Friday, March 6, 2009

Better the Second Time - Final Watchmen Thoughts

I had this moment last night during my second viewing of Watchmen where it suddenly dawned on me - I really do love this movie.

The first time I saw it, I felt more of a struggle to love it. Like, I knew the love was there, but I was having a hard time feeling it in my gut and I felt like I needed a disclaimer when discussing how I felt about it.

It's a different story now. Sure, I still get why people are complaining, I just...don't agree. I think reviewers like Anthony Lane & A.O. Scott are being uptight, snooty little bitches (said it) and need to promptly remove the pretentious sticks from up their asses. According to A.O. Scott, here's the type of person who would love Watchmen,

Indeed, the ideal viewer — or reviewer, as the case may be — of the “Watchmen” movie would probably be a mid-’80s college sophomore with a smattering of Nietzsche, an extensive record collection and a comic-book nerd for a roommate. The film’s carefully preserved themes of apocalypse and decay might have proved powerfully unsettling to that anxious undergraduate sitting in his dorm room, listening to “99 Luftballons” and waiting for the world to end or the Berlin Wall to come down.

Um. Not me. In any conceivable way, shape or form. And funny...I loved the movie! Weird. Scott also didn't get the love scene, AT ALL, a scene I found to be one of the most inspired, well played scenes in the film, and COMPLETELY missed the self-referential, satirical elements in the movie. The girls wear those tiny costumes with the heels as a comment on how female superheros always wear tiny costumes with heels! How do you not get that?! And they even refer to how absurd it is in the film! And how does Scott end his review?

Perhaps there is some pleasure to be found in regressing into this belligerent, adolescent state of mind. But maybe it’s better to grow up.

I'm sorry, did you even SEE this movie? Do you realize your final thought is more or less an exchange from the film between Dan & Adrian, Adrian commenting on Dan's belligerent, adolescent state of mind, telling him to grow up? LITERALLY. The film takes care of insulting every aspect you are choosing to insult, Mr. Scott. Your review therefore holds no salt and honestly reads as if instead of seeing the film, you just wrote down your pre-conceived notions and called it a day.

But I'm not gonna spend this whole post bitching about those critics. Though let's all realize that blanket panning this movie in such a small-minded, pretentious way is just as much of a crime (if not more so) as blanket omgeezperfct praising it. And listen. I know this movie isn't perfect. I just don't care.

My final thoughts after the jump. Be warned. Spoilers exist.

Human Connections
So yes. I love this movie. I, unlike a lot of people I suppose, felt a huge connection to the characters, especially Rorschach. I cried when he died both times I saw it and felt an intense panic when he realized he had been set up as Moloch's murderer. When critics say Zach Snyder doesn't get human connections? I just disagree. I absolutely love the Dan/Laurie love story. These two LIT UP in every scene together. True, Malin Ackerman seemed weak in comparison to the great actors up against her, but in every one of her scenes with Patrick Wilson, she suddenly came alive, had truthful moments, and had almost a tangible connection to her scene partner. I thought they were absolutely lovely together. Their love scenes, both the failed attempt and the porn star success, were highlights for me.

The Achievement that is Watchmen
Now for me, the second time is where the film came together. I wasn't nervous about seeing it for the first time or how the people I was seeing it with would react. I noticed new things and just really realized what an achievement this film is. That this truly is the best it could have been. For me, accomplishing that with the kind of love for the material that Snyder has? It's a big deal.

The film was exactly what I wanted. I saw the characters come to life, portrayed brilliantly for the most part and saw scenes that I absolutely love played out right in front of my eyes - everything with Rorschach (especially without his mask), everything between Dan and Laurie, every word the Comedian spoke, Adrian giving his typical super villain speech only to turn it around and say a. duh I wouldn't tell you if you could stop it and b. I'm actually a good guy, you just don't get it. I mean, I loved it. All the right changes were made (mostly) and all the great stuff, the stuff that mattered, that I wanted to see, that fans wanted to see, that should have been there - it was all there.

