Friday, March 20, 2009

Zack Snyder's Watchmen Hits THE SPLASH PAGE

Chad Nevett finally had a chance to see the "Watchmen" movie, and we needed to talk about what he thought. Did he like it? Did he want to punch it in its smug blue face? Let's find out...

Chad Nevett: We're a little late to the party, but that's because I didn't see "Watchmen" until this past Tuesday. Why? I dislike crowds in movie theaters and, well, Tuesdays are cheap movie days at the theaters here, which suits the respective budgets of myself and my girlfriend quite nicely. You saw it opening weekend and wrote a "non-review" for your blog where you discussed a few things you liked and disliked, but didn't really get into the nitty gritty of it. So, much like you did to me with "Batman: Battle for the Cowl" last week, I'll bestow the honor of first thoughts upon you and make you wait to hear what I thought of "Watchmen." (Though, if you'd like to guess, go ahead.)

Timothy Callahan: I'm going to guess that you thought it mostly looked nice, but the musical cues were too heavy-handed, and the interpretation of Ozymandias was way off the mark. I'll also guess that you liked Jackie Earl Haley and you thought that most of the perfomances were decent (except Matthew Goode's moustache-twirling funny-accented evil approach and probably Malin Ackerman, because, you know, she's not what you might call a good actor), and you didn't mind the lack of squid. I'll guess that you thought it wasn't very effective as an actual movie, but as a companion to the graphic novel it could have been a lot worse. You'll have to admit that it's better than the motion comic, but it's nowhere in the same league as Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's work on the page.

That's what I'm guessing for you, because that's pretty much how I feel about it, and we're usually in the same ballpark, taste-wise. I don't know if the wigs bothered you as much as they did me, though.

So, how close was I?

CN: Not that close in that I hated it. I really, really did not like it. I walked out of it and my girlfriend, Michelle looked at me, wanting to know what I thought and all I could do was mutter "Godawful." While discussing it over dinner with her, I stumbled across exactly what my problem with the movie is: it seemed like an adaptation of every stupid, lame imitation of "Watchmen" that didn't actually understand "Watchmen." We've seen so many of those in comics and this film was like that. Superficially, it shared plot elements and select lines of dialogue, but all of the small nuances were altered to make them more graphic, more obvious and, really, very dumbed down. I couldn't escape the comic when watching it and, as a result, the film didn't sit right with me.

I'm not the sort of the guy who demands perfectly faithful adaptations, because I'm not dumb enough to think that what works in comics or prose will work in film, so it's not that "Watchmen" deviated it. I didn't mind the switch from the squid to Jon. I did mind that the ending just sort of happened without any real payoff or build-up. I asked Michelle about the ending -- hell, the entire movie's forward momentum -- and she agreed that there just wasn't anything at stake there. While the comic built up to the end, the film just kind of shows up there because that's where it's supposed to go. It went through the motions, providing little to no depth of character or plot.

And, yes, it was faithful in the broad strokes, but I noticed that every scene seemed altered for no apparent reason. It may just be nit-picking on my part, sure. One example I gave Michelle is when Rorschach is talking to the prison shrink and talking about the abduction/murder of the little girl. When he kills the man with the cleaver (which didn't bother me) and says that Walter Kovacs died that night, but Rorschach was born or lived or however he phrased it, I couldn't help but wonder why they altered that line from the comic where he says, "It was Kovacs who said 'Mother' then, muffled under latex. It was Kovacs who closed his eyes. It was Rorschach who opened them again." A small change, and not really an important one, but... why do it? The line from the comic is a hundred times better and illustrates how Rorschach views himself in relation to Kovacs much better than what he said in the film -- and it doesn't take up more screen time. And the film kept on having small little changes that altered meanings of lines in small ways, making them less impactful. Then again, I noticed this stuff because I know the comic.

Michelle liked it more than I did, but we did both hate the acting. Aside from a couple of people who did decent jobs, it was just awful. The funny thing is that Michelle thought that the actors were playing their parts like that because of the comic, that the comic was an exagerated, highly unrealistic piece of work, not a work that tried to place costumed heroes within as realistic a setting/world as possible.

And don't get me started on the violence, whose utter fetishisation by Snyder proves more than anything that, yeah, he really didn't understand "Watchmen" in the same way that all of the hapless imitators in comics didn't understand it.

So, yeah, I didn't like it. If I were reviewing it, I would have given it one star probably. Maybe two if I really tried to get away from my own perspective and try to view it through the eyes of someone new to the material.

TC: Wow. I think you probably need to see it again to understand its complexities, because obviously you didn't get it.

Oh wait, you totally got it.

I agree with all of your criticisms, but I enjoyed the movie more than you did, probably because I really did have such low expectations, ultimately. I had high expectations until about a week before the release, and then my expectations kept dropping and dropping when people I trusted started saying less than positive things about it. And I really don't think the acting is terrible, except for a few really important exceptions, but I do think that Zack Snyder didn't demand anything close to consistency in the performances. (Plus, a lot of the Moore dialogue just does not work when spoken aloud.)

