Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Some thoughts on the Watchmen movie

Saw the Watchmen movie last Saturday (Mar 7) in Vienna. Enjoyed it very much, even though I had to watch the German dub (the English version will probably not get here before June; they're not getting Slumdog Millionaire until April). Sadly, my German is not good enough to catch the subtleties of the dialog, so it was probably a good thing that the writing team lifted so much of it directly from the comics. However, that did mean that I spent quite a bit of the movie actually looking at the images, which is a significant part of the movie going experience, after all.

So, I can't really review the movie when I haven't actually experienced it fully, but I can (and, of course, am going to) say a couple of things about the quality of the differences between the movie and comic (hereafter "Movie" and "Comic"). I'll try to avoid spoiling anything. But, if you're the kind of person who doesn't want to know anything about a movie before going into it, you should stop reading right now. Also, if you haven't read the Comic, ur Graphic Novel Comic (dammit) this may not make a lot of sense.

You have been warned.

So Zach Snyder has not quite repeated what he did with Frank Miller's 300. That's a good thing. It wasn't that 300 was a bad movie, but I would argue that the movie was more-or-less a remake of Frank Miller's comic book, which was all but a kind of full fledged storyboard/pre-vis for the movie that was running through Miller's head, and which eventually come out via Zach Snyder (though not quite in the same way that Robert Rodriguez's Sin City relates to the comics, but I'm not going there in this post).

As a fan of the Comic, I loved seeing many of the iconic "shots" show up in the Movie (though not the symmetric centerfold from issue #5, AKA "Fearful Symmetry"). However, I'm not alone in wondering if viewers new to the story get the same frisson from those scenes that even blew Dave Gibbons away for the attention to detail on matching the Comic. Roger Ebert mentioned in his blog that he was a bit lost in the first viewing, though he still enjoyed it even as someone who hadn't read the Comic. Any other non-Comic reader feel that way?

The thing that absolutely blew me away was the opening credit sequence. In what could only have been a couple of minutes, Snyder condensed an enormous amount of background material; essentially giving the audience a series of thumbnail sketches of this alternate reality in a handful of moving tableaux. In particular, I really liked the Dr. Manhattan/JFK bit, partly because I had issues with the insertion of Tom Hanks into historical footage of LBJ in Forrest Gump. And as a not-so-subtle wink to the comic origins of the Movie, these sequences were composited like multi-planar cartoons, where different characters were on different planes, and they moved at different speeds as the camera pans, creating the illusion of depth. Of course the "cut-out" quality of the movement defeats any suspension of disbelief from the opening sequence, which is very meta; sort of like Snyder is telling us: look at this animated comic of the movie I made from a comic book.

One thing that did surprise me was the bloody-mindedness of the Movie, which in retrospect, made perfect sense. For the Rorschach bits, clearly there needed to be Blood (apropos Stoppard's "The Player" in Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead). What caught me off guard was the sheer viciousness of Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, particularly in their first fight scene. Again, Snyder is working well within the Comic's canon; and it's obvious in hindsight that this is exactly what Alan Moore had intended with these characters. I, like many who read mostly Comics Code-compliant titles while growing up, was certainly conditioned to an almost antiseptic version of personal violence in comics, as typified (and only slightly parodied) in the "Biff!", "Pow!" and "Bam!" of the Batman TV series. Even recent, comic-based film outings suffer a form of reality distortion (at least for the "hero"). How many fingers did Batman break in succession on one person? How many necks did Iron Man snap with his (enhanced) hands)? How many limbs did/will Wolverine sever with his adamantine claws? Those are supposed to be things the bad guys did, which of course, brings us right back to the name of the Comic and Movie.

Right. That's probably enough for now. Though did anyone else hear a little Blade Runner-esque Vangelis in the scene where Dan Dreiberg is walking home in the rain? Hmmm.

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