Snyder chose to direct this movie because he couldn't stand to think about how someone else would bastardize it and he was right. Any other version that was gonna be made would have stripped what was great about the graphic novel and turned it more into something like this with some Eagle Eye (I have a thing against DJ Caruso right now) thrown in. Something that's a fun ride, but not remotely a good movie. Not an ACHIEVEMENT but cut down and chopped up so it would appeal commercially. Watchmen is NOT commercial. It's not an entertain-fest. It's epic. And I love that it works better if you've read the graphic novel cause everyone should read the damn graphic novel.

We should also take a moment to acknowledge the OUTSTANDING feat of casting this thing 90% perfectly in the first place. This can rarely be said of any adaptation. The only adaptations that are cast that well are the new Batman series (BB, TDK) and the Harry Potter series.

At the end of the day, if Watchmen was gonna be a movie, this is the movie it had to be. It HAD to be faithful, it HAD to have the acting talent, it HAD to have someone behind the camera who loves & appreciates the source material. Speaking of which...

Being Faithful to the Source Material
With something like say, Scott Pilgrim, you have an awesome book, but nothing SACRED, so the film won't need to follow the book EXACTLY. In fact, the Pilgrim books leave a lot of room for experimentation. As for The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Hulk, etc. those films weren't based on one particular, specific, scripted arc. They were using these characters to tell a combination of a bunch of stories in the cannon or to tell a totally new one. You can't do that with Watchmen. Few works are as iconic and as sacred as this one is, especially when talking comics. The only way to have done this movie was to stay faithful. I honestly think Watchmen is an anomaly in that respect. Most other works give more room for adaptation and playing around. Watchmen just...isn't that. I mean, even Y: The Last Man and Fables leave room for new and different aspects as long as the important ones are kept in. If the filmed versions are still true to what the books are, what they stand for, the stories they are trying to tell and the themes they focus on, then great. But Watchmen is one that had to be as faithful as possible. And you know, I think Zach pulled it off. Coming away this second time, I LOVED it. And while I think the "fidelity kills a movie" argument actually IS correct a lot of the time, I think it's just irrelevant in this case.

Ultimately, my take on the film will be the minority, I realize. I only hope that you readers can take in my thoughts without being offended or thinking I'm a dumbass and that I can do the same for you. I mean, maybe one day I will think to myself, damn, I wish Watchmen had been done differently, I can see that. I'm sure the emotions I felt during the film (which obviously not everyone felt!) could have gone deeper. But I will admit, I mean, I am that group of people who is just thrilled to see it come alive. I just don't care to criticize it as a film and separate myself from the source material and analyze it as an objective moviegoer. I just don't care to. I got to see Rorschach. In the flesh. And I got to see my husband, otherwise known as Nite Owl, be his sexy, paunchy self and have sex all over the place (or maybe that was my dream last night, HI-O!). And I got to see what life must be like for the Tralfalmadorians* through Dr. Manhattan's white non-existant eyes! I GOT TO SEE THAT HAPPEN. So you know what? I'm happy.

I'll end on this, from Mr. Beaks,
WATCHMEN is far from a perfect film, but it has so much greatness in it that I'm unwilling to issue a definitive judgment until I've seen the director's definitive version. True, some of the flaws will remain (e.g. Malin Ackerman's miscasting, the unconvincing old-age makeup, and the often declamatory dialogue copied straight from the comic), but these are minor infractions when compared to the majesty of the KOYAANISQATSI-scored origin of Dr. Manhattan, Haley's Rorschach, Morgan's Comedian, and those incredible opening credits. This is a stunning achievement. I didn't know if Snyder had an artistic identity of his own after 300, but there is a voice ringing out in his WATCHMEN that doesn't belong to Moore or Gibbons. Hayter and Tse certainly deserve credit for wrangling what was believed to be an unruly text, but the soul of this piece must belong to Snyder.

