Sunday, March 08, 2009

I Saw the Watchmen Movie Last Night and Here's a Non-Review Review

I saw it last night. So here's...

A non-review of "Watchmen," by Zack Snyder, in 12 parts:

1. The movie is somehow really close to being excellent and simultaneously very, very far away from quality. That's kind of weird.

2. I thought the casting of Danny Bonaduce as Rorschach was provocative at first, but it turns out that he's the best part of the movie. Yes, this joke is terrible, but I couldn't resist. (I blame it on the wig.)

3. The opening credits sequence is really and truly the best part, and it's pretty great.

4. And the Oscar for "Worst Wigs in a Movie Ever. Seriously, Ever!" goes to..."Watchmen."

5. The deep focus and over-lighting make the movie look a lot like the comic but those wigs are really, really terrible.

6. I need to talk about the wigs some more. Maybe there's an in-story reason for the badness of the wigs. I mean, you'd think Adrian Veidt could afford a better rug and all, but Rorschach's a crazy person so he's off the hook. Sally Jupiter: she's old, and probably crazy as well, so maybe she just likes bad wigs. I don't know. Maybe hanging out with Dr. Manhattan did make all their hair fall out and part of the conspiracy is the let's-not-point-out-how-bad-everyone's-wigs-are thing that's going on in the movie.

7. Because the wigs are really bad. And the old age makeup doesn't work at all either.

8. Hollis Mason is cool. There should have been more of him. Note that they didn't go with old age makeup on him, they just cast two completely different actors for the young and old versions and, wow, it actually looks so much better that way.

9. The musican cues are as bad and cheesy as everyone says. At one point, "99 Luftballoons" kicks in, because it's the 80's I guess, and though I am a proponent of two things in movies (the use of "99 Luftballoons" whenever possible -- see "Nights, Boogie" for a great example -- and freeze-frame jumps to close things out -- see "Gordon, Flash" for a great example of that), Snyder throws in the Nena musical gem and then doesn't seem to know what to do with it so it just awkwardly fades out. Poor form, Mr. Snyder. Nena needs nourishment. Though if the movie ended with a freeze frame high-five between Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, it could have redeemed itself.

10. I really like Patrick Wilson.

11. One of the questions people had after seeing early clips from this movie was how well Zack Snyder can direct actors. The answer is pretty clear: he can't do it well at all. It's not that the performances were bad, it's that they were wildly inconsistent, with some actors hamming it up like crazy (like Max Headroom as Moloch -- though, really, what do you expect when you cast Max Headroom in a role?) and some actors playing it kind of straight and somewhat subtle (sort of). Part of the problem was that Alan Moore's dialogue doesn't work that well when spoken aloud, but part of it was that some actors seemed to think they were in "Mystery Men" (Carla Gugino), while others seemed to think they were in "The Big Chill" (Patrick Wilson). Matthew Goode didn't seem to know what movie he was in, but he knew that it was one that involved a lot of stylized movements and an ever-changing accent. His performance doesn't really work well at all.

12. Seeing the movie divorced from its comic book context made two things apparent: (a) there's really no in-story reason for the characters to wear costumes (with the exception of maybe Rorschach, who keeps screaming about his "face"), and while costumes seem perfectly natural in a superhero comic, they seem perfectly silly in a superhero movie, and that's hard to get past; (b) "Watchmen" is really a story about Batman vs. Superman. I never realized it before, because I was always reading it as a book about Charlton analogues, but the movie doesn't have that same context and so the movie becomes about the three aspects of Batman (the obsessed vigilante, Rorschach; the kind-hearted gadgeteer, Nite Owl; and the self-made fighting machine with a gazillion bucks, Ozymandias) in conflict with an ever-distant, alien Superman (Dr. Manhattan, obviously). As a Batman vs. Superman movie, "Watchmen" is pretty cool.

And a bonus #13: I actually liked "Watchmen," even with all of its flaws. It's an imperfect, not-even-close-to-a-masterpiece of artificiality. But I enjoyed it.


scott91777 said...

Your review perfectly encapsulates my feelings on the movie.... seriously, the wigs were terrible. They looked like TV movie wigs; which, I've always noticed, are terrible (see the Temptations movie, the Partridge family movie and that VH1 original about Def Leppard that they did a few years ago)

John Pontoon said...

My take is that this movie is certainly worth seeing, and it's certainly not worth seeing twice.

Jer said...

Close to excellent but far from quality - yes. I was entertained by the movie, but it felt to me that its brilliant moments came via its "overly faithful" adherence to the novel, and not from the movie itself. Reading Roger Ebert's review, it hit me that the things he praises are almost all elements of the novel. When even the composition of the scenes and the choice of camera angles were pulled from the original work, how much is left in the movie itself to praise?

But the opening credits were awesome - to which Snyder and co deserve a lot of credit. That credit sequence plus the first hour of the movie earned enough goodwill from me that I was able to be entertained by the rest of the movie despite it not being as good as the first hour. I'm still trying to decide exactly what he was trying to do with the over-the-top extreme violence and sex. It really made those scenes more humorous than disturbing for me, but that may be what he was going for and I need to think about it a bit more to figure it out.

MOCK! said...

While I did enjoy the movie, for what it was, my only nitpicks are about two translation-to-the-screen issues.

1. Rorschach and the cleaver (?) in the movie versus the hacksaw and handcuffs in the my mind changed the character a little.