But it is certainly not the graphic novel, not even what you could honestly think of as an adaptation of it. It's a completely new, post-"Mystery Men" cheesy, faux-grand superhero epic without any kind of humanity to it. It's all artifice. I really do think it's a terrible movie, with moments that made me cringe for aesthetic reasons, but I'm kind of fascinated by it and maybe that's why I get some perverse enjoyment out of it. I certainly wouldn't recommend the movie to anyone, but I do want to see what my wife thinks about it. I'm curious.

Let's talk about the fetishized violence a bit. It's obviously a different perspective than we get from the graphic novel, but we really need to distance it from the source material if we're going to have any kind of conversation about it as a film. So is there any merit to the notion that this is "Watchmen" for superhero movies? That is to say: does the fetishized violence comment upon the traditions of supehero action movies, and to portray the violence in a more down-to-earth, "realistic" way would have disconnected it from the movies it was meant to comment upon? Does this movie even work as a gloriously deranged, artificial pastiche of the Hollywood superhero film?

To be continued at GRAPHICONTENT!


Molly said...

I have so many thoughts about this movie and where I think it got the comic wrong (although overall I did like the movie) but I think my biggest problem is that it seemed to get the take on superheroes wrong. The book, at least how I read it, is saying that really, people going out and acting like vigilantes is not such a good idea, no matter how good their intentions are, whereas the movie is just like "Superheroes yay!" And treats the Comedian just like this bad apple, and Rorachach as this cool guy who does what he has to. It's too black and white, where the book was more subtle and full of good people doing shitty/misguided things, and bad people feeling genuine regret over their actions. But I'll probably need to both reread the comic and see the movie again to see if the impressions I got were right.

Oh, but, my one other big issue was the movie ending with Dan and Laurie all happy and lovey-dovey and fighting crime didn't sit right with me, and I don't think you should be able to describe the ending of Watchmen as "upbeat" (or possible-sequel-establishing).

othermarlo said...

"It's obviously a different perspective than we get from the graphic novel, but we really need to distance it from the source material if we're going to have any kind of conversation about it as a film."

But Tim, that's impossible because the film itself, in its anxious quest for faithfulness doesn't allow us. "Watchmen" the film really offers nothing new at all, neither as a film nor an adaptation. All the small changes are superficial and don't complement the comic at all. (Well, except the opening montage, which was really excellent, especially with Nite-Owl I saving the Waynes.)

A really good adaptation, one that perfectly takes a text from one medium to another is Blade Runner. The main theme of the novel, what does it mean to be human, is not lost on the highly altered, and brilliant, adaptation. "Watchmen"-as-film doesn't translate the thematic elements of the comic, nor does it do a rereading of it, thus it fails. It merely stands as a vanity project.

Also, if Terry "Brazil" Gilliam was convinced that it was unfilmable, then dammit, it's unfilmable.

Last thing: Nice point on the fetishized violence, Chad. Your words are my thoughts exactly.

Rolando said...

I agree with the analysis both of you (and Molly in the comments) gave. In the end I didn't hate it as much as Chad but I definitely wasn't as forgiving -- or able to just enjoy myself -- like Tim. It reminded me in terms of production value, storytelling and quality of Spider-Man 3. My girlfriend's reaction was, literally, "blah." She hated it more than me for wasting her time.

If you gave the comic to an average 13 year old then had him tell the story back to you, this is the version you'd get. All the violence and "cool" stuff without any of the meaning and nuance and definitely none of the emotion.

Chad Nevett said...

And, the second part is up over at GraphiContent where I answer Tim's question and, then, we tak about Ozymandias being a douchebag.

Shecky Shabazz said...

Chad's views are basically the same as my own (except for the part about actually wanting to bring a DVD of it into my home).
What's interesting to me is how a lot of the original impact of Watchmen is how it completely turned the conventions of the super hero genre on its head, with everything from storytelling to points of view to the standard moral codes being given a new spin.
With the film, it's the other way around. Not only does it pedantically follow the comic even when - or especially when - it shouldn't, but it also seems slavishly copy every convention of the modern Hollywood action movie.
It's like Snyder's saying "Watchmen is the most original and creative comic of all time - we've slavishly copied it to retain the freshness!", and then just failed miserably.

As I said, it was like looking at Rob Liefeld's Watchmen - It's Watch-Force.

Drew said...

This was the MTV-version of Watchmen. Swear to god, it was just one long music video, with interludes.

Matt Jacobson (formerly Ultimate Matt) said...

Speakingof that opening montage, which everyone seems to think was great, why does nobody have a problem wityh whatserface making out with a chick? To me, this exemplifies everything wrong with the film. In the book, her being a lesbian was a small piece of subtext, a tiny bit thrown into the back matter. It was the sort of thing that could easily have been dropped, and in fact should have been - it seems as though it was thrown into the movie, and given prominence, because "lesbians are kewl! and realistic!".

I don't know, maybe I'm still too pissed off at the movie - my wife and I spent all day yesterday bashing the crap out of that and the final BSG episode, both of which we watched on Saturday night - and need more time to get perspective. But that seemed like a perfect example of everything that movie did wrong.

Chad Nevett said...

Yeah, that was the one part of the montage that stood out to me at the time (I'd since forgotten about it, buried beneath so much other shit).