It's just goddamn amazing that this movie exists at all.

*Please tell me you know what I'm talking about

For a bunch of well done reviews that say what I'm trying to say,

Film School Rejects

Kurt Loder

Roger Ebert's Second Piece (See, I'm not the only one who needed to write more after a second viewing!)

Mr. Beaks

Update: From Time's Lev Grossman,

Bottom line: this is about knowing what you're getting into. The mistake for newcomers would be to confuse Watchmen the film with Watchmen the graphic novel--to think of the film as a substitute for the book. The two are neither identical nor symmetrical. The film is an homage to the original or perhaps an advertisement for it, but nothing more. It is not it.

Should the fans see Watchmen? The comic has something to say on this question. Are you an idealist like Rorschach, who insists on absolutes, black and white? Or a pragmatist like Ozymandias, who deals in shades of gray? Ozymandias would go. Rorschach wouldn't. The point of the comic is that neither position is perfect or even tenable. But a choice must be made. To quote the master's final words: "I leave it entirely in your hands."

Full piece: Lev Grossman


Brendan M. Leonard said...

Thanks for the link to Ebert's piece. I kind of wish he'd write more about his take on the sexuality of the movie, because as a guy who wrote a Russ Meyer movie, I think his take on the kink of it would be interesting.

I really liked the honest and frank way the movie portrayed sexuality. I thought that both the sex scenes between Dan and Laurie were handled in a mature, psychologically sensible fashion. And the one on the Owl Ship was hot (and just kinky enough), so that didn't hurt.

That being said, one of my biggest gripes with the movie was the rape scene. Or attempted rape scene as the case may be. I thought it was definitely an example of Snyder pulling his punches, which was weird, because he didn't pull his punches anywhere else. In the comic, it's pretty clear that pants are down on both parties when Hooded Justice walks in. Here, the Comedian spends at least a couple of minutes beating up Silk Spectre I and then the actual 'rape' is done away with rather quickly.

Since you could argue that that scene is why Dr. Manhattan eventually chooses to save Earth...I'm not saying it should have been super uber graphic, but it definitely should have been more painful. And I wonder if the close ups of Gugino's cleavage is meant to put us in the Comedian's mindset of "she wanted it" and what that's supposed to mean. There's definitely a level of fetishism to that scene that's not in the comic. I don't know how I feel about that.

(Especially when you put that scene up against the Silhouette stuff in the credits. That 'lesbian whores' scene was the first time when I sat up and went 'Yeah, motherfucker's playing for keeps.' I 'loved' the Manson/Black Dahlia overtones of that brief segment in the credits, too. It was interesting that Snyder went all out there, but then scaled it back for the attempted rape.)

That kind of temperedness is one of the small problems I have with the ending. I'm not talking about squid/no squid, but I did kind of disagree with Snyder trading in the gooshiness of the squid's aftermath for 9/11-style destruction that we've seen before. (Though never this overt in a post-9/11 picture.) For the movie to spend time establishing that Manhattan's power to dissolve makes a mess and then not to see the results of that mess at the end...again, I feel like in the comic, the horror of what Adrian's plan in action is what makes the conundrum posed at the end so fascinating. And so I feel like we didn't get to see that horror, because we as the audience are used to seeing that kind of destruction. A giant crater in the middle of New York is something film-goers are familiar with, and 'comfortable' with. Thousands of dead, eviscerated bodies aren't. And the ending of the story needs to be deliberately uncomfortable for the ending to really work. And I was like "holy shit, that's a lot of destruction" but I didn't really feel it.

The other thing that bugged me is the switching around the exchange in the comics with "nothing ever ends." I'd be really interested in why they chose to give that exchange to Dan and Laurie rather than keeping it with Jon and Adrian. Because Jon saying it to Adrian defeats him, as you said. It plants the seed of doubt that "shit, this might not work after all." Although I guess that Manhattan's speech about the smartest man on the planet being as smart as the smartest termite puts Adrian in his place so thoroughly, they didn't want to pile on the guy, especially when he had his beating coming. Or I guess they thought the beating took the place of it.

