Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Den of Mystery Reviews WATCHMEN

"Set in an alternate 1985 where the "doomsday" clock is at four
minutes to midnight, Nixon is in his fifth term and heroes existed...once....
Outlawed in the late 70s, only "masks" working for the government can keep
active, the rest slipping into obscurity, retirement or the shadows that birthed

"Until one of them dies."

That is a wildly simple intro to the world of Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's "graphic novel" magnum opus. Lauded as one of Time's top 100 novels of the last hundred years, it was a game-changer when it was first published. Declared unfilmable by both Alan Moore and legions of fans who doubt the complexity would transfer to screen, Watchmen now comes to theatres after twenty years of legal and studio wrangling.

It has a hard "R" rating, is awfully close to three hours long, has no real "star" power in the cast and features superheroes analogous to other superheroes...and no one's heard of any of them. A tough sell.

We at the Den, Hooper and Buck, caught it separately this past weekend and will try to untangle some of our own thoughts on the film.

Hooper gives it a hard 8/10, citing maintenance of the overall thematic integrity of the original series; flaws exist but still a damn fine film.

Buck claims it fell short of the mark, giving it 6/10, and calling it "too faithful" to the source material. Prior knowledge is almost a requirement.

And now, the review. Beware, ye readers, of SPOILERS.


I walked out of the theatre happy (overall) with what I saw. This movie captured much of the original series, focusing the story without fundamentally changing it. The essence of what made the story great and lasting - the deconstruction of these heroes, why they put on the mask, what it means to even consider yourself a "super" hero, how we compromise - is up there on the screen.

I found it...lacking. Initially, a 7/10 or "C." You can be TOO faithful when adapting a story. Ultimately, I did not find it satisfying.

1. Do you think it was right to keep the movie set in 1985, as some people say the nuclear/USSR threat is a novelty/unbelievable by today's youth?

2. When you say "too faithful," do you think it would've been better to cut out, say, the Mars stuff and Laruie's parentage (+ mom)? Basically, I wonder how, given what you saw, you'd've addressed an adaptation.

What I meant by "too faithful" is that the movie actually made me upset that I'd dragged Mrs. Buck to see it. Knowing she's unfamiliar with the material, I tried to watch the film from her point of view, and grew increasingly frustrated. The film almost had an attitude of "Everyone's read this, right? Okay, well, what we're going to do is film it exactly as it appeared on the page. We're going to go into painstaking detail to re-create Alan and Dave's creation. Except for the ending." As an adaptation goes, this wasn't constructed for people who are unfamiliar with the source.

That being said, I do want to see it again to see if my opinion changes. Who knows? Maybe the 7-hour (or however bloody long it is) director's cut will be a revelation that makes me love it. But as it stands, I was disappointed overall.

Pros: Jeffrey Dean Morgan's Comedian, Jackie Earle Haley's Rorscach, and while at first I was a bit thrown, I grew to really enjoy the detached way Billy Crudup portrayed Manhattan.

Cons: Matthew Goode's Ozymandias, the completely maudlin denouement in Antarctica, some of the "ramping up" of the violence (not that I'm a prude, more that I simply considered it unnecessary).

Morgan and Haley made me buy their characters as real. The most important "sells" in the move were those two characters. Do we see the "dark grey" morality of Comedian as a result of his worldview and its crushing weight or is he a jackass with a flamethrower? Is Rorschach a paranoid nutjob version of Batman, dolling out violence like candy, or is he the only real hero in the movie? Very strong performances that will help set their careers in high gear for a long time.

So we shared a dissatisfaction with the ending (for me, the "squid" change wasn't bad, but the scenes after it were) and the hyper-violence (which, while the comic was violent, caricatured a caricature).

One could argue, so far as adaptations go, that even Lord of the Rings was written for the fans, not the average movie-goer. Did we really need all that Last Alliance nonsense and any related lore? "A ring created by a malevolent sorcerer-king that corrupts everyone" - there, I saved you ten minutes at least from the first film. And references to other rings; those are just Easter eggs. Why not have Galadriel just a powerful sorceress-queen (elf) at odds with the evil guy? And all that walking and the talking trees and that other wizard (in white like the good guys' wizard guide? C'mon. I can't keep this straight). You could strip that novel down to one, 4-hr movie. Still epic, but not boring in the least.

Likewise, I think you could either cut out or add in to Watchmen, but so long as it's a superhero movie that hates superheroes and their petty fisticuffs, regular movie-goers will feel put out and lost. That, to me, is what I came away with from the few times I tried to think of myself as a layman on the subject matter. I understand entirely why you feel upset at bringing Susan; it's why I didn't press Mandy to go. This isn't a non-fan movie. Not all movies have to be made with EVERYONE in mind as the audience. Watchmen cannot be all things for all movie-goers; it has to choose, and as Matthew Goode said, it's essentially a 3-hr arthouse film. It takes comic book/superhero stereotypes to task, forcing us to think about what we enjoy about them. And maybe what we shouldn't.

In fact, Snyder was talking about Watchmen and 300, saying they are essentially big-budget cult films that'll recoup their investments and then some, but are not meant for the general viewing public.

Would you then downgrade your initial 7/10 to something that reflects "disappointed overall?" That seems generous for a movie you didn't like.

I've downgraded initial viewing to 6/10. Like I said, maybe a solo repeat viewing will change my mind. CHUD reported today that Snyder wants to put his cut in theaters this summer, and I might pony up for a repeat trip to the theater to try it out. Someone at CHUD (I think it was Devin) actually said that it's a movie that will get better with repeat viewings, calling it a sort of new Blade Runner (misunderstood film that gets better the further it's removed from its initial release).

