window?).

    Ozymandias needed to be both knowing and innocent. Christopher Reeve would have been perfect. Why did this British actor sound German? I expected him to start saying "So, Doctor Jones..." Too villainous, too foreign, too homophobic.

    Props to Jackie Earl Haley (from Breaking Away, as my friends at the movie told me) as R. Amazing. Mr Snyder is not an actor's director. Getting a good performance past a bad director requires both great skill and a little luck. God bless Jackie.

    I don't necessarily object to the plot changes, but I don't think the screenwriter understood the story, character arcs, moral philosophy, etc, well enough to fill in the gaps. Nite Owl's speech to Ozy condemning his scheme was painfully bad. Ditto on Ozy's speech to Lee Iacocca.

    Still, I had fun. Quite an achievement, if not great art.

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