(Although another interesting comment that I've read says that Jon is basically running a psych game on Adrian in the comic, because he can only see into his future, and he chooses to leave Earth. So he knows that 'nothing ever ends,' but...)

All that said, I loved the movie. I really don't get super amped for geek movies these days, and I was pretty tempered going into this one, despite having read the comic again recently and being like "yeah, this is the shit." I thought the movie was smart, and definitely had a sick, sick sense of humor in places. I thought that Akerman was definitely the weak link in the cast, but she was super hot, so it made up for it. But Crudup, Morgan, Haley were all astounding. Patrick Wilson needed a hug. (I think we as fans need to get together and maybe buy him some therapy, because he's now played an impotent superhero, an adulterous, past his prime husband, and a gay Mormon. He might have some issues.)

And hey, My Chemical Romance didn't fuck up the Bob Dylan song at the end. Good job.

Brendan M. Leonard said...

And I'm sure certain people will be like, "Oh, it was too on the nose," but using the first line of Rorschach's journal as the final line of the film was pretty astounding, thematically and bad-assically.

david said...

i'm gonna spare everyone the misfortune of having to wade through a full-on reactionary post... so i'll leave it at this:

LQ will be so overwhelmed by the cinema of attractions of having her favorite characters brought to sumptuous (if woefully shallow) life and the achievement of convincing studio bosses to pour hundreds of millions into a glowing blue penis and all the somewhat uncommercial narrative of which it's a part, that she'll ask me to excuse this messy, stillborn, soulless, hollow, DULL slice of suffocatingly faithful mediocrity (save for one BRILLIANT performance and a few wonderful beats, sequences and obvious yet effective infusions of americana via musical cues) that has been butchered beyond all comprehension or engagement, and i'll look down at her and whisper... NO.

now the wait for KNOWING begins!!! ahhhh!!! nic cage should have been bubastis! think about it.

david said...

actually, crudup was pretty great, too. i'll give ya that, mr. russell hammond.

LoquaciousMuse said...

i just disagree!! it's okay. neither one of us is right. opinions are opinions. i could have sworn you liked it more right after it ended though, haha.

did you not like dan dreiberg?! i mean, patrick wilson? and did you not like jeffrey dean morgan? oh i loves them!

haha the watchmen posters plastering my wall in my room will have a whole new meaning when i come home and see them.

LoquaciousMuse said...

and please tell me you watched the hitler thing

david said...

i mean, you can talk to our other posters here, i was not too kind when it got out... it was a mass feeling of... yikes. i still think the movie did a lot of things right, but i disagree so vehemently with your post... the adjectives i used, even though tempered by a lot of successful elements within the film, still apply.

oh, also, i mean... i'm totally right that it's a bad movie, but that doesn't mean you didn't love it and with good reason. ;)

Erik said...

I really felt compelled to comment on how TERRIBLE the acting in this film was, with the worst being Wilson/Drieberg/Night Owl II. Everytime he was on screen I felt like punching him in the face. All the longing and depth contained in the original character was replaced by sheer goofyness. When he and ackermen were on screen together (an unfortunately large percentage of the total screen time) I really just couldn't take it.....

That being said I thought Haley and Crudup did great jobs, and I can't decide if the comedian was bad because of a bad acting job, or if Morgan just didn't have much to work with. But wow, Wilson was terrible.. Am I alone on this?

Herbo said...

I thought it would be interesting to share the perspective of one who had never read the graphic novel before.