I didn't really press Mrs. Buck to go; it's more that she knew I wanted to see it and doesn' t like me to go to movies by myself (she thinks I look like a creepy loser when I do that). The main problem she had was that she wanted the skinny on who all these people were. She wanted to know how they ended up as costumed adventurers, etc. Sadly, with the exception of what was left out of Rorschach's story, there really wasn't any more origin material in the original comic. So it's not really a fault of the filmmakers, but it was her chief complaint.

I have a feeling I'll like it the more I watch it. I've actually caught myself re-visiting scenes I liked in my head. So it could be that my current distaste is a result of trying to view it as an outsider rather than a fan.

To go back to your questions:

1) I don't know what "threat" you'd have if you didn't set it during the Cold War. That being said, there should not have been that much Nixon. The man is seen as too much of a pop culture punchline/fodder for impressions, and while I had no problem with the actor's performance, there were giggles in the theater each time he came on-screen.

2) Yes, you could have left out Sally Jupiter altogether. Possibly the Mars material as well, though I'm not sure where you would have put Jon during his alone-time.

Lastly, a 20-something couple sat next to us...with their 3 1/2 - 4 year-old daughter and 8-9 year old son. And the mom and dad fell asleep during the movie. That's some damned good parenting there, folks. Does anyone even look at a movie's rating anymore? You know that the son probably saw commercials with people in costumes and figured it was just like Spider-Man or X-Men and the parents didn't even bother to find out what the movie was about. It's possible that my anger towards them and fear for how the children were processing what they were seeing helped to color my impression of the film.

Except for when jerks make noise in a movie, I don't pay attention to anyone else in the theatre. They can applaud at the end, or be shocked or laugh when appropriate. That's fine. Sort of a "live studio audience" for the movie. But I'd've seen that crew, commented to myself that the parents should be beaten (maybe even in Rorschach's voice!), and ignored them.

I think the "new Blade Runner" analogy is perfect, especially since there are multiple cuts extant: theatrical, director's sans Black Freighter, director's w/ Black Freighter. Who knows, there might be a scene of Manhattan returning to Ozy at the end on the cutting room floor or the "you tried to rape her!"/"Only once..." exchange, the death of Hollis Mason, etc. I don't know how much was cut.

Some say the threat should've been terrorists/radical Islam, that it should have been made now, with Bush in office as Nixon was; make it "topical" like V for Vendetta...because that helped that movie immensely (...ahem). It surprises me that people our age don't remember the USSR or at least the idea that their parents lived under the threat of nuclear war for much of their young lives. We're not that removed from two decades ago, are we?

I wouldn't think so.

I do know that Hollis' death was filmed and cut. Don't know about any of the other material you mentioned.

Your opinion on performances? You've mentioned Haley and Morgan already, and they did turn in great work. What did you think of the rest? I thought Ackerman was all right, if nothing spectacular. And Wilson did a fine job, although I felt the "What do you expect? The Comedian is dead." line was delivered all wrong.

So what's your take on the cast?

As we've said, Morgan and Haley did stellar work, easily worth at least a few small critics' choice supporting nods (if not wins).

Malin Ackerman was flat and just "ok" as Silk Specter II. Another reviewer said he thought Karen Allen was the sort to have played here, were this the 1980s and she still young and fiery. But Ackerman...didn't really add anything. I think they needed an older actress in the part, not a young gal playing slightly older. But she is the weakest character in the original story.

Patrick Wilson, Nite Owl II, did a serviceable job, but didn't feel washed out; rather, creepy instead. Sometimes I felt like I was watching a mouth-breather basement dweller D&D fan socialize for the first time in years. This isn't the brilliant, has-been inventor. That being said, he delivered most of the lines accurately, but not always convincingly. Like with Ackerman, I would have preferred an older actor.

Ozymandias/Adrien Veidt is a tricky character to imagine. Should Matthew Goode have played him happier, more of the scholar-athlete/eccentric billionaire (Bruce Wayne outed, but happy about it because he found out his parents were really Nazis who deserved to die) or as the detached genius who tires of these greasy people with petty problems and no vision of true greatness, of the betterment of all humanity, of the Big Picture? I think it's obvious which one he chose. The former is the comic version, and what I wanted to see on screen, yet I found myself appreciating the latter take. It might be more "real" for the character to have no bubbly outer face, no mask. Hm. I'm torn. I think...okay, here we go. Give Ozy back his triumph at the end, the tears, the smile, the convo w/ Manhattan; have the hired shooter kill only the secretary and then get pulped; make it Rorschach who informs him of the mask killer and not Dan D: that would make Goodman's performance 100% palatable. The meat of his part on screen was sometimes reliant on scenes changed w/o good reason.

Crudup as Manhattan - the voice, the flashbacks, the look - it all made sense.

Good points on Ozymandias. I kept asking myself, "Why Lee Iacocca gotta get whacked?"

Even unadjusted, it's amazing to see how big Watchmen's opening was in relation to other comic book movies, especially when you look at X-Men, Superman Returns and Batman Begins. Big names that didn't get this many raw dollars (though, adjusted, did sell more tickets) in their opening weekends - and they were PG-13 and well-known properties!

A guy at work came up to me, asked me how my weekend was. I said good, and that I saw Watchmen. Great, I hear it had a big weekend! he said. So...you think $55M+ is a good opening? I asked. Sure! Especially for unknown superheroes in March.

I did say yesterday that $55M is a good March opening, especially for a genre picture.

While replaying the "a Comedian died in New York" line at the end was most likely put in there to make it crystal clear to the stupid viewer that that was Rorschach's journal in the basket, I did like hearing it again.

I think it underscored that Rorschach, for all his dark mania, was really the hero.

Hooper's Take: 8/10

Buck's Take: 6/10

The Den of Mystery gives Watchmen...7/10.

1 comment:

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