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August 19th, 2009

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08:34 pm - Watch me be disappointed
So, Kim & I watched Watchmen last night. Now I'm not steeped in comics like, say, roninspoon. But I've loved Watchmen since I read it ten years ago and I reread it every year or so. There's a lot there to absorb and so far each re-reading has been rewarding. I was looking forward to the movie.

Having said that, I was sorely disappointed in the way the movie was put together. A lot of the negative reviews claimed the movie's problem was that it was too rigidly faithful to the source, while a lot of the positive reviews cited that as its greatest triumph; I'm not sure what that means other than being proof those reviewers are snorting really bad coke. There were huge gaps -- things that didn't make any damn sense if you hadn't read the comic. Every book-based movie has some of that, but this movie it seemed like every five minutes I was going "Wait, from that straight to that?"

There were also a lot of changes I didn't like at all. Some of it was necessitated by the clipping that was done to get the movie to be less than 6 hours long (more on that later). But at least some more thought could have been put into it. How does a world with Dr. Manhattan, who's capable of transmutation, have an energy crisis? Why would Ozymandias be the goofy, naive, idealistic one at the organizing meeting of the Crimebusters? (Oops, sorry, I meant the Watchmen.) The sexual aspect of the costumes is barely touched throughout the movie -- except Dan and Laurie's sex scene, which goes way over the top, and the bits in the trailer showing a public lesbian kiss and the death scene of the Silhouette, also completely overdone.

The editing is kind of like eating Chinese food with MSG -- it satisfies at first, but later leaves you wanting. It almost seems mechanical, in that there are regular little bits of fanservice lifted directly from the comic, but that's all they really are -- mimicry and in-jokes that don't really advance the plot when they're disconnected from their context.

These aren't major failings, just typical book-to-movie letdowns, the kind of thing you often have to do to get it to the screen at all. The Sistine Chapel ceiling is huge and full of details; a tourist's digital photo of it can't capture all the detail but can still be a faithful rendering of the overall work. It's just the nature of the media. And it's not all bad. Dr. Manhattan's voice surprised me, but worked really well. Seeing some of the things only hinted at in the comics actually put into concrete reality on the screen is neat -- particularly the bits in the opening montage with the Comedian and Dollar Bill, and the line the Comedian has later about not having this much fun "since Woodward & Bernstein". The little vignette where Dan sees Rorschach out of costume -- not knowing who he is, but noticing him and wondering -- is great.

One of the two major failings is just, as previously mentioned, all the really important things that were left out; a lot of them are some of the most important aspects of the book -- like the background story of the Minutemen, and how they fell by the wayside while at the same time inspiring the later heroes to take up costumes, and how the hero generations look at each other across that gap of fifteen years or so. In my opinion this should have been a two-parter -- or even a trilogy: the first generation getting their own movie going up to the creation of Dr. Manhattan, filling in some of their story that the book left out, and the second generation getting the balance of the trilogy. (Terry Gilliam was asked to direct but declined because he thought it ought to be a five-hour miniseries; I think that would have worked well, especially in his hands.)

And then there was the ending. My God. The ending makes me want to hunt Zack Snyder down so I can punch him in the junk. In among the bits of recognizable canon, there's so much schlock. Where are Nite Owl's hoverbikes? Where is Ozymandias' vivarium? Above all, why on Earth would Ozymandias, perhaps amoral in some respects but not evil or vindictive, make Dr. Manhattan the scapegoat? It doesn't make sense! The beauty of the alien "enemy" in the book is that it can never be found and eliminated (ending the peace) because it doesn't exist. Dr. Manhattan does exist, and the impression left by the movie ending is that Ozymandias is forcing him to leave Earth, knowing that that's the only way peace can be maintained, rather than Dr. Manhattan deciding on his own to finally self-actualize.

The only thing more puzzling to me than the reviewers' reaction to all this is Alan Moore's reaction. He famously hates everything to do with movie adaptations of his work, even to the point of publicly calling Joel Silver out as a liar for saying that Moore told Larry Wachowski he was "very excited" about V for Vendetta. On this one, he almost seems to praise the movie (although he apparently never watched the finished product), calling the script "as close as I could imagine anyone getting to Watchmen". What? All I can figure is that either the script he read was much more faithful to the comics, or he's just being a dick and fucking with people's heads.

Overall, I give it 6.5 out of 10; better than a typical action flick, but not as deep or as deeply satisfying as the work that spawned it.
Current Mood: disappointeddisappointed

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