What worked:

Pretty much every scene involving Rorschach. For better or for worse, his character upstaged most of the movie, and for several reasons. Aside from the inherent awesomeness of his character and the great acting, his role best translated to film and captured what (from what I gather) Watchmen is all about. He embodies the struggle between hero and anti-hero, the simultaneous hate of the world and the desire to save it, the insanity that one would actually require to go around in a costume fighting crime, the rage and apathy. A large part of the success of the character was the use of the diary as a device for him to soliloquize his thoughts. It goes without saying that the most difficult part of translating most literature into film is conveying inner thoughts, something which comes easy for books but has to be more subtle and nuanced in film to not come across as ridiculous. So, because the audience is able to understand on a deep level Rorschach's character, it makes, for example, his action scenes much more meaningful and successful.

In the same way, I thought Dr. Manhattan's character worked very well. The development of his back story was one of the best parts of the movie. Being able on film to quickly jump through points of his life went a long way toward getting the audience to empathize with his situation. We're able to see his evolution from loving physicist who savors the momentary touches of fingers when passing a drink to blue god who stalks the barren Martian landscape trying to escape the chaos of humanity (I found it very interesting that it was chaos (theory) that motivated him to return to Earth).

What didn't work:

I really knew very little about Ozymandias throughout the entire movie, and my lack of connection to his character made the ending seem a bit random and artificial. I can imagine that there is a lot of depth to his character, but the most that we saw was a brief discussion of Alexander the Great.

Night Owl II was pretty bad. Coming out of the movie, I had very little sense of who he was or what he cared about. He came across as extremely generic and replaceable. So therefore, I didn't find myself becoming emotionally involved with the romantic parts of the movie. It's hard to feel for the love life of a cardboard cutout (I didn't think the love scene was awkward or went on too long. Isn't that what sex is? Not every sex scene has to look exactly the same for it to be considered decent or appropriate.)

I don't think that a lot of the superhero commentary was successful. I understand that Watchmen is supposed to be a loving satire of caped super hero comics (satire isn't the right word, maybe embellishment or ironic embrace). And I gather that this worked very well in the Graphic Novel. But, in the wake of many comic book movies that are actually campy, ridiculous, and horrible, Watchemn the movie's critique needed to be handled better. The GN was playing against other super hero comics. Was the movie playing against supero hero comics, or super hero adapted movies. There's a lot that's happened in terms of comic book/film pop culture over the past 20 years that makes a one-to-one translation of the satire from GN to film fall flat.

Also, I may be the only person who says this, but I didn't like the musical choices. They just felt hackneyed. Like, really, Sound of Silence, yeah, never heard that one used before. Doesn't the movie take place in the 80s? Why is all the music from 1969? Americana didn't only exist among the flower generation.

The bottom line: I think that the most successful parts of the movie worked because the characters and themes of the comic were too strong to not work. They succeeded in spite of the film making, not because of it.

LoquaciousMuse said...

Erik & Herbo - I am sad you guys don't like Nite Owl!

I should explain, I do have an odd personal connection to the character which may explain my love for him, whether he is drawn or played by a real life human being...a real life human being who I also happen to find extremely sexy YURMZ! But yeah, Nite Owl is one of those characters I have a crush on, so, I loved him :). SO CUTE TEEHEE!!!!!

Herbo - The important thing about some of the music is that musical quotes are one of the things that literally frame the graphic novel. The chapter about the Comedian's funeral is I think named after Sound of Silence (my copy is upstairs and going upstairs is difficult with my bum foot, so someone else has to check this haha) and the ending quote is DEFINITELY from Sound of Silence. So it's an important song to that portion of the graphic novel.

Other songs used are Times are a Changing and All Along the Watchtower and the not used Elvis Costello. But a lot of the music that was used was there as an attempt to bring in more of the elements that make the GN so great.

I very much enjoyed reading your thoughts on it and getting to the bottom of why you didn't like what you didn't like. And saying what you did like too. Haha, cause now I'm not sad!

david said...

okay okay, whenever / if ever i get a chance i'll drop some more tempered thoughts on this here blog... hopefully some reflections that are a little bit more provocative than reactionary. but i think it's clear that those approaching the film as its own, self-contained entity or with no prior experience with the property are keenly aware of its manifold problems as a movie.

watchmen is going to have around a $60 million opening weekend and finish up at $145, say the early stats.