2. While I didn't need the squid, I do think an extraterrestrial themed ending would have worked better.

And I probably will watch it a second time....on DVD.

Anonymous said...

What irked me most was the rape scene. The violence in this was over stylised and comical (which was y main problem in the film) and it didn't work, especially during this scene. In the comic it was one brutal punch and it shocked you but when I saw this people were actually laughing until they realised what was happening. Oh and don't get me started on the prostectics.

Shecky Shabazz said...

I agree with most of your points, Tim, except the close to excellent one.
What bothered me most was:
1.) The fetishized violence- and action sequences
2.) The ridiculousness of the costumes and the gaudiness of the production design
3.) The break neck pace
4.) The corny dialogue

In short, I guess, the squandering away of nearly everything that makes the comic great. It was like seeing Watchmen done by Rob Liefeld.

Correct me if I'm wrong, someone, but in the comic there is no superhero team called "the Watchmen", is there?

Kyle said...

It's Crimebusters. The title is a reference to Juvenal's Satire and an unread JFK speech.

Ben Villarreal said...

Excellent points, really, though the wig issue was not apparent to me. The Batman vs. Superman aspect of the story was not lost on me when reading, but perhaps I never saw it as all that important to the work--though it does add to the argument that, in a fight, Batman will win, hands-down, against Superman :-)

Manolis Vamvounis said...

wow, i hadn't made the batman vs superman connection, but you're perfectly right! and that's mainly the movie with the altered ending, rather than the book.

i didnt really notice the wigs. i thought their hair was fab! especially Sillhouette, she stole my gay heart! :)

my main nitpick was concerning the fight scenes. they were far too over-the-top, especially with the sound effects... pretty horrid job there, it took off miles away from the more grounded nature of the book. i think more realistic depiction of violence would have made it more horrifying (yeah, esp the rape scene, which i just didnt feel)

Mark Dykeman said...

Couldn't agree more on points 10 - 12.

Funny, I had been thinking that Nite Owl and Rorschach, when combined, would basically be Batman, but I completely missed how Ozy would really complete that particular puzzle - good call.

One thing you didn't mention in your review was the Comedian - I thought he was brought to life quite nicely by Morgan in this movie.

The more that I think about it, I think I liked the comic book's climax better. The telepathic squid was quite a stretch, as was the anticipated effect of pushing humanity together, but framing Dr. Manhattan was weaker. Just imagine: he supposedly disintegrates multiple cities, but yet doesn't publicly take credit for it, nor is he actually seen at the sites. America's former omnipotent lapdog goes rogue and then, all of a sudden, the rest of the world becomes sympathetic? I know that many of the cities that Ozy nuked weren't American, but wouldn't there have been a lot of resentment against the US when they traced the attack to "Manhattan"? Agghh... oh well.

Michael said...

"99 Luftballons" was there not just because it's an 80s pop song, but because it's a song about an accidental nuclear war.

Molly said...

Ha, of course the thing I came here to say has already been said, in the comment right above mine. When I heard they play "99 Luftballoons," I thought it was kinda clever, although I haven't seen it yet so I don't know how well it works in the scene. I guess when I make my nuclear annihilation movie, my cute 80s music cue will have to be "The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades" or "Everyday is Like Sunday."

Someone else commented about Rorschach and the cleaver/hacksaw, which makes me wonder how audiences who haven't read the book will take that scene (if they keep the scene mostly the same)--I immediately thought, "Oh, so this is what Saw ripped that off from," and I cringe thinking people might think this movie is ripping off Saw.

Timothy Callahan said...

Yeah but "99 Luftballons" only pops into the movie for about six seconds and then fades out. It's really poorly used.

Molly said...

It's too bad music is used poorly in Watchmen (at least according to you, I haven't seen it yet so maybe I'll feel differently) because I remember really liking how he used a few songs in the remake of Dawn of the Dead. Although it's hard to go wrong with stuff like "People Who Died."

And I'm really glad you didn't hate it because I really want to be optimistic. Meanwhile, my brother (who has never read the book and probably knew nothing about it going in) went to see it and walked out.

Timothy Callahan said...

I have a feeling the movie will piss you off too.

Jake said...

Wouldn't the hacksaw just come off as a Mad Max rip, and irritate the average moviegoer? It's such an iconic scene in film lore. I didn't have a problem with Hayter/Snyder changing it to a cleaver attack.

Will said...

I'd had the Rorschach + Nite Owl = Batman idea kicking around in my head for years, but I'd never thought about Ozymandias as a third component of it. That's awesome.

Kyle said...

Clearly Blue Beetle II, The Question, and Thunderbolt should have teamed up more.

Manolis Vamvounis said...

they should form a tag team and enter the Battle for the Cowl!

oh wait, they're all dead

(are they? what ever happened to Thunderbolt post-crisis?)

Molly said...

Are you saying that for real or just because of the venomous vitriol that roils within me constantly? Because I am moderately though cautiously pumped for this and pretty determined to see the good.

Plus I have read some spoilers already and am trying to make peace with them. Someone made a point about the ending that I hadn't thought of that kind of made sense but I'll see how I feel about how they decided to change that.

Also, my sister's reading my copy and really enjoying it, she said it was slow at first but now it's getting really good (she just finished the part about Dr. Manhattan's life, which she thought was great). And she like me doesn't read comics very often.

coffee said...

i haven't read the Watchmen comic series, but i can't imagine them packing any more into one movie even if they wanted to, which is good for me, makes me feel like i got my money's worth