Brendan M. Leonard said...

This is something I want to talk to my dad about, but he saw a lot of the more obvious musical choices as a nod to the fact that the movie is also very much about the death of the 60s. I brought this up my friend Terri, and she remarked that the movie's alternate universe is also one where the hippie generation didn't so much burn out as it was strangled in the cradle buy guys like the Comedian. The Woodward-Bernstein stuff goes a long way towards that, too.

I'm not sure what exactly that has to do with the movie as a relevant cultural experience to us, today, but I feel like that's somehow important.

Brendan M. Leonard said...

Just pointed out to me that Sounds of Silence was written as a response/in the aftermath of JFK's assassination, so to have it playing over the funeral of his killer was an added layer there. And also even more sick.

loquacious said...

Hey guys.

It has become apparent that all those hoity toity reviewers I was talking about all saw the movie together at a critics screening and apparently, they all decided to fill the room with derisive laughter whenever possible. Hmm, I wonder if those critics had any pre-conceived notions going into this movie...a bias perchance? Coming with their guns out? And being IN a theater filled with that kind of a's hard to form your own opinion.

I think that really sucks. i'm telling you at least half of these critics knew they didn't like it before stepping foot into that theater

loquacious said...

Also, from Lev Grossman, Time's book guy,

"Bottom line: this is about knowing what you're getting into. The mistake for newcomers would be to confuse Watchmen the film with Watchmen the graphic novel--to think of the film as a substitute for the book. The two are neither identical nor symmetrical. The film is an homage to the original or perhaps an advertisement for it, but nothing more. It is not it.

Should the fans see Watchmen? The comic has something to say on this question. Are you an idealist like Rorschach, who insists on absolutes, black and white? Or a pragmatist like Ozymandias, who deals in shades of gray? Ozymandias would go. Rorschach wouldn't. The point of the comic is that neither position is perfect or even tenable. But a choice must be made. To quote the master's final words: 'I leave it entirely in your hands.' "

david said...

LQ - i would encourage you to drop the whole hoity toity critics thing... i think some of them certainly may have approached it with a bit of a closed mind, but methinks the fan community is just being defensive over their beloved property. it's not as if the material is untenable for serious discussion in this post-dark knight world. some of the negative reviews have been a bit more snarky than necessary, but the fact of the matter is that the movie fails rather stupendously where it counts... from me, that elicits more disappointment than sarcastic glee, but a movie like this telling a story like this walks a fine line, and when it fails to engage i can understand how it winds up in ridicule. it's a direct byproduct of snyder's complete failure to imbue the events with any feeling of consequence, both corporeal and abstract. from the complete glossing over of the devastation of the ending to the caricatures that are - for the most part - never afforded any genuine pathos (the shouting of empty platitudes at the fortress at the end... yikes)... nothing about this movie every feels like it matters. so while the adaptation might certainly deserve close analysis given its origins and its hallowed place in a certain community, zack snyder is the only person you can blame from the movie failing to engender any sort of respect from a large portion of the critical community.

watchmen was to me about how the need for people to create superheroes in graphic novels as a tenable genre is a rather lucid window into the human condition circa 1985... that the most brazenly ridiculous examples of human behavior offer the most insight into the fundamental nature of our species, both physiologically and anthropologically... if nite owl and ozymandias in the movie come across as silly men in silly costumes doing silly things without proper motivation (which they do), it's as fair a criticism as any, and amongst the most rightly damning.

LoquaciousMuse said...

but i like saying hoity toity so much! don't make me stop! DON'T EVER MAKE ME STOP!

yeah, i get defensive about the shit i like. it took me 6 months to be able to admit that parts of dark knight aren't perfect...but i still hearts it :)

i need to watch the hitler video again. brb.

LoquaciousMuse said...

hmm okay sound of silence i think doesn't frame that chapter maybe? i could have sworn it did. but it definitely frames some chapter...